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APK proposes suspension of minimum wage revision

K. Venkiteswaran

Plea for settling the wage issue on a pragmatic and realistic basis


  • 37 plantations in Kerala have been closed
  • District relief committees are providing some relief care to the affected workers

    KOCHI: The Association of Planters, Kerala (APK) has pleaded to the authorities and trade unions not to press for the minimum wage revision and come forward for settling the wage issue on a realistic and pragmatic basis.

    APK sources pointed out that without a substantial increase in labour productivity, there is no chance for the tea industry to survive by paying even the present wages, leave alone the proposed high minimum wages.

    Sources noted that the Government itself had gone on record to state that 37 plantations in Kerala have been closed down and the Government-formed district relief committees are providing some relief care to the affected workers. The rest of the estates are surviving either because they are part of composite plantation companies with other profitable crops such as rubber or because the pure tea companies are paying only a portion of the wages due to the workers as advance, and the workers, trade unions and the Government authorities, realising the helplessness of such plantations, have not been making an issue of the non-payment of the wages, pointed out a statement here.

    Suicides of farmers, including small tea and coffee growers, are not a new phenomenon in Kerala ever since the ill-effects of globalisation began to be felt in terms of crash in tea and coffee prices. While the proprietary owner of a plantation takes recourse to such a desperate step because of heavy indebtedness, the indebtedness of a corporate plantation is manifested by the closure or abandonment of estates. The major victims are the poor workers. This is what has been happening in the tea sector in which corporate holdings are predominant. It is now widely accepted that far from being benefited, Indian agriculture and rural sector have been the worst-hit victims of globalisation. Plantations also come within these affected sectors, the statement noted.

    There were sparks of price recovery for the beleaguered cash crops in 2004 but this was a short-lived phenomenon. The South Indian average price of tea which was Rs.68.80 a kg in 1998 had crashed to Rs.41.63 in 2002 which further declined to Rs.39.90 in 2003. The average increased to Rs.47.01 in 2004. But the price realised for the period January/October in 2005 is Rs.42.61 as against Rs.46.62 for the corresponding period of 2004. If the falling trend continued, the average price for 2005 is not likely to be more than Rs.40 a kg, noted APK, adding that the price trend is indeed "very gloomy."

    It is in this backdrop of a disastrous price situation and when tea and coffee plantatins were unable to pay normal prevailing wages fixed either under the last settlement or under the Minimum Wages Notification of 1996 that the State Government published in June this year proposals for a "steep revision of the minimum wages by more than 16 per cent for tea, coffee and cardamom and 30 per cent in rubber."

    These proposals are currently under deliberations in the appropriate forums though the employers have opposed the revision.

    "The confirmation of minimum wage proposals will be the last straw on the camel's back as far as Kerala tea , coffee and cardamom plantations are concerned," said the APK press release.

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