Capital-Labour Conflict: A Case of Assams Tea Industry

 

Dr. (Mrs) Nizara Arya

Associate Professor in Economics, National Defence Academy, Pune-411023 

 

 

ABSTRACT:

Assam is located in the North-East of India surrounded by seven states viz. West Bengal, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. It also shares its boundaries with two countries viz. Bangladesh and Bhutan. Tea industry plays a very vital role in Assam as far as state economy is concerned. It produces more than 50 percent of the total tea produced in the country. Both management and workers have significant role in the development of the industry; unfortunately, no association or branch exists to monitor the welfare of workers and functions of management at the state government level. However, the Chief Minister of Assam, Mr. Tarun Gogoi, recently pronounced a new unit solely to look after the welfare measures and development of tea workers.

The economy of Assam continues to be primarily agrarian and the agricultural sector is providing employment to more than 50 percent of the rural population. This sector contributes 25 percent to the State Domestic Product (2010-11).

Tea is considered to be one of the main agricultural produces in the state and is reputed all over the world for its aromatic quality. The climate of Assam favours the produce of sweet and tangy tea in the region. The worlds largest CTC (cut, torn and curl) tea auction centre is in Assam, which is also the worlds second largest in terms of total tea. Assam mainly exports its tea to Europe and the Middle Eastern countries and also to Pakistan, Egypt, Japan and Israel.  Tea is grown both in the Brahmaputra as well as the Barak plains in Assam. Tea gardens are mostly found in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Darrang and Sonitpur districts of Assam. About 17% of the workers of Assam are engaged in the tea industry. Though Assam plantation generally produces black tea, the region also produces smaller quantities of green and white teas. There are more than 850 tea estates and more than 2500 tea gardens in Assam that span thousands of acres of land.

 

 

INTRODUCTION:

Employment in Indian Tea Industry:

The entire labour force of the tea plantations usually consists of immigrant workers from different parts of the country. Tea workers in Assam are migrants from Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; however, in the Darjeeling hills, almost the entire labour force comprises descendents of migrants from Nepal.

 

 

 


In South (Tamil Nadu), the tea plantation workers are not the original residents of the two tea growing districts- Nilgiris and Coimbatore, but are migrant workers. All these migrant workers have permanently settled in their respective working places with little or no contact with their places of origin.

 

Tea industry is one of the oldest well-organized agro-industries in Assam. More than six lakh workers get direct employment from the industry in which a sizeable number are women. A large number of temporary workers are also engaged during the plucking season. These workers are classified into permanent workers, outside workers and temporary workers. Permanent workers are those who reside inside the tea estates and their names have been registered in the workers’ register book. Outside workers are those who reside outside the tea estate and they may be permanent or casual workers.

 

Table: District wise Compound Growth Rates of Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour in Tea Plantation in Assam (2000-2006)

Districts

Compound annual growth rate (%)

Darrang

0.44

Goalpara

0.83

Kamrup

1.10

Dibrugarh

0.59

Lakhimpur

-0.58

Nawgong

0.12

Sibsagar

0.34

Cachar

0.52

Karbi Anglong

1.57

N Cachar

0.82

Total Assam

0.47

Total W B

0.56

Total Other States

-1.17

Total North India

0.46

Total All-India

0.67

 

Temporary workers are those who are employed for a particular season for e.g. during plucking season; they are engaged for plucking season and during off-season; they are out of the activities of tea estates. Temporary workers reside close to tea estates. Some workers are also employed on contract basis. There are two explicit features of tea industry, firstly very high proportion of women is employed in this industry and secondly, the employment of child labours. Most of the workers engaged in tea estates are women and children, which is a characteristic of tea industry.

 

Wages of Workers in Indian Tea Industry

The wages of tea plantation workers in the two northern states are lower than the two southern states even though the two northern sates jointly produce 75 per cent of India’s tea. Assam tea industry contributes more than half of India’s tea production.  Even though tea industry plays an important role in the state economy, however, the tea plantation workers are the most unprivileged lot as far as minimum wages are concerned. They earn far below the minimum wages fixed for other organised sectors in the country under the Plantation Labour Act and Minimum Wages Act.

 

The Chief Minister of Assam in his recent statement announced that tea garden workers should be paid minimum wages of Rs 169 per day, however, the agreement between (CCPA) Consultative Committee for Plantation Association and (ACMS) Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha have agreed to raise the wage of tea garden workers to Rs 115 from Rs 94 per day and not beyond Rs 137 per day till 1st January 2018. Although the state government of Assam has notified stating that the minimum wage of tea garden workers should be Rs 169 per day without clarifying whether other benefits like housing, medical care educational facility etc are exempted or not. 

