Exploitation of labour at Valparai tea estate
8-9 October, 2000

People's Union for Civil Liberties - Tamilnadu & Pondicherry

Report of the Fact-Finding Team on the living conditions of the labourers in 5 estates under the Jayashree Plantation (Ltd.)

i. Introduction
ii. Methodology for the Report
iii. Working conditions of labourers
iv. Living conditions of labourers (housing and health)
v. Position of Government
vi. Recommendations of the Fact-Finding Team

I. Introduction
Of the 21.747 sq. km area in Valparai, 13.297 sq. kms are tea plantations. 4.646 sq. kms are protected area and 3.214 sq. kms are poramboke lands. Valparai, which is an Assembly constituency, has 70% people depending on tea estates.

Jayashree Tea Plantations (Ltd.), the only one of its kind to have received the certification from the International Standards Organisation (ISO), was selected as a case study for investigation. ISO Certificate (IS 9002) was obtained in August 1996. After receipt of this certification, the company is subjected to inspection every 6 months. B.K.Birla heads this company. It's annual turnover is about Rs.14 crores. The management has announced that this company is the first tea estate to have received the ISO 9002. It's total production is sold in the internal market. The management informs that there is no direct export. Jayashree Estate is divided into 5 areas.

Name Total Area Total staff
Solayar I, II, III 1,700 permanent labourers*
Kallaiyar 1,730 acres 51 administrative staff
Eetiyar 10 Officers

· On an average, 2,000 labourers are employed per day (including temporary labourers)

II. Methodology for the Report
1. Kurinji (Academician), PUCL, Erode
2. Mohammed Abu Backer (Advocate), PUCL, Coimbatore
3. Pon Thirunavakkarasu (Sociologist), PUCL, Coimbatore
4. Shanmugham (Driver), PUCL, Coimbatore
5. Diwakar (Social Worker), Valparai

The above 5 members stayed in Valparai for two days and met the labourers, management, government officials and trade unionists. Facts were recorded after direct observations of the work place, working methods, housing conditions of labourers, health facilities, education and other public services. The Management refused permission to the Team to visit the medical centre. Hence, the information provided by the labourers on the medical centre is recorded.

III. Working Conditions of the Labourers
a. Working time
1. The timings for work in the tea estates are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In this, 12 - 1 p.m. is the legally permissible lunch interval. But in practice, during the season of high growth of tea leaves, they are ordered to report for work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or even sometimes upto 7 p.m. with a very short lunch break working continuously without rest. The total working hours per week is not supposed to exceed 48 + 6 hours. For additional hours of work, the Plantation Labour Act stipulates double wages. In practice, 70 hours of work is extracted thus eliminating employment for another worker. Instead of giving double wages for additional hours of work, only incentives are provided.
2. Amongst women workers, the breast feeding mothers are to finish work at 11 a.m. in the forenoon and 4 p.m. in the afternoon, and if more than the stipulated 16 kgs of tea leaves are plucked, they are permitted to go to weigh as per law.
3. In addition, the women are granted leave during their monthly periods. But these are denied without any consideration to the women's physical conditions. The Team found that the women are made to work even after 5 p.m. The Chief Inspector of Tea Estates at Chennai had issued a warning to the Solayar management regarding this earlier.
4. If a death occurs in the family of the labourer, she/he should be given 2 hours in the forenoon or afternoon. But in practice, such permissions are not granted.

b. Leave
The legally permissible temporary leave and medical leave are not granted. It leave beyond the granted leave are taken due to ill health without medical certificate, then 5 days wages are deducted from the salary.

Pregnant women casual workers are grounded on becoming pregnant from the 5th month of pregnancy. The management does this to avoid giving maternity benefits from the 7 months of pregnancy.

c. Casual/permanent
Regularisation or permanency of casual workers after completion of the stipulated period of employment is not practiced. It is not known whether the Trade Unions have questioned this. Even workers who have completed more than 20 years of employment, continue to work as casual labourers. The workers informed that the basic qualification for permanency is the acquiescence to the management. A new Provident Fund account is opened every time workers are reemployed. Due to this, not only is the worker's contributory amount is blocked, but permanency of job is prevented. The management's response to this was that this is practiced in all tea estates except theirs.

