Govt to repeal Plantation Labour Act; tea industry concerned

PTI Kolkata | Updated on January 24, 2020

Bibek Debroy, Chairman, EAC-PM (File photo)

The Centre is going to repeal the Plantation Labour Act (PLA), 1951 that makes it mandatory for planters to provide workers non-cash benefits such as housing and drinking water, Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, said on Friday.

Addressing a programme here, the economist said the central government has also brought a new set of wage code replacing, among others, the Minimum Wage Act of 1948. The Centre has already tabled a Bill in Parliament on occupational safety, health and working conditions code which is now under discussion.

“The government is going to repeal the Plantation Labour Act besides bringing in a new code on wages,” Debroy said at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet here.

The plantation sector included tea, rubber and coffee industries, and the Act stipulates them to comply with providing drinking water, housing, medical, education and toilet facilities to the workers, besides wages.

Tea industry's demands

The industry had been demanding that the obligation of the employers to provide welfare amenities to workers other than wages be either entirely taken over by the government or a reasonable value be assigned to the non-cash benefits and be treated as a part of the wages, Indian Tea Association (ITA) Secretary-General Arijit Raha told PTI. The ITA is the apex body of tea planters of the country.

The Bill under discussion has a clause saying “every employer of plantation shall be responsible to provide and maintain welfare facilities through his own resources relating to drinking water, housing, medical, education and toilet to the workers in the plantation or through schemes for such purpose sponsored by the Central or State government, municipality or panchayat for the locality in which the plantation is situated.”

Raha said the industry is concerned as the new Code of Wages, 2019, says in-kind (non-cash) benefits have been put under the definition of wages and limited to a maximum of 15 per cent of total wages. “Since we do not know what will be the quantum of total wages which is yet to be declared by the Centre, the industry seeks to treat the in-kind benefits given to the workers be treated as a part of it,” he said.

Raha said, “Effectively, our obligations of providing the welfare facilities have not changed in the Bill.”

Tea Board Deputy Chairman Arun Kr Ray said, “The existing law is under amendment and not finalised as yet. We are not in a position now to comment on this.”

Published on January 24, 2020

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