Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
As pointed out in a previous chapter, the labour employed on the Tea, Coffee and Rubber plantations in India is semi-agricultural in character and the method of wage payment differs radically from that obtaining generally in factory industry in this country. In the tea gardens at Assam the piece work system of payment generally prevails. There are two such systems; the older one, which is still common, namely, the hazira, and ticca system and the newer system called the unit system. "Hazira" denotes the daily task as also the amount payable for its performance. The task takes about five hours to complete. After finishing the hazira or the task, the worker has the option of taking up another task called 'ticca' for which he gets payment separately. Ticca is, however, not synonymous with overtime work. Ticca is paid at a higher rate than hazira. There is no standardization of the task allotted to the workers, but the wage rates are more or less uniform in a tea area, circle or district. This is brought about by agreements among the planters. The daily rates of wages generally are as. 5 for men as. 4 for women and as. 2 to as. 3 for children, the rates being an anna higher in each case in the Lakhimpur District. Under the unit system the labourer is not given a fixed task but is allowed to do as much or as little as he likes although every labourer is required to do a reasonable amount of work every day. A unit is expected to be finished in one hour for which the. payment amounts to one anna. Plucking is paid for by weight excepting at the beginning and at the end of the season. Women are generally employed in plucking the leaf and the usual rate of payment is one anna for 5 Ibs. of leaf in the Assam Valley and one anna for 8 to 10 Ibs. in the Surma Valley where the plucking is of a coarser type. In Bengal, the system of wage payment is the same as in Assam except that 'ticca' is called 'doubli' in the Dooars. The 'Doubli' task is smaller than Hazira but is paid at the same rate. The hazira rate in Dooars and Terai in Bengal for men, women and child is as. 4, as 3. and 2 respectively although in some gardens children are paid only as. 1-6. .The rate in Dar-jeeling is higher by one anna, in each case, by the task takes more time to finish. Unlike Assam, plucking is paid on the hazira basis, in Bengal for a fixed weight of leaf plucked in the majority of the gardens. Deduction from wages on account of moisture is fairly common. Both the time-rate and the piece-rate systems of wages prevail in South India. The harvesting of tea, coffee and, to some extent, rubber is paid for by results and women are generally employed on such work except in the case of rubber.
Other work is paid for on a time basis. Wages are generally uniform in the various plantation districts owing to agreements among the planters. Speaking generally, tea estates pay a higher rate of wages to men namely, as. 7 per day than the coffee and rubber estates which pay as. 6 per day. The rates for women are the same in tea, coffee and rubber plantations, being as. 5 a day while children get from as. 3 to as. 0-4-6 per day in tea estates, as. 0-2-6 to as. 4 in coffee estates, and as. 4 in rubber estates. The rate for plucking is 3 to 4 pies per pound. Deduction from the weight of leaf plucked is almost universal in the South Indian Tea estates and is a constant source of complaints by workers. The deduction comes to about 10 per cent in the dry season but can be as high as 30 to 50 per cent. during the rainy season. In coffee estates, coffee picking is generally paid for on piece rates, on the basis of the number of bushels, boxes or other volume unit of ripe cherry brought in. As the crops vary widely in coffee estates, the task set in highly variable as also the piece rates. In Mysore and Coorg for picking a bushel of So to 100 Ibs. the rate varies from as. 4 to as. 10 and as 8 to as. 10 respectively, while in the shevaroys the rate per bushel of 55 to 60 Ibs. is as. 4 to as. 8. In rubber estates, . tappers are paid on a piece-rate basis or on a combination of piece and daily rates. The piece-rate is generally 0-08 to 0-1-0 per pound of dry rubber and the daily rate of wages is as, 6 to as. 7. If the latex is washed away by rain, the worker gets no wages except in a few estates in Mundakayam where the basic wage is paid irrespective of the yield. In the factories attached to tea and rubber estates the daily-rate of wages is usually one anna more than that paid to field labourers.
