Chamraj - UNTEA - United Nilgiri Tea Estates Company
The living and working conditions of the laborers on remote tea plantations, such as Chamraj, were notoriously poor in its early days. In 1951, the Plantation Labor Act was one of the first initiatives to make estate companies responsible for the welfare of their workforce including the provision of housing, health care and education. Chamraj Estate changed hands in 1960 when the current owners, the Amalgamation Group, bought all businesses belonging to UNTEA from the Stanes family. Since then, Amalgamation has consistently invested in Chamraj and its laborers giving it a premier name in the industry.
Today, the factory at Chamraj is the largest in the Nilgiris and has the capacity to process up to 40,000 kilograms of tea every day for 6 days a week during peak production. While the trend of the domestic market was to switch to low quality tea due to surplus and drought, Chamraj maintained its high quality by reducing labor costs and upgrading its equipment.
Chamraj has positioned itself as a manufacturer of ethical tea, gaining Fair Trade, Rain Forest Alliance, and Kosher certification and is working on full organic certification. Nearly 10 percent of its sales are now Fair Trade, destined for the UK, Japan, Germany and the US. Chamraj hopes to eventually sell all of its teas as Fair Trade Certified™.
Fair Trade has improved the working and living conditions of laborers who come from all over the region to work at Chamraj. Educational funds have been a very important initiative for the development of the region. Fair Trade helps fund the higher education of laborers’ children and exposes them to new career opportunities while enabling them to support their retired parents. Retired workers are replaced by new migrant workers from the area, allowing other children the same access to education. This cycle has provided new opportunities for other poor families and children in the area. Projects like these are proposed and managed by a Joint Body or elected members, most of whom are women.
My mother worked in this estate for 35 years and she’s retired now. Because of the retirement benefits we earn, she is living happily with the funds given to her as a pension. ”
Rajagopal, 47, is a field supervisor and member of the Joint Body who has worked at Chamraj for 26 years. He has seen his mother benefit from the pension scheme and is reassured about his own retirement. He does not have to worry about his children taking care of him and is glad that they can pursue their education. ”
I’m working now but I don’t know whether my children will take care of me when I retire. So this will benefit me, even if my children don’t take care of me the money I get from the pension will help me to either build a house or repair a house and I will live happily. ”
Funding and Equipment for primary and secondary education
The Fair Trade premium has provided craft equipment and abacuses to the estate primary school as well as extending the playground for the 280 children who attend. Tea estates must by law provide primary education in Tamil, but Chamraj also provides secondary education in both Tamil and English up to age 18 to prepare students for higher education. The premium also goes toward funding a portion of teacher salaries. English education is normally very expensive but parents here only have to pay a small fee for their children, most of whom are the first generation in their family to have access to this kind of education.
Hospital Beds, Ultrasound Scanners, X-rays and Free Vaccination
The 60-bed hospital carries out urgent surgeries such as appendectomies and has a laboratory to analyse blood tests. Again, 60 percent of patients are non-estate people from surrounding villages who pay a small consultation fee. The premium has provided an ultrasound scanner for pregnant mothers and x-ray machines to diagnose fractures. All this reduces the need for patients to seek treatment at the hospital in Ooty, some 23km and an hour away by bus, except for estate people who are taken by ambulance. Waterborne diseases are endemic to the region so workers and their families have benefitted from free hepatitis B and typhoid vaccinations and children have blood tests every six months.
Pension Scheme for retired workers
This Pension Scheme was established nearly 12 years ago and is extremely popular with the workers. Because children move out of the region to pursue their education, they are no longer able to care for their parents in the traditional way. Workers receive this pension when they retire which allows them to be supported financially through their old age. So far, 164 workers benefit from these pensions.