India: Thousands of tea workers protest over unpaid wages during COVID-19 lockdown

Women tea workers in Assam

Tens of thousands of tea plantation workers in India’s north-eastern state of Assam staged protests at the end of April 2020, to demand payment of wages during the Coronavirus lockdown. Workers on tea estates throughout the region say they have not received their wages, despite government guidelines that they should be paid in full during the lockdown period.

As a result of unpaid wages, tea pickers are facing increased hardship and hunger during the lockdown, say unions. Unions have also raised concerns over inadequate handwashing and hygiene facilities to protect workers against infection as tea picking has partially resumed on some tea estates.

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Article
15 May 2020

India: Trade union submits plea to Supreme Court on behalf of 25000 tea workers over unpaid wages & rations

Author: Sanya Talwar, LiveLaw.in

"SC Seeks Govt.'s Response On Challenge To Non-Payment Of Wages To Tea Garden Workers During COVID Lockdown", 14 May 2020

The Supreme Court... [has] directed the State Government of Assam to respond to a plea seeking payment of wages and ration supplies to Tea Plantation workers within 10 days. A bench... observed that even though the bench is not usually inclined to interfere, it would do so in this case Assam tea gardens "have a history".

Senior Advocate... stated that none of the tea plantation workers were being paid despite directions during the Coronavirus induced lockdown...

The application has been filed as an intervention plea by a trade union of Assam more than 25000 tea garden workers... Their plea... highlights that "despite specific government orders... workers are not being paid their wages and rations by employers. The workers in the tea gardens are in dire circumstances and facing extreme poverty"...

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Article
7 May 2020

Commentary: Food workers in global supply chains are on the frontline of COVID-19

Author: Oxfam International

"Food workers on the frontline of coronavirus", May 2020

...Food workers throughout global supply chains are on the frontline of the coronavirus... Now more than ever supermarkets and their suppliers must uphold and protect the rights of all the workers and producers who are risking their lives...

[In India] worker unions have reported that tea pickers are facing increased hardship, hunger and health-risks due to the lockdown. Of the 14 tea estates that one union visited, no tea pickers have received wages for the lockdown period and only one estate has provided workers with their rice ration. As tea picking has partially resumed on some tea estates, the union told Oxfam that plantation managers haven’t installed adequate handwashing and hygiene facilities. There are also limited quarantine and health facilities should workers fall ill...

Oxfam partners in Brazil and Ecuador who work with fruit pickers have all reported the potential additional risks that workers face from coronavirus due to effects of long-term exposure to pesticides and fertilisers...

Small-scale producers, who often sell directly to markets, have already lost their customer base as markets across the world are closing... As incomes are lost, food workers and producers are pushed further into poverty...

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Article
7 May 2020

India: Hunger due to unpaid wages & inadequate rations during lockdown drives tea workers back to work, despite COVID-19 fears

Author: Vijayta Lalwani, Scroll.in

"One reason why tea garden employees went back to work despite Covid-19 fears – hunger", 1 May 2020

While industries across the country remained shut because of the nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus, tea garden employees in eastern India went back to work...

Workers point to large gatherings of people at various points of the production process... no hand sanitisers or masks... no health check ups, not even basic thermal screening...

But there was one reason that had driven tea workers across states back to work: hunger... Both Central and state governments have issued guidelines stipulating that workers should be paid wages during the lockdown period... But companies are struggling to pay even these wages... Almost every tea garden worker has the same story – no wages, few savings and rations running out...

Tea garden owners, meanwhile, say it would be a “herculean” task to pay workers wages for the lockdown period and after without any help from the government. “Nobody in the industry has paid the lockdown wages,” said the owner who employs 1,000 workers in Bengal... [One owner] said they would only be able to pay wages after the production and auction of tea...

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Article
2 May 2020

India: Assam tea workers protest to demand lockdown wages

Author: The World Socialist Web Site

"India: Assam tea workers demand coronavirus lockdown wages", 2 May 2020

Tens of thousands of tea plantation workers in India’s north-eastern state of Assam protested on April 28 to demand payment of wages during the coronavirus lockdown. The demonstration involved workers from tea gardens across the state.

Workers said that they have not received their wages even though the central and state governments had ordered on March 29 and April 2 respectively that they should be paid in full during the lockdown period.

The protest was called by the All India Central Council of Trade Unions and supported by Asom Sangrami Chaah Shromik Sangha. Protesting workers said that Tea Board India was silent on the outstanding pay.

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