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IUF calls on Indian supreme court to protect tea workers

Posted to the IUF website 12-Apr-2006

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New reports highlight workers' plight

The IUF and affiliated tea unions have agreed to launch public interest litigation in an attempt to get the Indian Government to act to protect thousands of tea workers on plantations in the tea producing states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerela.

The claim will be backed by two reports*, published today, highlighting the plight of workers on abandoned plantations and detailing the theft of workers provident fund, wages and other benefits by employers in North Bengal. On the 18 plantations covered the authors founds that total liabilities to workers were Rs.366,243,653.53, equivalent to Rs.21,340 per worker or about 17 months of wages. Copies of these reports can be obtained from´┐Ż.

The IUF estimates that 65,000 workers in West Bengal and over 100,000 workers have been affected by the crisis which has affected India's tea sector since 2001. Thousands of workers have starved to death since then despite attempts to get them food aid and other assistance.

In a letter to the Chief Justice of India to prepare for the case, the IUF calls on the court to:

1. Bring the erring employers of the closed/abandoned tea plantations immediately to justice and be made to pay the workers their pending wages, provident fund amount, gratuity, medical expenses and any such owing expenses. In cases where the employers have not deposited provident fund money even after deductions from workers wages, immediate steps be taken to oblige them to immediately deposit such amounts and to hold such employers responsible under the law;
2. Take immediate steps to see that henceforth no worker starve and starve to death and her/his family not be evicted from the plantations where the lease has expired or is likely to expire soon or is to be cancelled;
3. Allocate 5 acres of land per permanent worker of the closed / abandoned tea plantation and transfer the land to the name of each permanent worker of the plantation to grow food;
4. Create a relief fund, partly resourced from the assets of the abandoned plantations and other commercial interests owned by the planters and their companies, to assist the workers who have lost employment due to the crisis and to provide immediate relief to the suffering workers;
5. Develop a mechanism along with the planters and their companies to contribute towards immediate humanitarian aid for the affected plantation workers in the form of food, water and medicine in order to prevent further suffering among the workers and their families;
6. Immediately pin responsibility and ensure payment of benefits already owed to the workers and pay towards the loss incurred by the workers so far and fulfil all obligations under the law to prevent further suffering of the workers;
7. Investigate and review the process, which have led to the market-driven humanitarian crisis in the Indian tea industry."

* Study on Closed and Re-opened Tea Gardens In North Bengal by Anuradha Talwar, Debasish Chakraborty and Sarmishtha Biswas;
Click here for this report

Nutritional survey of tea workers on closed, re-opened and open tea plantations of the Dooars region, West Bengal, India by Sarmishtha Biswas, Debasish Chokraborty, Sutay Berman, and Joshua Berman.
Click here for this report