10th ITD (December 15, 2014): Tea Worker’s Call

It’s not simply a Cuppa!
There is lot more to your Tea…

 “There is nothing here… no electricity, no proper toilets, no drinking water and not even ration shop. And the garden is also closed now. Where is the Government? Or if it is there it wants us to die of hunger and disease.” …Tea Garden Worker from Bandhapani Tea Estate, Dooars

World over plantation based tea cultivation is in a crisis. Planters are troubled as the costs are rising so much so that production is becoming unviable. Parallel to this is the appalling plight of the workers who live no different than their enslaved or indentured ancestors. In the absence of basic amenities  (proper housing, drinking water, food); they are living their lives in the most insecure conditions, facing discrimination along ethnic and gender lines, with little or no access to education, health or alternative livelihoods and gross violation of the principle of minimum wage. Worse is their declining bargaining power vis a vis the planters.

In India, North Bengal alone reported 32 closed tea gardens from 2001 to 2009. Situation improved towards the end of the decade with investment impetus but once again thousands of lives are under threat as the trend resurges. As on December 1, 2014, 6 tea gardens were closed down in Dooars and almost 6000 workers affected. In Sri Lanka, it has been noted that since 1992 abandoning of tea estates which were under private management accelerated and between 1968 and 2011 land in high grown areas under tea has halved from 81,000 hectares to 41,000 hectares. In Indonesia, it is reported that there are a great number of temporary/seasonal workers on large plantations are often below minimum-wage leading to declining human development indicators. In Kenya payment of wage to puckers is piece rated (based on the kgs of tea plucked) making conditions extremely challenging for the workers.

As abject poverty continues to be the norm across tea plantations, the vertically connected tea value chain ensures that those at the upper end (Unilever, Tata Tea and Sara Lee) control the tea trade through controlling the blending, packaging and marketing. Profits through retailing continue to benefit them. Their efforts at CSR remain nothing more than an eyewash.

Against this backdrop, the tea trade unions in India are observing the International Tea Day on December 15, 2014 to show solidarity with the tea garden workers and campaign for their rights. A seminar followed by rally is being organised by the United Trades Union Congress along with all the other tea trade unions in at Binnagudi Moranghat Tea Estate, Jalpaigudi, West Bengal. They are demanding: An assessment of the closed and abandoned tea gardens and work on alternative strategies for reopening/restructuring; Distribution of excess land of the plantations to the workers, in particular the women workers who constitute over 50 per cent of the total workforce; National Minimum Wage to be paid in all tea plantation; Implementation of the Right to Education in all tea plantations; Extend ESIC Jurisdiction to all Tea Plantation and Planters to strengthen the Implementation of provisions pertaining to (toilets) (Section 9); Canteens (Section 11); Creches (Section 12); Recreational facilities (Section 13); Other facilities (amenities) (Section 17) must remain with the planters as provided for in the PLA.

As thousands of workers in India get ready to come together and take up the cause of the tea plantation workers on the occasion of the 10th International Tea Day, let us pledge to observe this day to bring a change.

How to Observe ITD

  • Send solidarity message to tea trade unions and workers
  • Spread the message through social media
  • Organise small meetings, discussion forums and discuss about the plight of tea workers
  • Ask the government and companies to take action
  • Give a news or write a blog

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