Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Jalpaiguri is one of the largest tea-producing districts of West Bengal, where large companies typically own tea gardens. While tea plantation is an important source of income, thousands of workers face low wages, poor working conditions, lack of job security and health problems.
I visited Jalpaigudi and met and spoke with temporary tea garden workers to understand their plight.
More than 70 percent of the workers in these plantations are hired temporarily during the tea plucking season.
Remaining months, they do not have any other source of income as plucking tea leaves is their primary and, in most cases, the only source of income. These temporary workers have been working in these plantations for decades and are still looking for a permanent source of income.
I met Johan Kharia, a tea plantation worker who's been working in the tea gardens for several years, he told me that he's been out of work after his nine-month temporary contract ended.
"I used to get Rs 220 per day. Sometimes if the work was good, I used to get Rs 300 per day, with food from the company. We used to work from 8 am to 4 pm," said Kharia.
Despite an increase in minimum wages from Rs 232 to Rs 250 per day, temporary workers like Kharia are finding it difficult to run the house.
"If you come and see what is in my house. We don't even have a bed to sleep. We don't even have a chair at our house. We need help managing our food. We are managing our livelihood by working here and there on a daily basis."Johan Kharia, Tea plantation worker
Challenging Working Conditions Adds to Health Hazards
The working conditions in these tea gardens pose a health hazard to the workers as they are not provided with proper equipment for their work.
My son does a cutting job because of which he has got wounds on his hands. For the last two days, he didn't go to work. I told him that if there is too much pain, then he should speak to the tea garden manager to get some easy job till the time the wounds heal.Johan Kharia, Tea plantation worker
Several Women Workers are Paid Bare Minimum
Women workers are usually not even paid the minimum wage since they work in Choto Bagan or smaller plantations.
I am paid Rs 120 per day. I come at 10 am and go back at 2pm. After this month, there will be no work for the next three months. Without any work, of course, we will face difficulties.Samina Khatoon, Tea Plantation Worker
'Despite Working For Years, We Lack Basic Facilities'
Sujeeta, a tea plantation worker who's been working for over five years told me that she is still waiting for her job to become permanent.
Here in the tea garden, they take more time for women workers to hand over permanent contracts. It takes 5 to 10 years for them to earn permanent contracts. In a temporary contract, we don't get any benefits apart from the salary. We don't have any medical insurance. If we get a permanent contract, we get several benefits like insurance and provident fund.Sujeeta, Tea Plantation Worker
The temporary workers do not receive benefits like yearly bonuses, paid leaves, and pensions.
These issues are not new to the tea garden workers. These hardships have led to protests and strikes by tea plantation workers in the past but demanding better working conditions, higher wages, and improved living standards. But their issues seem far from getting resolved.
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