At a time when coconut farmers are increasingly finding it difficult to find tree climbers, the Tamil Nadu Labour and Employment Department has fixed a ridiculously low wage of Rs 2.10 for labourers to climb and pluck coconuts from one tree.
In case, they are hired for a day, the minimum wages will be only Rs 126.
Coconut farmers and agriculture activists are puzzled over these “impractical” recommendations contained in the Draft Notification relating to the Revision of Minimum Rates of Wages for Employment in Coconut Peeling under the Minimum Wages Act.
The Draft Notification, which will come into effect two months from now, also says that workers can be paid just `150 for peeling 1,000 coconuts, or Rs 126 per day as minimum wages. Besides, for grading coconuts, workers need to be paid a minimum wage of Rs 15.75 per 1,000 coconuts or Rs 95.50 a day.
Further, workers engaged in loading and unloading of coconuts can be paid Rs 150 per 1,000 coconuts, the notification said.
However, farmers say the scene at the ground level is way too different. “We can’t hire a single worker for such low wages. Already farmers have to pay `12 for climbing and plucking coconuts from a tree that is of 40 feet height. To climb trees above 40 feet height, the climbers demand `15 per tree. This is the rate for large farms. For small farms of one acre or so, the climbers demand Rs 20 per tree,” said U C Palanisamy, a coconut farmer and coir unit owner in Coimbatore.Besides, not many tree climbers are available and the youngsters don’t want to undertake the job.
“For peeling coconuts we have to pay 40 paise per coconut and also serve the workers tea and pay them the auto fare. The per day wages work out to Rs 700 or Rs 800,” he added.
Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement leader S Nallasamy said “the low and impractical wages fixed by the Labour Department only goes on to prove the vast disconnect between officials and farmers. People who are not aware about farming practices are fixing the rates.”