Urban migration has been the main reason for the decline in employment in the plantation sector.
Reports published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation shows that between 2009 and 2011, the plantation sector has seen a decline of nearly 75 per cent of its workers.
Explaining these statistics, G. Thimmaraju, Deputy Director of Planning and Co-ordination, Coffee Board of India, said that urban migration and lucrative job offers had brought this about.
“Most of them prefer working as contract labourers on seasonal basis and reside in sub-urban areas,” he added.
Regular plantation workers are paid on a daily basis and also given health and housing facilities. Contractors, on the other hand, are paid higher wages, apart from transport facilities from and to their homes that are located in the towns.
The daily wages, according to the Coffee Board of India, for coffee workers in some of the states are as follows: Karnataka – Rs 141.85, Kerala – Rs 148.50, Tamil Nadu – Rs144, Andhra Pradesh – Rs 153.40, and Orissa –92.56. This is inclusive of health and housing amenities given in the estates.
On the contrary, contractors are paid around Rs 250-Rs 275 per day.
Thimmaraju said that production is not affected and the absence of regular employees is compensated for by contractors. But what gets affected in the entire process is the unavailability of skilled labour in the market. “Not all contractors possess the skills and experience to work as direct or indirect labourers in the plantation sectors,” pointed out Thimmaraju.
Ananth Raman, Manager at Allana Sons Limited said that similar issues are faced by private firms. Labourers are not willing to work on a regular basis and are reluctant to settle near the estates in spite of being provided with additional benefits, he said.
(Sneha is a student at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bangalore.)