A protest banner at the Himalayan Range Tea Factory in Malum of Ilam in this picture taken on September 6. | Photo: Republica Files
Government panel holding discussions with workers and industrialists to resolve issue
DAMAK, Oct 9: Tea laborers have been protesting for the last 12 days in Jhapa demanding implementation of minimum wage fixed by the government. Picking tea leaves has been halted. The government is yet to address concerns of those tea laborers to address their problems though a government panel has reached to the industries and has also taken stock of the matter and also discussed on the matters of tea laborers.
The daily minimum wage for tea pickers is Rs 385 but they are paid only Rs 281, laborers said. Minimum monthly wage is set at Rs 13,450 for the workers employed in the tea industry but the workers say they are not paid the amount as fixed by and their salary varies largely depending in different industries. The new rates of minimum wage was effective from Mid-July as set by a Nepal Gazette in July.
Laborers at tea estate have blamed monopolistic behavior of tea industries behind not getting minimum wage. Bhupal Sapkota, in charge of All Nepal Federation of Trade Union, said that they have been protesting for getting wage as per law. Laborers say that the industries have also not covered full accident insurance. The industries have covered only insurance of Rs 200,000. They have sought help of local levels for the insurance of additional Rs 300,000.
Chair of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) Santa Kumar Rai blamed industrialists making a ploy and pushing industries toward the brink of collapse as this trend may drive out the laborers jobless. Rai also claimed that farmers at Nepal Tea Development Corporation Limited faced the worst exploitation.
Representatives of tea laborers Umesh Regmi said that the minimum wage rates are fixed lower than other labourers and to make the matter worse they are not even getting the salary as fixed.
The government has formed a panel led by Maheshwor Dahal, joint secretary of Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security to address the problems of tea industries. The Dahal's panel has already reached to the tea industries and met with them and have collected opinion of the laborers in Ilam and Jhapa, according to laborers.
Tea industrialists have their own stories on the matter. “We cannot pay minimum wage fixed by the government until the government gives us a status of agro-based industries,” said Chandi Parajuli, member of Association of Tea Industries. Such agro based industries are waived of any duties on the produced goods and several other benefits.
Chief District Officer of Jhapa Janakraj Dahal informed that they have been making attempts to sort out the matter. “We are closer to reach to a conclusion,” said Dahal but denied to divulge details of the progress. Tea farmers are also not happy with the tea industrialists. They blamed the industrialists paying very low price of green leaves driving farmers to abandon tea farming and many farmers thereafter have cleared the tea garden.