To, the Convenor, International Tea Day (India Chapter)

Dear Ashok Ghosh,

Centre for Education and Communication (CEC) salutes hundreds of thousands of workers employed in the tea industry on the occasion of the 9th International Tea Day. The ITD, celebrated on December 15 every year since 2004, marks an occasion to uphold the rights of tea workers.

We acknowledge the lead role taken by the United Trades Union Congress (UTUC), a Central Trade Union and an influential trade union among the tea workers, in organising this national seminar and public meeting in Alipur Duar, West Bengal. It is important to note that UTUC has ensured the involvement and participation of other Central Trade Unions in the programme.

The theme, ‘Livelihood Rights of Tea Plantation Workers’ is appropriate. Tea plantation workers, among the pioneers of industrial working class in India, is today faced with multidimensional existential challenges. No other organised sector workers enjoy the dubious distinction of having to live with wages lower than minimum wages declared for agricultural workers. Tea workers, generally, do not have avenues of alternative sources of income. Consequently, the incredibly low wages deprive tea workers and their families from accessing nutritious food, adequate health and essential clothing. Generations of workers are on subsistence living.

Unlike other industrial working class, tea workers constitute a tea population. Four or five generations of workers and their dependents are living in the tea garden enclaves, managed by tea garden companies. Virtual privatisation of a big population, much more than what the tea gardens require as workers, has resulted on the one hand in their regulated integration with the rest of the society; and on the other hand, in the denial of basic civic amenities like public roads, public health, public education, public sanitation and public water. Tea garden workers and their dependents are second class citizens in their own country.

For tea garden workers, housing is a deprivation and a fetter. Workers do not enjoy the benefits of an industrial township, rather houses are dilapidated and non-ventilated spaces in which generations of the same family lives – crowded, without any sense of privacy. In this process, workers are disempowered and they develop a sense of deep rooted inferiority complex. How long can the tea garden workers be denied housing and land rights.

Plantation Labour Act, 1951, though mandates the plantation management to provide housing, health, education and sanitation to workers, the enforcement of the law is not uniform and is grossly inadequate. Neither an argument of increase in social cost nor presence of large number of non-workers in the garden areas are justifications to deny livelihood rights to such a huge segment of workers and their dependents.

We strongly urge Central and State governments to ensure livelihood rights of tea worker population by addressing issues of wages, housing, health, education, civic rights and amenities on a priority basis.

In solidarity,

J John (Executive Director)