Absenteeism blow to tea
Guwahati, March 13: The problem of rising absenteeism has hit the tea industry in Assam hard despite counselling of workers and continuous efforts to curb the trend.
“It is true that in spite of our best efforts and counselling, the attendance of workers following weekends is alarmingly low. The problem of absenteeism is further compounded by shortage of temporary workers,” a top tea official said.
The issue was deliberated on at the 121st annual general meeting of Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association in Dibrugarh last month and will be followed up in another meeting between the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and the tea industry in Dibrugarh on March 15.
Last year, at the signing of the wage revision agreement, the tea workers’ organisation had decided to opt for counselling to control absenteeism.
“This has also not resulted in anything positive,” the official said. He said it was very difficult to give an overall figure of absenteeism, but sources have estimated the figure to be in the range of 15-20 per cent, which varies from garden to garden.
“It is a serious issue and we would once again request the tea workers’ unions to impress upon their constituents the necessity to curb absenteeism, which has a direct bearing on our cost of production so that the viability of the industry is sustained,” the official said.
According to industry sources, with gainful employment elsewhere, the workers were opting out of garden work, while retaining the facilities of the estates.
“This has become a very serious issue and needs to be addressed with mechanisation as well as strong disciplinary measures,” he said.
The official said cost control still continues to be the major concern of the industry with labour wages constituting 50 per cent of the total cost of production.
“Although much has been discussed on the need to address the social cost, the government is yet to formalise programmes to mitigating this cost and making our tea competitive in the international market, since other tea producing countries are not burdened with such costs,” the official said. He said the social cost, which is borne by the industry to provide housing, health, sanitation and other facilities to its workers, is now Rs 9 per kg of made tea.
The tea industry in Assam employs around 10 lakh people, both permanent and casual, with another 30 lakh living off the industry.
“The continued viability of the tea industry is of paramount importance in order to sustain the survival of the large rural population it supports and its role in the economic development of the backward areas where our operations are based,” the official said.
A productivity-linked incentive scheme was introduced last year but because of erratic weather conditions and lower crop, the full potential of the scheme could not be achieved.
“We are hoping that during the coming season the workers will be able to achieve the full potential of the scheme. The productivity of workers is vital to the sustainability of this industry. We are hopeful that our workers will respond positively and fully utilise the potential of the scheme,” he said.
Under this productivity-linked scheme, garden labourers in Assam will now have to pluck 23kg compared to 21kg earlier and will get an incentive of 55 paise per kg.