d. Protection
1. Although there have been instances of attacks by wild life, no protection is provided around the tea estate. The workers are also not provided life/accident coverage.
2. The workers who apply pesticides are not provided protective clothes or mask to protect from the ill effects of pesticides.
3. Though it rains for 7 to 8 months a year, the workers are not provided raincoats till date.

e. Weight of tea leaves
The supervisors reject 10 kgs of tealeaves from amongst the tealeaves plucked. The weight is not shown to the workers. Moreover, the extraction of additional work (which is on an average of 200 kg in the month of February) is not compensated. The rejected tealeaves are recorded in the name of non-existent workers (false names). Satisfactory reply was not given by the management of Jayashree Tea Plantation to the letter of South Indian Estate Officers Association on the issue of examination of the list of labourers for the labour welfare fund.

f. Health
Septic tanks in the work place spill over and flow into the tea estate. Water facilities are also not provided in the lavatories. Though the government medical doctors have repeatedly been pointing out this since 1992, the management has not taken any step to change this situation. Illiteracy of the labourers is pointed out as the reason for the insanitary condition of the toilet by the management.

g. Management-labour relationship
The workers are treated as bonded labourers. A dictatorial atmosphere where one is not able to complain against the management prevails. If any one complains, not only the complainant, but also their relatives and friends as well are denied work for a week. If a worker is dismissed from one estate, the management ensures that the dismissed worker does not get employment opportunity in any other estate. It is a matter of serious concern that no action has been taken on the complaint that officers are not permitted to become members of the South Indian Estate Officers Association by this estate as informed by them vide letter of 02.08.1997 to the Tamilnadu Labour Minister.

h. Women workers
In this estate where there are 70% women labourers, the benefits and rights are denied. The problem she faces is because she is also a woman.
1. The management has set family planning operation as a norm in 1985 for permanency of employment. In these circumstances, it is significant that some women who do not have children have also subjected themselves to family planning operation.
2. It is common that the women workers, by virtue of being women, are subject to physical and verbal assault of supervisors. It is a common feature that touching, forcing to enter into sexual relationship, calling them as one who indulge in extramarital sex, crushing their culturally protective sense, who refused the sexual advances, by such questions as "Why are you wearing jacket ?", compelling them in the work place to satisfy the sexual appetite of the supervisors, forcing them to bend, pluck and gather tea leaves etc. The supervisors commonly address them, even the elderly women, in derogatory terms as "ey, di, va, po" etc. The management avers that "the supervisors would be their neighbours or relatives……….. so teasing is natural …….. they complain that 'he said that' or 'he did that' and we do threaten by asking "Who is he ?". It is worth stating that a complaint was registered against workers for allegedly assaulting Supervisor Gurusamy when they went to him to enquire about a recent incident. Gurusamy's wife is said to have asked the workers "Who has not slept with my husband ?" subsequent to which they went to Gurusamy to complain to which he replied that he has a list of such women workers. The agitated co-workers questioned Gurusamy.
3. When the women raise questions about their problems,
a. they are made to carry out the men's job,
b. they are made to work in an isolated part of the forest (fear of wild animals, fear of supervisor),
c. they are temporarily suspended for 7 days and
d. relatives and friends of the women are denied employment.
4. Categorising pregnant women as temporary workers.
5. When pregnant, they are sent out of their jobs. This enables the management to avoid provision of maternity benefits.

IV. Living Conditions of Labourers
a. Housing
1. Eventhough the houses are situated in steep hill slopes, the paths are in shambles and not maintained. As there are no garbage bins, the garbage lie scattered all over. When it rains, the paths are extremely slippery.
2. The lavatories of the workers have not been cleaned for 20 years. Most of them do not have doors. There is no maintenance. Nor are there taps nor septic tanks. There is a high possibility of mixing up of drinking water with sewage water.
3. Even though houses are constructed in an unbroken line, there is no separate bathroom for even women.
4. There is no housing facility for casual workers. They live in the front portion of the houses of permanent workers.
5. During rainy seasons, all houses leak.
6. There are no streetlights.
7. There are no sweepers. Nor are there drain for sewage. As it is a hilly area, the sewage water from the houses above falls into the kitchen of the lower level houses. During rainy season when there are landslips, there are no protective barriers. In housing, what the management states as symbols of "modernisation" are the 900 black and white television sets and 900 gas connections. The most significant aspect in this is the corruption by management.

