Amid the high-pitch debate in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Assam over increasing the daily wage of 7.46 lakh tea garden workers, the tea estate owners on Monday decided to raise the daily wage by Rs 26.
Weeks ahead of the Assembly polls in the state, the BJP-led Assam government had last month decided to hike the daily wage by Rs 50 — from Rs 167 to Rs 217.
The national committee of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), a body of the tea garden owners, reviewed the March 16 Gauhati High Court order and decided that an interim enhancement of Rs 26 per day would be granted with effect from February 22 to the workers in the tea gardens situated in Brahmaputra Valley and Barak Valley.
A statement by the ITA said on Monday that the interim enhancement of Rs 26 per day would be paid till the high court finally decides on the wage related matter.
Last week, the Gauhati High Court had given the liberty to the tea estates to pay higher wages till the issue is finally decided by the court. The HC order came after the ITA and 17 tea companies that own over 90 per cent of the tea estates in Assam had filed a petition against the Assam government’s notification to hike the daily wages of the regular 7,46,667 tea garden workers by Rs 50 per day from Rs 167 to Rs 217.
Justice Michael Zothankhuma of the Gauhati High Court has listed the matter for the next hearing on April 23.
The issue of higher wages for 10 lakh tea garden workers in the state is one of the biggest election topics ahead of the three-phase Assembly elections scheduled for March 27, April and April 6.
After coming to power in Assam in 2016, the BJP government had increased the daily wage of the tea garden workers by Rs 30. On February 20, it decided to hike it further by Rs 50 — from Rs 167 to Rs 217.
The high court in its order last week had upheld the ITA’s argument that the wage hike was “illegal” as no committee or sub-committee had been formed, as is required under the relevant sections of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
The Congress has recently announced ‘five guarantees’ for the people of Assam to be fulfilled if the party is voted to power in the state, which includes raising the tea workers’ daily wage to Rs 365 per day from the existing Rs 167.
Assam, which roughly produces 55 per cent of India’s total tea production of 1,389.70 million kg, has 856 large tea gardens and over a lakh small tea growers, engaging a few lakh workers in this industry.