Allowances.—-In Assam tea estates no dearness allowance or bonus of any kind is paid. In the Bengal Plantations, the rate of dearness allowance is one anna per hazira for adults and 0-0-6 for children. In the tea and rubber estates in South India a dearness allowance of one anna and half an anna is given to adults and children respectively per day. Some estates, especially those in the Nilgiris and in the Wynaad, pay a dearness allowance at the rate of 0-0-8 and 0-0-4 per day while in most of the coffee estates the rate is 0-0-6 and 0-0-3 respectively. In Coorg no dearness allowance is paid.
In the tea industry in India, especially in Assam it has now been a traditional practice for generations to supplement the wages by what are known as concessions. These take the form of the provision of (a) land for cultivation (except in South India), (b) free housing, (c) medical attendance and maternity benefits, (d) fuel and grazing . facilities and (e) cheap foodstuffs and clothing. Plantation labourers, who are mainly agriculturists, greatly value the concession of getting lands from the employers for cultivation at cheap rates. Speaking generally, each adult worker gets less than 1 /3 of an acre in North Eastern India for cultivation. Secondly, all the labour living in plantations is supplied with free housing. Thirdly, the industry, especially in Assam, has spent considerable sums of money in providing medical facilities and anti-malarial measures for its workers. Maternity benefits are no longer a concession in Assam now in view of the Assam Maternity Benefit Act. The Bengal Maternity Benefits Bill is before the local Assembly. In South Indian plantations, the benefits are not always given and where given are meagre. Fourthly, fuel is supplied free of charge and workers are also permitted to graze their cattle on the estates. Fifthly, the food concession assumed great importance during the War owing to the very step rise in prices of staple foodstuffs and to their short supply.
Scale of rations supplied and the rates charged in the Assam Valley and the Surma Valley.
In the South Indian plantations, rice was supplied by most of the estates to their labourers at cost price even before the War. This was, however, often a source of grievance because of the quality of the rice given, the price charged etc. The Madras Government had, therefore, suggested that the workers should be allowed to purchase rice from the open market but during war time, owing to scarcity etc., this was not possible. The situation has, therefore, been met since October, 1941 by the issue of cheap grains including rice. The United Planters' Association of Southern India has suggested that the issue of rice to the workers should be at a rate not higher than four pacca Madras measures to the rupee. When rice is cheaper than this in the open market, it is sold at the actual cost price. In the coffee areas of Mysore, Coorg and the Sheveroys, grain concession is not generally given although a few estates supply rice to their workers at concession rates. The ration of food grains in Assam is linked with attendance and is generally not given to non-working children. The monthly per capita cost of the foodstuffs and the cloth concession in the gardens sampled for the purpose of the present enquiry in Assam came to Rs. Rs. 5-8-6 per capita per month in 1944 and according to the Indian Tea Association the value of these two concessions in Assam in 1943 was about Re. 0-10-9 for every rupee of total wages. The monthly per capita cost of these concessions in the sampled gardens in 1944 was Rs. 3-5-5 in the Dooars, Rs. 2-1-0 in Terai and Rs. 1-12-8 in Darjeeling. The value of these concessions in 1943, according to the Indian Tea Association was Re. 0-9-9 for every rupee of the total wages in Dooars and Re. 0-3-9 in the Terai and Re. 0-14-3 in Darjeeling. In South India, according to the estimate framed by the United Planters Association the cash value of these two concessions per day in 1944 varied from Re. 0-2-3 to Re. 0-4-3 per man. Re. 0-1-9 to Re. 0-3-3 per women and Re. 0-1-6 to Re. 0-2-9 per child. Both the Assam Labour Enquiry Committee, 1921, and the Royal Commission have stated that no monetary value can or should be placed on the concessions. As the concession of cheap foodstuffs and clothing have assumed great importance in war time, it alone can be taken into consideration while assessing wages in plantations in present.
