Planters in Kerala on Sunday sought the government’s intervention, failing which they warned of a major crisis in the sector with some three lakh workers.
Kerala accounts for 82 percent of the country’s rubber production, 71 percent of cardamom, six percent of tea and 21 percent of coffee output.
Facing stress due to mounting costs, the Association of Planters Kerala (APK) has warned that it cannot raise wages for workers although it had agreed to do that earlier.
APK, the umbrella organization of planters having interest in tea, rubber, cardamom and coffee, represents about 60 percent of the organized plantation sector in Kerala.
APK chairman C. Vinayaraghavan told the media on Sujndn that prices of plantation crops had touched rock bottom.
Last month, following numerous rounds of talks involving trade unions, the APK, government officials and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, it was agreed to raise daily wages.
It meant increasing wages from Rs.231 in the tea sector to Rs.301, in the cardamom sector from Rs.267 to Rs.335 and in the rubber industry from Rs.312 to Rs.381.
“Yes, we agreed to the hike but we also laid down that it had to be staggered over three-four years. It would be related to the price of the produce. We will certainly honour the hike. But we need time,” said Vinayaraghavan.
“We just can’t wait for mere promises. We are seriously short of cash. The government has to decide,” he added.
According to APK, in Kochi, the auction price of one kg tea is Rs.84 a kg while its production cost in Kerala is Rs.120.
In Assam, the daily wages are Rs.120, while the price of one kg of tea fetches Rs.120 and the cost of production is around Rs.100, said Vinayaraghavan .
Likewise, the price of one kg of rubber is Rs.108 and the cost of production had now touched Rs.150, following the hike in daily wages to Rs.381.
Former finance minister and CPI-M legislator Thomas Isaac said the APK’s threat may not bear fruits in Kerala.
“There are ways and means of tackling this issue. There is no way they can go back on what was agreed,” he said.
Labour Minister Shibhu Baby John said APK’s stand was not tenable.