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The article is written by Nikhil Thakur from Manav Rachna University. The author has attempted to explain in brief the social security for labourers in the tea industry of Darjeeling along with a special reference to women workers.

Introduction

Tea is a popular drink all over the world. India has a few major tea industries and the most celebrated one is the Darjeeling tea industry. Darjeeling’s tea is considered one of the finest tea in the world. The cultivation of tea at Darjeeling has been performed for 150 years; the geographic location of the area is very much favourable for the cultivation of the finest quality tea. The tea cultivated or produced in Darjeeling is very popular all over the world due to its unique taste, flavour and quality and hence, it has been designated as the “Darjeeling Tea”.

Recently, there was some issue with the tea industries in Darjeeling as the labourers there were negatively impacted. Wages, health, education, livelihood, frequent violence and strikes issues of the labourers are a few of the key problems faced by Darjeeling Tea industries. 

Meaning

Darjeeling tea

Following the Tea Board of India, it defines the “Darjeeling Tea” as a tea that is manufactured, developed, cultivated, grown, produced and processed in the hilly areas of the subdivision of Kalimpong (Samabeong Tea estate, Ambiok Tea estate, Mission Hill Tea estate, Kumai Tea estate and Kurseong).  

Social security

The security that is furnished by the organization against the risks to which the members of that organization are exposed. It is a device that is utilized by society to ensure security to its own members. It is measured in terms of cash and medical benefits that are assured to the member who has been a victim of any contingency.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), social security refers to the protection guaranteed to society specifically in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness, injury, etc.

Social security and the Constitution

Under the Constitution, social security is enshrined within the ambit of the concurrent list which means both the centre and the state are empowered to make laws in this regard.

  1. Item no. 23,
  2. Item no. 24,
  3. The welfare of labour including the condition of work,
  4. Provident funds,
  5. Employers’ liability,
  6. Workmens’ compensation and so on.

Further, Article 41 and 42 of the Indian Constitution ensure social security to the workers.

Social security under Labour Laws

The state plays an important role in all the social security schemes whether it be for its enactments or implementation. The key constituents of social security are allied services, social insurance and social assistance. In India, both the parliament as well as the state legislature have enacted a plethora of legislation concerning social security.

After the new Labour Law Amendment, 2019, various labour laws in India have been summed up into 4 main categories as Code on Wage, 2019, Occupational Safety, Health and Working Condition Code, 2019, Industrial Relation Code, 2019 and Code on Social Security, 2019.

Thus, a specific law concerning social security in India has been enacted which has summed up the erstwhile social security act which are:

  1. Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952
  2. Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948
  3. Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923
  4. Employment Exchanges (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959
  5. Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
  6. Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972
  7. Cine-workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981
  8. Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996; and 
  9. Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008

In India, there are a few measures adopted concerning social security:

Retirement benefits

These benefits are allowed in favour of an employee who has been retired, resigned, terminated his/her service etc. and are covered under the purview of Employees’ Deposit Linked Insurance Scheme, 1976, Coal Mines Provident Fund and Bonus scheme Act, 1948, Employees’ Provident fund and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 1952 and Seamen’s Provident Fund Act, 1966

Quasi-Social insurance 

Under this head, the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923/Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923 is covered, which ensures that the compensation is provided to the dependents of the deceased workmen who died while working or even the act ensures compensation in case the workmen have been injured (Partial or total disablement).

Unemployment benefits

There are a few laws that ensure compensation in case the workmen have been involuntarily unemployed. One such law is the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947.

Social security in Darjeeling’s tea industry

The tea industry is a labour-intensive industry, which means that it requires a notable amount of human capital to manufacture the goods or requires a massive amount of physical effort. The tea industry depicts the circumstances and the trouble of those specialists or workers who have been enthusiastically abused and misconstrued for ages.

The Dooars of Gorkhaland and Terai hills are gripped in smouldering uneasiness when they are compelled to witness the misery of their individuals within the purview of hunger, starvation and death. And accordingly from 2015 till now, nearly more than seventy workers who were working in the tea plantation industry have lost their lives out of hunger and starvation.

The scenic beauty of Darjeeling and its unique tea flavour has gained enough fame that it has covered the entire suffering, misery and insecurity of the workers working there. The denial of these workers by the people as well as by the government has caused starvation death, malnourishment of children, denial of education, health crisis, poor sanitation and housing, forced labour, sex slavery etc.

There are a few examples through which we can understand the conditions of the labours in the Darjeeling tea industry, that a poor lady having two youngsters were decreased to a skeleton due to starvation and malnourishment and she is not the only one there are numerous.