b. Medical facilities
The team was denied permission by the management to see the medical facilities. Medical facilities are free for the permanent workers only. But their family members do not have medical facilities. Casual workers will get medical facilities only on the days they are on duty. The Doctor comes to the estates only for an hour. Sufficient medical facilities are not available. There is no female doctor. The management states that the hospital is a 50 bedded one with modern facilities. The South Indian Estate Officers Association says that the hospital is qualitatively poor and is a matter of shame .

c. Children's crèche
Only one Ayah has been employed for 45 children who are in the age group of 5 months to 5 years. Adequate quantity of food, milk or nutritious food is not provided. The children are neglected. If they urinate, their clothes are not even changed. Oil, soap and play materials are not provided. The Doctor does not come. The Management refused permission to the Team to visit the crèche. It is worth mentioning that the Mudis Nagar Medical Officer who went to inspect the Crèche was also denied permission . But the Management states that "Everyone gets everything as per law".

d. Ration
The Anamalai Tea Estate Owners Association runs the ration shop. Public distribution functions only in the last two days of every month. The workers are not able to utilise the services as it is at the end of the month. The quality and quantity, as in all other places, is not satisfactory here also. A recent enquiry decided that the Management should stop running the ration shop. It is said that "the government does not have the strength to take over and run this". There is no cooperative society of workers also.

e. School
There is 1 middle school and 4 primary schools. The Team could not visit them. The workers informed that there are no facilities at all there.

Though the workers had sent several memorandums on the workers' living conditions, improvement made, if any, are not known.

VI. Position of the government
Officer at the Municipal Office (EO): "No direct complaints come to me regarding lack of health care. The concerned representative of the constituency also has not reported any. Even if complaints come to me, I have to check them out and forward to the Inspector of Plantations. But I have not met him till date. All estate managements should submit to us a report on issues related to health which in turn are to be submitted to the Inspector every 6 months. But it is not known whether the Inspector bothers about them."

Assistant Collector (Head Quarters): "Only law and order falls within our purview. Complaints about lacuna in health services do not come. The Management runs it very badly. When questions are raised about ration shop, the stock answer is 'you take over and run it'. It is not possible for the Government to run it."

Deputy Superintendent (Police): "We will take unbiased action on complaints regarding law and order."

Deputy Director (Health):"Till now no complaints have come. It is only 6 months since I have joined duty. I do not know why rectifications have not taken place till date on the complaints given. If the complaints that are referred to me are not rectified, the government would intervene to rectify them after my senior looks into them."

Deputy Director (Labour): "It is the same situation in all estates. There should be changes in the laws. Trade Unions should involve intensely. In November I am going to Valparai for inspection."

District Civil Supplies Officer: "There are no problems in the supply of ration. The complaint that came recently proved false. Public distribution cannot be handed over to the people. Until another organisation takes over distribution, the management will have to continue this."

Trade Unions:
There are 25 trade unions. AITUC, LPF and NLO are the biggest three amongst them.

AITUC: "Responsible persons are not here."

P.V Balakrishnan, LPF Secretary: "Jayashree is not a model employer. The PF numbers of three were changed. After we asked them about this the old numbers were given. For permanency, there is no need of salary records (the management says it is necessary). In other estates, there are 15 sweepers in one division. Here there is not even one. We have complained about the lack of health care to the Tea Estate Workers Housing Board. In Mudis estate, ration was not given. The management has taken this up and is doing a good job. In Solayar, sheer plugging has begun . This is a step to take revenge on the workers. The daily wages in Kerala is Rs.5 more than that of Tamilnadu."

A.M Antony, NLO Vice President: "It was 3 years ago that the Union was set up. Now there are 100 members. In Solayar, the management is extracting work illegally. Legitimate benefits are not provided. Health and medical facilities are very very poor. The function of the management is not satisfactory."

