Tea workers back on warpath over wage hike

ILAM, July 24: Tea workers in eastern Nepal have resumed protest from Sunday, saying that a high-level panel formed to resolve dispute over minimum wage failed to resolve the dispute within the given frame. The government had given the panel three months to resolve the dispute.

The workers had agreed to return to work three months ago after the government formed the panel led by Dr Hari Dahal, joint-secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, to resolve the minimum wage dispute.

The government had formed the 19-member panel after a tripartite meeting between the government representatives, tea industries and tea workers formed to resolve the minimum wage row. The meeting had agreed to resolve the dispute on the basis of report submitted by the panel.

As a part of their protest, agitating workers staged a sit-in protest at the office of Nepal Tea Manufacturers´ at Bhadrapur of Jhapa on Sunday.

“The panel is just buying time. It isn´t conducting in-depth study on related issues,” said Chatra Giri, a tea garden owner and a member of the panel.

Devi Bishwokarma, chairman of Independent Tea Workers Union (ITWU), said the workers resumed their protests after several rounds of talks with the local employers failed to reach a breakthrough. “We had to launch protests because the industrialists are in no mood of addressing our demands,” added Bishwokarma.

Industrialist Chandi Parajuli said the issue of minimum wage of workers has been the lingering bone of contention. “We are ready to provide daily wage of Rs 140, which is on par with what Indian tea gardens are offering. But the workers are demanding at least Rs 190 per day,” he added.

At present, tea workers in Ilam are receiving Rs 120 per day. More than 42 tea estates employ around 35,000 workers in eastern Nepal.

Besides wage hike, the workers have also demanded implementation of the social security scheme that workers in other sectors are enjoying.
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