 

Contribution of workers in the tea industry

Analysis of Compound Growth Rates of Area under Tea, Production, Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour, Labour per hectare, Production per hectare in kgs and Production per labour in kgs in Assam (1989-2010)


 

Table : Overall, Compound Growth Rates (1989-2010)

Decade

Compound Growth Rate of Area under Tea

Compound Growth Rate of Production

Compound Growth Rate of Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour

Decade 1989-1998

1.19

1.41

0.93

Decade 1999-2010

1.68

0.67

0.79

 

Decade

Compound Growth Rate of Labour per Hectare

Compound Growth Rate of Production per Hectare in kgs

Compound growth rate of Production per Labour in  kgs

Decade 1989-1998

-0.25

0.21

0.47

Decade 1999-2010

-0.87

-0.99

-0.12

Decade

Compound Growth Rate of area under tea

Compound Growth Rate of Production

Compound Growth Rate of Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour

1989-2010

1.52

1.12

0.87

 

Decade

Compound Growth Rate of Labour per Hectare

Compound Growth Rate of Production per Hectare in kgs

Compound Growth Rate of Production per Labour in kgs

1989-2010

-0.64

-0.38

0.25

 


The compound growth rates of area under tea, production and estimated average daily number of labour in Assam for the decade 1989-1999 were 1.19 per cent, 1.41 per cent and 0.93 per cent respectively. While labour per hectare has marginally reduced with a negative growth of -0.25 per cent during this period, Production per hectare in kgs, and Production per labour in kgs illustrated very low growth rates with 0.21 per cent and 0.47 per cent respectively. Compound growth rate of tea production was higher than the growth rates of area under tea and estimated average daily number of labour during the period 1989-1999.

 

During the decade 2000-2010, the compound growth rates of area under tea marginally increased to 1.68 per cent.  Tea production declined by 0.67 per cent and estimated average daily number of labour decline by 0.79 per cent. However, Labour per hectare, Production per hectare in kgs , and Production per labour in  kgs reflected negative growth rates during the same period with -0.87 per cent, -0.99 per cent and -0.12 per cent respectively. Compound growth rate of area under tea production was higher than the growth rates of tea production and estimated average daily number of labour.

 

Comparative analysis of both the decades (1989-1999 to 2000-2010) reflected that compound growth rate of area under tea increased from 1.19 per cent to 1.52 per cent. However, the growth rates of tea production and estimated average daily number of labour were lower than the area under tea.  Labour per hectare, Production per hectare in kgs, and Production per labour in kgs in Assam during the same period recorded negative growth rates.

 

The overall growth rate of area under tea was higher with 1.52 per cent compared to production and estimated average daily number of labour (1989-2010). Labour per hectare and Production per hectare in kgs have registered negative growth rates, which is an area of concerned for the tea industry in Assam.

 

Analysis of Compound Growth Rates of Area under Tea, Production, Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour, Labour per hectare, Production per hectare in kgs and Production per Labour in kgs in Assam (1989-2010)

 

The Table below shows that in the first decade i.e. 1989 to 1999 the compound growth rate of area under tea was 1.19 per cent and the growth rate of production has shown higher growth rate with 1.41 per cent during the same period. However, the growth rate of estimated average daily number of labour, labour per hectare, production per hectare and production per labour in kgs was just 0.92 per cent, -0.26 per cent, 0.21 per cent and o.49 per cent respectively. During the second decade, the compound growth rate of area under tea has increased by 1.67 per cent, which was much satisfactory. The area under tea cultivation has reflected higher growth rate since the number of small tea growers has increased enormously in post 90s; however, the growth rate of production was quite low with 0.67 per cent since the tea industry has experienced recession during this decade and a number of tea garden was not functional.  The growth rates of average daily number of labour, labour per hectare, production per hectare in kgs and production per labour in kgs were not very satisfactory and reflected merely 0.78 per cent, -0.87 per cent, -0.99 per cent and -0.12 respectively.


 

 

No.

Decade

Compound Growth

Rate of Area under Tea

Compound Growth Rate of Production

Compound Growth Rate of Estimated Average Daily Number of Labour

Compound Growth Rate of Labour Per hectare

Compound Growth Rate of Production Per hectare in kgs

 Compound Growth Rate of Production Per Labour in  kgs

1

1989-1999

1.19

1.41

0.92

0.26

0.21

0.49

2

2000-2010

1.67

0.67

0.78

-0.87

-0.99

-0.12

Over all

1989-2010

1.52

1.12

0.87

-0.64

-0.38

0.25

 


The overall compound growth rate of the two decades (1989-2010) reflected very low rates of the average daily number of labour, Labour per hectare and of production per labour in kgs as the tea gardens in Assam have been facing severe shortage of skilled workers to work in tea gardens. Since many tea garden workers have left their jobs and gone back to their ancestral places   in search of other jobs. Due to reserve migration, the tea industry in the region is going to face more labour shortage in the near future. Shortage of labour is going to be a major challenge for the tea industry. Social factors like alcoholism and absenteeism and health problems which are very common among tea garden workers in the region are also affecting the production per labour in kgs.  