Duraiswamy, TUCI Secretary: "Even if one works, entry is not made. There is no medical leave. Only the patients admitted to the hospital get medical leave. Estate workers are refused permission to distribute leaflets inside the estates. The punishments to women workers are severe. They are forced to work alone in the forest. The work that should have been done by men is given to women. Pregnant women are asked to work in the steep part of the estate. Ashok Kumar, belonging to Sri Lanka, was forced to work hard and he was instigated to commit suicide. Letters are monitored. The officers and heads are all Marvaris. So they function against the workers and are biased, siding with the management."

Periysaswamy ( a dismissed worker) [Worker Welfare Association]: "The Sarasu corpse agitation was carried out demanding an ambulance. The authorities were asked to inspect the Primary Health Centre. The Manager was informed that Supervisor Ram Mohan was lending money. After finding out the fraud in the muster role, as a member of the worker's group, I exposed the cheating in the wages. For this I was dismissed from work in revenge."

Karuppiaya (Ex-MLA): "Some entice workers in favour of the management and create division amongst workers. There is not tea break. There are no appropriate wages for overtime. Any one who demands rights is dismissed from work in due course in revenge. Workers are forced to bring lunch. Instead of the lawful 8 hours per day, 10 hours of work is extracted. The mothers should be allotted work in the nearest place close to the children who fall within the eligible criteria. The women's attire should be made respectable. The indecent comments centered on women's anatomy by the supervisors are condemnable. The dress of male supervisor is obscene."

In the view of PUCL
1. The situation of the workers, who do not even have basic facilities, have been informed to the concerned authorities by worker's groups and trade unions repeatedly and regularly. The government made recommendations on these issues, but only the paper stating that these recommendations have been implemented remain. Amidst this farcical play of the government doing the job of raising questions and the Management replying that the answers to these questions positively as implemented, the workers pitiable conditions are the only thing that remain unchanged.
2. It is not understood, how an estate that denies basic facilities and rights to its workers can receive ISO 9002, which represent standards and quality. ISO 9002 decided that the living conditions and facilities of the workers who have put in their personal efforts in producing quality products are not necessary aspects. An exorbitant profit is obtained by sale and export. Even if a small portion of this is used, the basic facilities can easily be established. The profits are completely cornered. Even if the government says that economic liberalisation and opening up is for growth, for whom are the increased profits ? It is surprising that ISO 9002, which worries about the quality tea dust, does not have concern for quality of human lives. ISO standard is for protecting whose lives ?
3. In this situation, the worst victims are the women who constitute 70% of workers. They are the oppressed amongst the oppressed. Fixed prices are imposed in the competitive international market that is opening up. To remain in the market, extraction of more working hours, the exploitative trend of the Management who give low wages, the male supervisors whose rights are denied but who aid the continuation of exploitation - all become part of a chain. And in this, the last link is the women - oppressed by the male who tries to forcefully prove his maleness and who anyway are already oppressed in the family. Living like a living dead and forced by economic necessities, by questions about the uncertain future of the family, by the mean sexual teasing and threats while picking leaves add to further oppression. Evens after doing additional working hours, without any possibility of rest, without facilities, small box-like house beckons her. As these workers, who take care of the environment, are oppressed by the management and such things as the household work that extends for a long time ensures that her voice for her rights are crushed in her throat itself.

