4th ITD (2008): Empowerment of Women Workers

Birpada, West Bengal. December 15, 2018

The ITD celebrations by the tea workers had ‘empowerment of women workers’ as the theme, which was picked up by the UTUC under the leadership of Ashok Ghosh. The UTUC West Bengal organised a workshop on the theme, on December 14th, followed by a rally and public meeting at Birpada the next day. The ILO participated in the workshop. The theme, ‘empowerment of women tea workers’ articulates the interests of more than 50 per cent of tea workers, who are never represented adequately in trade unions, in collective bargaining processes; and never recognised though they are the skilled workers and the backbone of the tea industry. The theme had added value in the context of women workers being the worst sufferers when tea plantations close down, a phenomenon predominantly seen in West Bengal and Kerala. The seminar and the public meeting was attended by other tea sector trade unions.

Objectives of the Programme:

  1. To understand structural causes for the disempowerment of women workers in the tea plantations
  2. To provide a platform to the women workers to share their experiences and document case studies on the experiences of women workers in tea plantations
  3. To strategise and build a programme for the empowerment of women workers in the tea plantations in trade union, local bodies and other for a

The Seminar was facilitated by Kumari Kujur, MLA and Convenor ITD. The speakers included: Smt. Geeta Sengupta, Chairperson, Women Development Council, Govt. of West Bengal; Abani Roy, MP and General Secretary, UTUC; Nirmal Das, MLA; Mani Kumar Darnal, INTUC; Ajay Karmakar, AITUC; P.K. Bhatacharya, Secretary (DBITA); Prof. Jeta Sanskritayan; Biplav Chakraborti; Kumari Kunjur; Anandan P. Menon, Programme Officer, ILO; Pallavi Mansingh, Programme Manager, CEC; S. Manikam, HMS (TN); Shanta Maya Vishwakarma:, Anju Thapa; Sarraswati Gope; Suchitra Khalkho; Chitta Dey, Convenor, Coordination Committee; Joachim Baxla, MP; Ashok Ghosh, General  Convenor, ITD and National Secretary, UTUC .

Workers from almost 50 plantations participated in the Public Meeting. The meeting was addressed by important trade union leaders from West Bengal.  Reiterating the points raised during the previous day, speaker noted that there is a need for empowerment of women in the tea plantations as well as the society at large.

Following are some key points that the speakers expressed during the programme:

  • Implications of globalisation and market integration: speakers expressed that globalisation and integration into the WTO has lead to several changes in the way the tea value chain is structured. Consolidation at one end and closures and abandonment at the other, both are feature of this restructuring. Implication of this on the workers is informalisation.
  • Violation of labour right in tea industry: Women speakers and plantations workers brought out the absence of basic facilities as they key issue that women in plantations confront and add to their daily struggles. They also pointed that there is a systematic violation of their rights. Ashok Ghosh stressed on women’s workers rights as human rights and the need to protect them at every level.
  • Unity of trade union movement: Geeta Sengupta noted that the issue of economic underdevelopment is crucial in the struggle. Hence there are several divisive forces raising ethnic and cultural slogans that have to be kept at bay. Ashok Ghosh noted that trade union movement must remain united in all its struggles, including the struggle for empowerment of women.
  • Leadership of women in trade unions: Speakers emphasised on the need for women to take leadership in the plantation, particularly as they are the worst hit in crisis. For women’s issues to be articulated comprehensively it is crucial that they themselves come at the forefront in trade union leadership and collective bargaining negotiations with the management. Chitta Dey noted that women need to come to the forefront and men need to take a back debt and support them in their endavours. Ashok Ghoh reiterated that at least 10 per cent of the working committee of the trade unions should be represented by women.
  • Awareness Generation: it was expressed that a key to empowerment was education and awareness generation among women. Geeta Sengupta noted that women need to build on education as well as there has to be a process of generating political awareness among women.

The meeting concluded with the adoption of the Trade Union Declaration on Women in Tea Plantations.

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