Ambotia Tea estate declares suspension of work in garden

Darjeeling: The management of Ambotia Tea declared a lockout in the garden since Tuesday morning. They blamed the workers' unrest and indiscipline for the lockout.

Workers on arriving at the gates of the tea estate in Kurseong on Tuesday morning saw a suspension of work notice pasted by the management. The notice alleges that the workers have been indulging in a series of incidents and gross misconducts, including stopping of dispatch, gate meetings and not reporting for work. This has directly impacted finances and running of the tea estate.

"A section of workers is bent on not allowing the management to run the estate, not listening to the responsible orders of the management with the ulterior motive of personal gain. This management is left with no other option but to declare a suspension of work with effect from 15.10.2019. During the period of suspension of work, no wages or salaries would be paid to the employees. However emergency services would be functional along with watch and ward departments," read the notice. Incidentally, the operating trade unions of the Darjeeling Hills gardens had launched an agitation over the bonus issue. The agitation had included blockade on the dispatch of tea, go slow, gate meetings and pen down strike in the tea garden offices.

The management claim that loss of production due to the ongoing agitation is to the tune of more than 12,000 kg. The management anticipates further loss in production owing to excessive long leaves (because of non-plucking).

"The workers of the garden were not going for plucking for the past two weeks, willfully causing financial loss. There was indiscipline and disregarding the requests of the management and the trade unions," stated Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association.

The operating trade unions will be sitting in a meeting with the Assistant Labour Commissioner over the lockout issue. "An agitation was on regarding bonus. It was the same in all gardens in the Hills. It is the right of the workers to agitate for their rightful demand. Even wages and salary payment in the garden have been irregular let alone bonus. The management could have at least sat with the trade unions before taking such a drastic step," said Amrit Chettri of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union.

However, the unions have demanded that as the bonus agreement was inked in a tripartite meeting in Kolkata on October 11, the bonus has to be disbursed as per the agreement.

"They have to pay 60 per cent of the bonus amount within 10 days (from October 11) and the remaining by December as per the agreement inked," stated George Gurung of the Himalayan Plantation Workers Union. The management claims that a group of workers had threatened the management demanding the entire bonus amount to be paid in a single payment mode and that they will not accept it in the two installments.

The garden is under the Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Private Limited. It has 343.46 hectares under tea with a production of 93,571 kg till September. The garden has a workers' strength of 840 along with 15 staff and 70 sub staff.

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