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Aug 28, 2009

Planters wary over labour shortage, rising cost !


Acute labour shortage, increasing social cost and the future implications of Asean free trade agreement have dampened the spirits ofthe planters notwithstanding the good time the plantation industry is having in the last one year.

With the planters having lot of woes relating to labour shortage and implementation of Minimum Wages Act, Union minister for labour and employment, Mallikarjun Kharge is expected to be present as the chief guest at the 116th annual conference of Upasi, which would be held at Coonoor on September 15.

A full day session on commodities, where the latest technological and scientific advancements in the plantation sector would be showcased, is expected to precede the conference.“Tea, coffee, cardamom and rubber plantations are doing better now after eight years of suffering. I think the next 4 to 5 years will also be good for us,” said United Planters’ Association of Southern India (Upasi) president and Jay Shree Tea & Industries managing director DP Maheshwari.

Upasi chief told the predominant cause for worry in the Indian plantation sector is the acute shortage of labour. “Half of our labourers have migrated to other industries despite good wages. So, we are now trying to find some solution by mechanising certain jobs,” he added.Maheshwari said the increasing social cost is also affecting the industry. “Today, the prices have gone up and so we are able to absorb it. But if the prices come down, then the industry will be in doldrums,” he added. For example, he said, the social cost per kg of tea amounts to Rs 8 to Rs 10.

He said, the government should intervene and give some relief to the planters. “The fixation of minimum wages without any rationale is a political move. The Minimum Wages Act came into play in the unorganised sector. But we are doing negotiations for the past 15 years and this industry does not need Minimum Wages Act,” he added.

He said Kerala enforced the Act and Tamil Nadu followed the suit. Another impediment facing the plantation sector is the Asean free trade agreement, which will bring down the import duties from the current 100% to 45% by 2019 for certain items like tea, coffee and black pepper.

Ullas Menon, secretary general of Upasi said the reduction in import duties would put lot of pressure on local planters.With added social cost and lesser import duties, the domestic plantation industry will suffer,” he added., when spoke to the labour unions in Nilgiris, the workers seem to be a lot happier now. “There are no problems now as the plantations are paying us the minimum wage of Rs 115.50 per day. Our only concern is the poor medical facilities available in the plantation,” said INTUC Plantation Workers’ Union general secretary VK Raju.

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