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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Call for India tea strike talks
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC correspondent in Calcutta

India tea worker in West Bengal
Tea workers in West Bengal are demanding better wages
The government of India's West Bengal state has called for a meeting with tea workers' unions as a strike in the industry entered its third day.

Government officials spoke to plantation owners on Tuesday and want to meet unions on Thursday to try to end the impasse.

Half a million labourers are on indefinite strike demanding better wages and perks.

The strike has crippled work in the state's 350 tea gardens.

They include those in the famous hill district of Darjeeling.

Managers insist wages should be linked to productivity - a demand labour unions in the tea estates have said is unacceptable.

Production losses

Tea companies say the strike is badly affecting Bengal's industry.

If it spreads to neighbouring Assam, they say the entire Indian tea industry will be crippled because the two states account for nearly 85% of the country's total tea output.

PK Bhattacharya, a senior official with the Indian Tea Association (ITA), told the BBC that production losses could run into 100m rupees (1.3m: $2.3m) a day.

He said there would be very little Bengal tea, particularly Darjeeling tea, on offer in the tea auction centres in eastern India.

The bosses of tea companies will be hard pressed to meet existing orders - or book fresh ones - unless a settlement is reached and the strike is called off.

Apart from closing down all work in the tea estates in northern Bengal, the labourers are planning road blockades on a highway that connects India's north-eastern states with the rest of the country.

The tea labourers' unions say they will not accept the productivity-linked wages that the Indian Tea Association has suggested.

Union spokesman Samir Ray said they wanted the daily wage rate in Bengal to be doubled and other perks paid.

The ITA says the tea industry in Bengal - and also in Assam - is in crisis, with falling demand for Indian teas across the world, falling auction prices for teas and rising production costs.

But the labour unions say management has played up the crisis because it does not want to pay higher wages to the industry's labourers.



SEE ALSO:
Strike halts Assam tea production
29 Sep 04 |  South Asia
Pests jeopardise India tea crop
06 Feb 04 |  Business
Strike in Darjeeling
05 Feb 99 |  South Asia
Tripura tea estates under threat
05 Aug 01 |  South Asia


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