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Guwahati High Court stays wage hike of Assam tea labourers

The Guwahati High Court has ordered the State government not to take action against the Indian Tea Association and 17 tea companies until a case challenging the February 23 notification of the Assam Labour Department is disposed of.

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Guwahati: Tea garden workers in poll bound Assam, who are being wooed by the political parties with a bounty of promises, may miss the bus again, when it comes to their long pending demand of wage hike.

The Guwahati High Court has ordered the State government not to take action against the Indian Tea Association and 17 tea companies until a case challenging the February 23 notification of the Assam Labour Department is disposed of.

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Through the notification, the minimum wage of tea plantation workers was hiked from Rs 167 by an “interim amount” of Rs 50.

The petitioners’ counsel, P K Goswami had on Monday argued that the notification was “illegal as no Committee/Sub-Committees have been formed as required under Section 5(1/a) and Section 9 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948”.

Hearing the petition, Justice Michael Zothankhuma said the State authorities “shall not take any coercive action” against the Indian Tea Association and the tea companies till the next date of the hearing scheduled on March 15.

This effectively means the 17 tea companies, which own 90 percent of some 800 tea estates in Assam, cannot be penalised if they do not pay the enhanced wages.

The notification was issued amid promises by both the BJP-led Assam government and the opposition Congress to increase the daily wage of the tea workers, who are a deciding factor in at least 40 of Assam’s 126 Assembly seats.

The Congress had promised to hike the daily wage to Rs 365 a day, while the BJP had in its 2016 vision document, assured Rs 351.

The BJP government had in 2017 hiked the daily wage of tea workers from Rs 137 to Rs 167 as an interim measure following the recommendation of an advisory committee, which had suggested a daily wage of Rs 352.

Once considered loyal to the Congress, the tea workers largely shifted allegiance to the BJP, which has been doling out cash awards to them.

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