Without first fulfilling the basic needs of all the oppressed workers, the problems of women workers, who are oppressed even more, cannot be resolved. Only when there is a situation where women are able to raise their own voices, can the voice against sexual oppression register. The male dominant laws, which are predominant now, will prove this voice to be false. So the task of proving the statement of the women victim wrong should be by the accused. In the places where there are women workers, women supervisors should be appointed. It is necessary to have a new trade unionism, which will fully take up the problems of women, instead of the male dominant trade unionism that joins up with the Management.
4. The total land area of Valparai is 21.747 sq kms. More than 60% i.e 13.297 sq. kms, are encroached by tea estates. Once known as the Chirappunji, Valparai, which is an important part of Nilgiri Biosphere, has been denuded and every where one sees, there are only tea estates. An ideally cool climate for tea with a slope that drains away the rain water without it being retained in the roots, converted Valparai into tea estates and a tourist place during British times. With the cash crop - tea - fetching a high price, large scale destruction of forests took place in most parts of Western Ghats and Valparai began to be converted to tea as a monocrop. Even after independence, nature and people did not gain independence. Instead, it has become worse than ever before under the grips of the likes of Tata and Birla for whom money is the only goal. It is not possible to see any other thing other than the mono-crop tea, which sucks the fertility of the soil while the thin tall trees in the middle provide shade to tea which in turn are protected with fertilisers and pesticides. These terrible wounds on the multifaceted life of nature's wholeness has created very strong ill effects which one cannot perceive immediately.
· The rain fall has continuously reduced.
· Normal temperature has changed.
· The water level in the rivers have decreased.
· The situation of Solayar lake is the same.
· The situation where the wild life, which had made Valparai it's homeland, having reduced in numbers and with degraded nature, has begun to attack the workers.
· The situation where cattle, with its cycle of plant species - food - milk - dung - fertiliser and back to plant species, cannot be reared in Valparai. Reason: They will bite the tea leaves.
· The Adivasis have been pushed out of their motherland.
The loss that occurred to the conditions that ensured multifaceted life is no ordinary loss. How to tackle this ? Is this loss not something that should be reversed from the profits from sales of tea ? It is not at all by false practices, where formally "so many trees have been planted; social forest grown" and such other figures enter the reports. But the task of handing over the bountiful nature, soil, water, environment, air …….. to the future generation without polluting them is a major task to be carried with correct political consciousness.

VII. Recommendations
An enquiry commission should be instituted to enquire into the worker's basic needs and rights in all estates.
1. Working condition
a. All estate workers need to work only the legally stipulated 8 hours and for additional work double wage is to be paid.
b. Under the guise that the workers are working on their own accord, the illegal 9 hour work timings should be banned.
c. The colonial method of knocking at the doors of the workers early in the morning at 6 a.m. and forcefully taking the workers should be changed.
d. Breast feeding mothers should be given the eligible permission in the forenoon and afternoon.
e. Work should not be compelled to be carried out during the lunch break of 1 hour.
f. In order to obtain the ISO 9002 certification, the working condition that should be made available should be stipulated. If this is not so, the certificate for improvement of working conditions of workers should be made compulsory.
g. The method of changing the PF number after some years to avoid making the workers permanent should be stopped. There should be only one PF number for each worker.
2. Women workers
a. A committee consisting of representatives of all trade unions, officers and other government officials, women workers, members of women's organisations and women lawyers should be constituted to investigate and take action for any atrocities on women workers.
b. Appropriate actions should be taken on the sexual atrocities, assaults and teasing of women workers.
c. With regard to weighing of tea leaves picked by women workers, weighing should be done in electronic weighing machines as is done in the estate of Hindustan Lever.
d. The hard work given to men workers should not be given to the women. The practices of sending women workers to isolated forests and making the pregnant women work on steep locations to take revenge should be stopped.
e. The practice of stipulating family planning operation as a condition for permanency in work should be abandoned forthwith.
3. Living conditions
a. Housing
i. The houses should be maintained satisfactorily.
ii. Facilities for sewage and drinking water should be satisfactory.
iii. Pathways and street lights should be made available.
iv. Sewage drains should be constructed and maintained properly.
v. Electricity should be extended to every house.
vi. Safe and potable drinking water should be made available.
vii. Housing facility should be available to every worker.
b. Medical facilities
i. Requisite medical facilities should be made available to every worker without any
ii. The medical facilities should be extended to the family members of the workers.
iii. Doctor, lady Doctor and a qualified Nurse should be appointed in the children's Creche.
iv. For health promotion, chlorination of water, spraying of pesticide for mosquito control and the control of leaches etc. at appropriate intervals should be carried out.
c. Ration
i. It should be in correct measures, weight, quality and given at correct intervals.
ii. There should be provision for women workers and trade unions to be represented in the supervisory functions.
iii. The government should take over the Public Distribution System. If not, a cooperative society of workers should be formed to run it.
· A judicial enquiry should be conducted into the violations of laws, corruption, mismanagement and atrocities on women in the estates and factories owned by Jayashree Plantations.
· All trade unions and the workers have complained to the Inspector of Plantations. Hence, there should be enquiries and proper inspections whenever required.

Signature of Team members
1. Kurinji :
2. Mohammed Abu Backer :
3. Pon Thirunavakkarasu :
4. Shanmugham :
5. Diwaker :


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