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Tea Garden Labour Do Skill-Intensive Work; Yet Considered ‘Unskilled’

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Tea garden labourers are today recognised as unskilled workers in an organised sector following the colonial traditions of the plantation. The tea industry is a $50 billion a year business globally. Therefore, the tea companies should have a more humane approach to the labourers who are the prime mover in making one of the finest drink in the world. After the Job analysis of the tea garden labourers and evaluating the number of other activities in which they are involved indeed raises some pertinent questions.

Through this case study that analyses the nature of job in tea plantations, I have tried to raise pertinent questions and explain why the need to be asked.

Job Description:

A tea garden labourer is a person responsible for increasing the tea production of the company/production unit as well as improving the quality of the tea. He/she engages in enhancing and maintaining the quality of tea by performing various activities like skiffing, pruning, manuring, clonal cutting, etc. in the tea garden. The garden labourer will primarily use his/her productive time for tea plucking.

Title/Designation of the job: Tea leaf plucker/ Garden Labourer.

The nature of duties and operations to be performed: Plucking tea leaves, skiffing, pruning (height reduction, medium pruning and light pruning), manuring, weed control and clonal cutting. Duties are to be performed during daytime for 8 hours as directed by the management.

Location of job: Darjeeling, Dooars and Assam.

Nature of authority: Limited authority unless promoted by seniority with relevant educational qualification.

Necessary Qualification: Not necessary.

Relationship of that job with other jobs in a concern: All the roles and responsibilities are very much inter-related. The labourers and the supervisors in the garden have to work in proper coordination for creating a hassle-free workplace.

The Provision of physical and working condition or the work environment: Must be resilient to the hilly climatic condition and adaptable with the hilly terrains.

Job Specification

A tea garden labourer has to pluck tea leaves and skiff tea bushes during the harvesting season (March-October), prune tea bushes during the non-harvesting season (November-February). His/her area of activity also encompasses weed control, drainage maintenance, pesticide spraying against diseases, manuring and clonal cuttings.

Job Title/designation: Tea leaf plucker/ Garden Labourer.

Educational Qualification: While there is no requirement of any specific educational qualification, Secondary education certification is desirable for promotion to factory and dispensary staff during internal absorption.

Physical and other related attributes:

  • The ability to perform the laborious working process during harvesting tea leaves as well as for height reduction pruning during the winter season.
  • The ability to walk for at least 4-5 KM daily, carrying the minimum quantity of leaves to fulfil the daily target.
  • The ability to use pruning knives and saw.
  • The ability to work in the hilly terrain (for hill labourers) during sunny as well as rainy days.

Physical and mental health:

  • Must be physically healthy for the labour intensive job.
  • Must be able to perform all the tasks diligently.

Special attributes and abilities:

  • The ability to maintain the plucking standard, i.e., two leaves and a bud.
  • The ability to maintain the uniformity of the leaf length.
  • The ability to work methodically with accuracy, focus, and speed.
  • Experienced in clonal cutting is desirable.

Maturity and dependability:

  • The ability to follow instructions.
  • The ability to concentrate while doing repetitive tasks.

Conclusion:

Quality plucking, skiffing, clonal cutting and pruning (which includes height reduction, medium and light) requires specific skills. However, in spite of being skill-intensive industry, tea garden labourers are not recognised  as skilled workers and do not get compensated as per the decided minimum wages. Through this analysis I aim to raise following questions:

Q1. Why tea labourers haven’t been classified as skilled or semi-skilled workers?
Q2. The amount of both physical and mental effort they make is huge, but why aren’t they paid the minimum wage of unskilled workers?

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