Kochi: There’s been fresh trouble at the four tea estates owned by the Ram Bahadur Thakur Group (RBT) in Peerumedu in Idukki district of Kerala.
They are among the seven estates that reopened on 25 June—after remaining closed for more than five years—following an announcement of a Rs60 crore relief package by the government. But within a month of reopening, fresh problems have emerged between the management and trade unions.
RBT chief executive officer Manoj M. Sharma said the estates were opened after a series of deliberations that led to an agreement according to which the company was to pay Rs1,500 per month to permanent workers, while the temporary staff were to get Rs750 each.
However, he said, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions has now demanded that even the temporary staff get the same pay as permanent workers. The management has rejected the demand, he added.
The company has already spent around Rs1 crore in renovating the factory, repairing the workers’ quarters and organizing other facilities, Sharma said. Now that the management has taken over the administration and reopened the estates, he added, a section of workers were unhappy and were raising fresh demands. He said the future of the estates depended on the outcome of a conciliation meeting, to be convened by the state’s labour minister P.K. Gurudasan, next week.
The company had completed the formalities for restarting the factory, Sharma said, adding that he was hopeful of starting production in 90 days if the union abided by the terms agreed upon earlier. If the talks fail, the estates would once again be closed down, Sharma warned. Earlier, the factory was closed after a financial crisis and not due to union problems, he added.
The financial package for reopening the estates included waiver of all penalties owing to default in payment of provident fund, restructuring of medium- and long-term loans, waiver of interest penalties and an interest subsidy for five years on the restructured loans. About the other closed estates in the region, Sharma said, the company was willing to re-open and manage them as well. However, he said, there had to be assurances that unions would not interfere in the matter and would abide by the terms of the agreement.
The crisis in the four estates comes at a time when the government is taking steps to reopen all the 26 tea estates across the country, including 10 in Kerala.