Kochi: Cardamom farmers in Kerala’s Idukki district are facing losses after workers went on strike last week demanding higher wages, undoing better-than-average production this season.
With no one attending to the crops, cardamom seeds in several estates have ripened and the plants face the risk of disease spreading, said K.K. Devasia, president of the Cardamom Growers Association. The August-to-October period is a prime season for harvesting cardamom, said T.T. Jose, managing director of Mas Enterprises Pvt. Ltd, the agency that holds weekly cardamom auctions in Idukki.
The workers, on strike since 13 August, had initially asked for their daily wages to be increased to Rs175 from about Rs100.48, citing rising prices. They have since lowered their demand to Rs139 a day. Talks held by Kerala labour minister P.K. Gurudasan with striking workers have failed to end the strike. The loss to cardamom growers so far is estimated at about Rs20 lakh.
K.V. George, a leader of the Indian National Trade Union Congress and president of a coordination committee of various labour unions, said workers in Idukki’s cardamom plantations earn less than those in the rubber and tea sectors. “The industry should realize that there is a dearth of workers,” he said.
Plantation owners have agreed to increase the daily wages to Rs121.56, but total cost to growers would be about Rs175 including allowances and payments towards provident fund and insurance, Devasia said.
Estate owners are not averse to raising wages, “but since these are three-year minimum wage agreements, we are not willing to raise the minimum wages beyond Rs122,” he added. “Cardamom is a very sensitive plant. Excess rain or heat can have a very adverse effect on the crop and production has never been stable.”
A recent spell of rainfall has proved beneficial for cardamom production in the district, after it witnessed a near dry spell in the earlier part of the monsoon since June. Cardamom production in the district is expected to be normal at about 12,000 tonnes in fiscal 2009, compared with 9,618 tonnes in 2007-08. Priceshave been hovering at about Rs600 a kg.