Kolkata, (IANS) Tea production in North Bengal was affected on Monday as majority of the tea gardens remained shut on the first day of the strike called by the joint forum of trade unions, industry players said on Monday.
The joint forum of 24 trade unions of the tea industry in North Bengal had called for a two-day industrial strike, demanding minimum wages among other things.
Experts said the Darjeeling tea industry itself is expected to face a loss of more than Rs 10 crore in the two-day strike.
"The strike was expected to have an adverse impact on the industry. It affects production and quality as it is tea harvesting season. The impact of the strike is mostly sporadic but no work was done in majority of gardens while partial work was reported in some of the gardens," Indian Tea Association's Secretary General Arijit Raha said.
There are about 300 tea gardens in North Bengal, out of which 87 are in Darjeeling, he said.
Last year, Darjeeling produced around 8.5 million kg of tea. "One day of strike results in a one % drop in production. This production loss cannot be compensated in the rest of the year," Darjeeling Tea Association's (DTA) Principal Advisor Sandip Mukherjee told IANS.
There are about 57,000 workers in the Darjeeling tea gardens. "No work was reported in Darjeeling on Monday," Mukherjee said.
DTA's former Chairman S.S. Bagaria said: "The losses due to the strike will not only hit the tea garden owners but also workers," said
The state General Secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) Anandi Sahu said more than 90-95 % of the four lakh tea workers in North Bengal supported the strike.
"The response has been overwhelming. As many as 95 % tea workers in the hills joined the strike. For example, only 18 workers entered the garden out of 1,800 in the Sukna tea garden," he told IANS.
The forum also called for a 12-hour general strike on Tuesday in the tea garden-based areas of West Bengal like Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar, Islampur and Mekhliganj.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha -- which has called for an indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling and Kalimpong from Monday, demanding a separate Gorkhaland -- also supported the tea workers' strike.
The regional party's General Secretary Roshan Giri said: "Tea garden workers' salary is very low... minimum. GJM backs the justified general strike called to increase their wages."
However, the All India Trinamool Trade Union Congress -- backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress -- has been opposing the strike.
Sahu claimed the local administration along with the Trinamool Congress-backed union tried to "nullify workers' agitation but they failed".
The trade unions have been demanding implementation of minimum wages, reinforcement of entitlement for tea workers and distribution of land holding among tea workers for residential purposes.