The tea industry in Darjeeling generates average revenue of ₹450 crores annually, while the minimum wage paid to unskilled tea labour is just ₹112 which is far less than the minimum wage in Kerala (₹254), Tamil Nadu (₹209) and other regions of India. Even the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme in West Bengal is around 130-151. Thus, it symbolizes that the tea workers in Darjeeling are forced to work for wages that are far lower than the minimum wage. 

Besides this, the demand for cheap labour in the tea field around the globe has been expanding and due to this human trafficking has augmented. A UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) joint report of 2010, submitted that nearly 3,500 minors were trafficked from this region.

Furthermore, according to the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 the workers are guaranteed minimum services like health, ration and lodging. Woefully, these facilities are enjoyed by only a minimum number of workers while the majority of workers do not have access to them.

To curb all these activities and look forward to the poor conditions of the workers, the Supreme Court of India through an order dated 6/8/2010 directed the government to fulfil its obligations, the obligations it has under the Tea Act of 1953. According to the said Act, the central government shall enter into the shoes of the tea administration undertaking and work accordingly as per Section 16B, 16D and 16E of the Tea Act.

Despite the directions issued by the Supreme Court of India, neither the central government nor the state government has taken any steps forward. But, a few of the tea gardens there were privatized by the administration.

Women at Darjeeling tea industry

Reiterating the fact that the tea industry is a labour-intensive industry and due to which it includes a huge quantity of human capital. The women workers of the Darjeeling tea industry had a long history of oppression, repression and suppression. In the tea industry, the women labourers are specialized at plucking the tea leaves hence they are employed in huge numbers.

Since the inception of the tea industry in India, the role of women in the same field is always appreciated and acknowledged. Just because women are good at plucking, they are not given any other work is a wrong statement, as besides plucking women are employed in work like sorting, sweeping, cleaning etc.

But, the situation gets worse when they are not employed to work with machines or drive tractors like men. The traditional patriarchal mindset that women can do only easy things and men can do anything is reinforced. The women are allowed to work only as sardain and their number is almost negligent.

Another reason for the issue was the distinction in the wages. Despite equal work, the women declined to be paid equally as the men. But, this wage distinction amongst the men and women was abolished in 1976, but woefully it is still followed. The Indian Tea Planters’ Association agreed to keep the distinction of the wage among the men and women because the Thika (in tea industries, the labour has to complete his/ her work within a given time frame) which is allotted to women workers are lesser than that of men hence difference in wage is acceptable.

The women in the tea industry work for about 10 hours a day (7 am to 5 pm) with a daily wage of only ₹56, later revised to ₹102 and then to ₹154. On the other hand, the male workers work for about 8 hours a day (6 am to 2 pm) which is 2 hours less than women. But, despite working lesser hours male workers are entitled to a bigger wage.

Moreover, in the Darjeeling tea industry, 4 categories of classes are mentioned: the administrative staff, office staff, sub staff and specialists. Since its inception, no women have been designated a position of administrative staff. This is another point of issue for not allowing women to acquire higher positions than men which depicts that the threads of traditional patriarchy are still intact.

Further, the advancement offices were restricted to only male workers. Even though women work more than men and their work is recognized and they are committed, still are not allowed to move up in the hierarchy. The reason why women never protested against this was that they were not expecting anything more out of their employment or simply their approach to employment was limited, they must not be knowing their minimum wage.

Another difficulty faced by the women in the tea industry is poor working conditions or lodging facilities. The majority of the houses lack electricity supply, water supply, proper ventilation and other essentials. Moreover, the tea industries lack the availability of hospitals and hence if a women worker gets injured she has to go a far distance to get treated.

Even the women in the tea industry are not getting appropriate and nutritional food. So, because of this they get easily susceptible to infectious diseases and are vulnerable. Due to lack of proper nutrition in the food, women face problems during their pregnancy both before and after, thus, they must be made aware to take nutritional food and on a timely basis.

Despite facing so many problems, difficulties while working in the tea industries not a single woman raised her voice. Hence, we must acknowledge the role of female workers in the tea industries and ensure that they get equal pay for equal work and we need to get out of the traditional patriarchal system that “women cannot do this” “she does not belong here”.

Conclusion

The tea industry is a labour-intensive industry that requires a huge amount of human capital. Darjeeling tea industry’s annual revenue is ₹405 crore which is equal to that of its tourism revenue collected annually. This shows how big the tea industry is in India. But, the minimum wage for its hard-working labourers is just ₹112, way less than that of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka etc.

Beyond the scenic beauty of Darjeeling, its poplar tea and cheerful faces of its people rest on the dark truth of poor wages, poor living conditions, denial of fundamental privileges accompanied by starvation and death. 

Reference

 

 


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