Kolkata: Owners of tea estates in Darjeeling have grudgingly agreed to pay festival bonus to 90,000 workers, but there is no clarity yet on when the payment will be made.
After hours of negotiation on Thursday, estate owners agreed to pay 19.75% of annual wages as bonus, but have got trade unions to agree that it will be paid only after “normalcy is restored".
The bonus is going to cost an estimated Rs40 crore for owners of all the 87 tea estates combined, and they are going to pay it in two instalments, said Arijit Raha, secretary general of the Indian Tea Association (ITA)—a lobby group. Last year, estates in Darjeeling paid 20% of annual wages as bonus.
All the tea estates in Darjeeling have been shut from the middle of June because of the ongoing agitation over a separate state of Gorkhaland. This has cost them around Rs400 crore in combined losses, according to ITA. Raha said restoration of normalcy means managements’ ability to prepare books of accounts.
Ziaur Alam, general secretary of the All India Plantation Workers’ Federation, said all stakeholders should come together to restore normalcy. This is the first time that operations at estates have been disrupted for so long, he added.
Raha said the first instalment will be paid “as soon as possible". However, it may take 5-7 days after gardens reopen to complete the paperwork for payment of bonus, he added.