Kolkata, Jun 30 (PTI) The West Bengal labour department has summoned lobby body Indian Jute Mills Association on July 2 over non-payment of wages to workers during the nine-week lockdown period.

A letter of the department dated June 29 asked IJMA to attend the meeting to discuss the present state of affairs in the jute sector.

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The state government wants to listen to the views of the mill owners for the default in wages in the lockdown period, it said.

Jute mills were allowed to reopen with 100 per cent workforce from June 1.

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Although the jute industry falls under the Essential Commodities Act, the state government has not allowed jute mills to continue with their operations during the lockdown.

Sources in the jute industry said the meeting has been convened following observations by Calcutta High Court, which had directed the state government for a meaningful dialogue with the industry to ensure payment of wages to the workmen to the best of their ability.

Trade unions had moved Calcutta High Court and Supreme Court citing Centres notification that requested industry to pay wages for the lockdown period.

About 21 jute mill unions have joined together on the wage issue and did not rule out a strike if their rightful wages in the lockdown period are not paid to their 2.5 lakh members.

Jute industry functions on principle of no work no pay and the pricing system is based on this. The mill owners are not capable of absorbing wage costs that account for 30 per cent of the price. Unless the government takes the burden or revise the price of jute bags, the payment of wages for the lockdown period is not possible, IJMA sources told PTI.

Bengal Chaktal Mazdoor Union said the 54 running mills had deprived wages to 2.5 lakh workers. Daily wages vary between Rs 370 to Rs 1200 per day depending on their skill and experience.

Both the state and the Centre had urged all industries not to deduct wages for the lockdown period but the IJMA said mills are not in a position to pay wages to workers for the period.

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