Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Darjeeling Workers Lift Tea Embargo for DTA Gardens
29 Mar 2011
By World Tea News

Darjeeling First Flush From ITA Member Gardens Held Hostage

“The situation in Darjeeling is a mess,” observed Devan Shah, CEO of International Tea Importers (ITI) on his return from the troubled region. A partial embargo by workers of shipments from India Tea Association gardens continues. On Wednesday workers lifted an embargo at 63 Darjeeling Tea Association gardens that had escalated to the point where “workers show up to work, tea is manufactured but not shipped. There is a big backlog of teas and the clock is ticking for these teas,” says Shah.
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The embargo of first flush Darjeeling was lifted by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha at 63 gardens Wednesday freeing growers to resume tea shipments that have been disrupted since March 4. The decision makes it posible for suppliers to meet European demand before the important Easter holiday sales season. Only gardens represented by the Darjeeling Tea Association will benefit at this time. There are 87 gardens in the region. The remainder are represented by the Indian Tea Association (ITA).

The decision by the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union was announced when DTA garden owners agreed to resume talks on a proposed daily rate hike. The 20 member gardens of the Indian Tea Association "will continue to be crippled by the embargo" according to reports in The Telegraph of Calcutta.

The DTA's decision undermines efforts by the Consultive Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) which represents 20 ITA gardens, 63 DTA gardens and four independents.

The Telegraph reported that separately the Labour Department, the CCPA and representatives of other trade unions met in Siliguri to discuss a wage agreement that expires Thursday. Participants rejected Morcha's demand to conduct separate wage talks.

The newspaper reported that wage parity among gardens has been the norm.

Monojit Dasgupta, the secretary general of the CCPA, told the group “We are serious about inking the new wage agreement at the earliest. The tripartite talks have proved to be fruitful in fixing the wages. The issue can be resolved amicably.”

A strike in support of the political movement to further divide West Bengal to create the state of Gorkhaland has hampered Darjeeling tea deliveries since Mar. 4. Protests in support of establishing a home state for the Gorkha has disrupted life in all three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. Last week the GJM failed to resolve differences after meeting with garden owners following street protests and a general strike. In response the GJM stopped the dispatch of sample tea bags from the hill gardens. Soon after an embargo of all tea shipments was imposed.

The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) represents the majority of Darjeeling's gardens. The older ITA represents the remainder. The Morcha-controlled Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union is seeking an increase from Rs57 ($1.27) to Rs154 ($3.44) a day.

First and second flush teas account for 70 percent of the region's annual revenue which produced 8.2 million kg in 2010. The region employs 55,000 workers in the tea gardens which cover 45,000 acres (18,000 hectares).

According to the Darjeeling Times, garden owners hope to discuss the wage revision “in conformity with well established practices towards a composite agreement covering all sections of the West Bengal tea industry.” This means that the discussion must be carried out with all operating tea unions in Bengal and that no separate parleys could be held only with the Morcha’s union."

"The movement for a separate Gorkha state dates back to the 1980s. Since then it has claimed thousands of human lives. The movement gained momentum last year when the GJM organized strikes on two occasions," according to the Indial publication Hardnews. India employs millions of tea garden workers in its annual production of 10,000 million tonnes; 100,000 are employed in the Siliguri region which last year produced 40,000 tonnes of tea.

Last week tourists were seen fleeing the hills to avoid harassment during the strike. Amid simmering tension, worried parents feared for their children studying in the hill schools. Students have also started moving out of the hills. Supplies to Sikkim were also disrupted as the only highway to the hill state was blocked by the protestors. A guided tour of German tourists in SUVs was detained.

In a statement to the media the CCPA expressed "concern over the move on the part of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union seeking to bypass... well established norms to achieve their ends through threats which could completely destroy the Darjeeling tea industry.”
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The good news is that all of the SensibiliTeas Darjeeling teas come from estates that are covered by the Darjeeling Tea Association -- Makaibari, Goomtee, Gopaldhara, Avongrove, Risheehat.
Hoping shipments can be begin soon. A word of caution though ... the price of Darjeeling teas can be expected to rise in the coming months.

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