 

Tea workers and their position  in the tea industry

Although Assam produces more than half of the tea produced in India and earns maximum foreign exchange for the country, yet the labour force which contributes and plays important role in the development of the industry is totally neglected and exploited by the management and the govt. in terms of wages, working condition, medical facilities, housing facilities, drinking water , educational   facilities etc. Out of total workers, around  fifty percent of  them are female workers who contribution significantly to the industry still they are  discriminated in wages and other facilities compared to their male counterparts and this has been going on since pre independence period.

 

They are also facing other socio-economic problems like unhygienic living condition, malnutrition, illiteracy, chronic alcoholism, absenteeism, various communicable diseases etc.

 

It has been observed that recurrent absenteeism is a regular practice among the tea garden workers in the state and the managements have also been complaining about the frequent absenteeism which is escalating gradually. Absenteeism is commonly found with the workers who are more addicted to alcohol. Production and productivity have been badly affected because of frequent absenteeism. It has also been noticed that more than ninety percent absenteeism is without any reason or due to lack of belongingness on the part of tea workers. Even though fifty percent workers are female workers in tea gardens, however, it has been noticed that the percentage of absenteeism is higher with the male workers.

Workers and management relation in tea industry in Assam

The strange labour-management relation has been continuing since colonial period of British rule. The Plantation Labour Act came into force in 1956, emphasises working conditions and several welfare measures for the tea garden workers, however, in spite of various legislation, the eccentric labour–management relation in tea gardens has not shown any improvement over the years.

 

For ages together the relation between worker and management was that of servant and master, however, after the Plantation Labour Act was implemented, the relation has become formal and trade union was formed to protect the interest of workers. In spite of Plantation Labour Act was entrenched to protect the workers legally, yet the conditions of workers and the relation between worker and management has not improved.

 

The various reasons of strained labour –management relation in tea garden in Assam can be attributed to several reasons-

i)     The various welfare measures of the tea garden workers like better working conditions, medical facilities, educational facilities, drinking water, housing facilities etc  have been totally ignored by the management.

 

ii)   The minimum wages fixed by the government have not been implemented in the tea gardens in Assam, for which the tea workers have been demanding since long.

 

iii) Communication gap is observed between workers union and the management regarding various issues related to workers. Upward and downward communication is must for smooth functioning of an organization, however, upward communication is almost missing and it can be referred as only one way communication.

 

iv)  Absenteeism and alcoholism among workers, low productivity and frequent agitations by the workers, directing the management against workers.

 

v)   The tea estates in Assam are situated away from the main stream of the state so the entire family members of the worker is dependent on the tea gardens but the steady turn down in employment in the tea estates and less employment opportunities are also one of the reasons for the clashes between management and workers.

 

vi)  The legacy of colonial attitude of tea management has not changed even after the post independent period. Tea workers are still treated like bonded labourers. Most of the tea workers are denied the basic human rights and the adamant management is not interested in providing welfare measurers to them.

 

vii)            The trade unions of tea workers have revealed that every year hundreds of tea workers die of gastroenteritis and take epidemic form due to lake of proper drinking water an unhygienic way of living. The management has not shown concerned and failed to provide medical facilities to the affected party.

 

CONCLUSION:

Currently, the tea industry in Assam is going through a very uneven phase. Plantation sector in the region is badly affected by labour problem and the industry is struggling for its survival. Tea industry management and Tea Board have to use efficient techniques to repair the lost fame of this industry. It is essential to reduce the costs of production of tea to improve the form of tea industry in the region. Efficiency of labour can be increased by introducing and encouraging HRD in the tea estates. However, working conditions and efficiency of labour largely depends upon the profitability of the industry; as a result, the India Tea Board has to take more initiatives to approve tea in the domestic as well as international market.

 

REFERENCES:

1.     Economic Survey, Assam, 2011-12

2.     GD Banerjee srijit Banerji, 2009, Tea Industry in Transition, Abhijit Publications Delhi-110094

3.     Manas Pratim Sarma, Assam Tea Industry after Japan Fiasco, website cell, IT unit, NSD All India Radio, New Broadcasting House, New Delhi, India

4.     NEDFi data bank

5.     Prasanneswari, Vol. 19, No. 24/25 (Jun. 16-23, 1984), Published Economic and Political Weekly

6.     R. K. Kar, Labour Pattern and Absenteeism: (1984) A Case Study in Tea Plantation in Assam, India Published by Anthropos Institute, Bd. 79, H. 1. /3

7.     RAM, September 2010, Sector Report Tea Industry, The Green Gold of Ceylon

8.     S K Bhowmik, 1981, Labour and Social Issues in Plantations in South Asia

9.     Tea Board, Guwahati various issues

10.   Tea statistics, various issues, Tea Board, India

11.   Udayon Misra, Economic and Political Weekly, (Jul. 19-25, 2003)

 

 


 

Received on 01.09.2015

Modified on 12.09.2015

Accepted on 28.09.2015

© A&V Publication all right reserved

Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 6(4): October- December, 2015, 250-254

DOI: 10.5958/2321-5828.2015.00033.9