Earnings.—The average monthly cash earnings of settled labourers on the books in 1944 were Rs. 9-10-3, Rs. 7-13-1 and Rs. 5-14-10 per man, woman and child respectively in the Assam Valley and Rs. 7-13-7, Rs. 5-10-6, Rs. 3-12-10 respectively in the Surma Valley, on the other hand. if the monthly earnings on the Estates are divided by the average daily working strength, the figures come to Rs. 12-6-4. Rs. 10-12-3 and Rs. 7-9-1 per man, woman, and child respectively in the Assam Valley and to Rs. 10-5-4, Rs. 8-6-1 and Rs. 5-4-0 in the Surma Valley. In view of the 25 per cent. absenteeism, however, the earnings of individual workers must lie between these two figures. The average daily cash earnings are Re. 0-8-2 Re. 0-6-10 and Re. 0-4-8 per man, woman and child respectively in the Assam Valley and Re. 0-6-7, Re. 0-6-2 and Re. 0-3-2 in Surma Valley. In the Dooars the average monthly earnings including dearness allowance are Rs. 13-8-0, Rs. 8; 12-6 and Rs. 3-14-11 and in the Darjeeling revenue district, they are Rs. 12-4-8 Rs. 9-12-10 and Rs. 4-9-1 for man, woman, and child respectively. Owing to about 30 per cent. absenteeism, however, the actual earnings are considerably less than what these figures indicate. The daily average cash earnings are Re. 0-8-2, Re. 0-5-5, Re. 0-2-5 in the Dooars and Re. 0-7-6, Re. 0-6-1 and Re. 0-2-11 in the Darjeeling revenue district. In the South Indian plantations the average monthly cash earnings including dearness allowance of
men in tea estates are about Rs. 10-12-0, in coffee estate Rs. 8-11-9 and in rubber estates Rs. 13-2-0 where tappers work for all days in the week. The average monthly cash earnings of women engaged on plucking are about Rs. 11 and about Rs. 8 in picking in coffee estates. The average monthly cash earnings per worker in South Indian plantations in 1943-44 were Rs. 10-3-4.
The following table (Table 121) shows the monthly earnings in sampled estates in Assam and Bengal:—
Average Monthly Earnings of Men, Women and Children in sampled Tea Gardens in Assam and Bengal
Rs. A. p.
Rs. A. P.
Rs. A. P.
Rs. A. p.
Rs. A. p.
Rs. A. p.
|Lakhimpur .||10 6 10||9 4 10||6 3 11||12 0 5||11 1 10||745|
|Sibsagar||8 3 11||759||530||11 11 6||10 15 6||6 7 11|
|Nowgong||977||8 10 6||4 12 9||9 12 11||962||5 11 1|
|Darrang||904||6 12 8||5 0 6||11 6 6||8 9 10||5 14 10|
|Sylhet||7 8 10||558||425||952||732||530|
|Cachar||7 1 2||5 9 1||433||8 10 2||6 6 10||6 1 7|
|Dooars||8 12 5||5 15 6||2 11 9||13 8 0||8 12 6||3 14 1|
|Terai .||863||6 15 1||2 13 7||13 14 2||11 5 4||4 10 5|
|Darjeeling .||8 1 1||6 4 4||368||11 3 3||8 13 0||4 15 3|
*Figures for 1940.
The Royal Commission stated in their Report (p. 387) that in 1929-30 the average monthly earnings (obtained by dividing the total monthly earnings by the average daily working strength) in the Assam Valley were Rs. 13-8-7 for men, Rs. 11-1-7 for women and Rs. 7-8-6 for children, and that in Surma Valley the corresponding averages were Rs. 10-11-0, Rs. 8-6-1 and Rs. 5-6-2 respectively. The earnings began to decline as a result of the depression in 1930 and the trend was accelerated by the International Tea Control which came into operation in 1933-34. The Control restricted production which resulted in the reduction of work and consequently of earnings of labour. The earnings have shown an upward tendency in recent years, but they have not even now caught up the level of 1929-30. It is estimated that as compare to the pre-war period, the cost of living has gone up by at least 200 per cent. in North East India while the total earnings of plantation workers including the value of food and cloth concessions have gone up by about 80 per cent only.
In the South Indian plantations the cost of living has risen by about 100 per cent. while the earnings have gone by 50 per cent. in the case of men and about 70 per cent. in the case of women who were getting extremely low wages before the war. Thus, it would - appear that, as compared to the pre-war period, the real wages of plantation workers have gone down very considerably.