Workers’ wage protest hits tea industry in Jhapa

- LILA BARAL, PARBAT PORTEL, Jhapa

May 11, 2014-

An indefinite protest launched by tea workers for the last three weeks has affected the tea industry in Jhapa. It’s the longest ever strike in the industry.

The workers intensified agitation after tea producers expressed reluctance to provide the minimum wage fixed by the government last year. The government has fixed the daily wage at Rs 200.

On Sunday, the tea workers also organised a transport strike in various parts of the district. The protest, which comes in the peak tea-plucking and harvest season, has affected tea processing as almost all factories have been shut down. As the strike started to take its toll on the industry, some tea factory owners are in the Capital to seeking the government’s help.

After the government fixed the daily wage for tea workers on August 26, 2013, tea factories had filed a writ in the Supreme Court against the government’s decision.

Although the court quashed their appeal, the tea producers were still reluctant to implement the government decision, forcing trade unions and tea workers’ associations to launch a joint protest. The stir was launched on April 5.

Deepak Tamang, president of Nepal Tea Estate Employees Association, said factory owners had earlier agreed to provide the government-fixed daily wage during a meeting at the District Administration Office, Jhapa. “But the agreement has not been implemented yet,” he said. Bhupal Siwakoti, president of All Nepal Tea Workers Association, said if the minimum wage was not enforced immediately, around 45,000 tea workers would be forced to obstruct all the customs points in the eastern region.

Sapkota said the tea industry makes Rs 1,000 profit per worker per day (excluding workers’ expenditure). “It’s not fair that mills are reluctant to set aside Rs 200 as per day fair workers.”

Tea workers currently get Rs 158 per day.

Chandi Prajuli, a tea estate owner, said the producers are unable to provide the government-fixed wage as it increases the operating costs which are already on the higher side amid load-shedding and high fuel prices. “Fuel accounts for 80 percent of our operating costs,” he said. “Factories cannot sustain within such a thin margin.”

Shanta Kumar Rai, President of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions, Jhapa, said the industry will have to abide the government decision.

Published: 12-05-2014 09:05

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