Ravi has lived and worked on the estate for 30 years. At first he worked plucking and weeding in the tea fields, but for the past 21 years he has been a field supervisor, and supervises a team of 30 pluckers.
Ravi has a wife, Nagamani, who works in the greenhouse on the estate. Ravi’s brother and brother’s wife live and work on the estate. Ravi and Nagamani have raised two sons on the estate, both of whom were born in the Rockland hospital at Chamraj, which has benefited from extensive investment of the Fairtrade Premium. Now the eldest (aged 19), is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (BComm) in Bangalore. The youngest (aged 16) is studying at the Chamraj School. Although part of the United Nilgiri estate, the school is 33km away, too far to travel daily on the winding roads, so he boards in the hostel at the school during the week, the construction of which was part-funded by Fairtrade Premium. Ravi’s youngest son wants to study engineering when he finishes school.
The Fairtrade Premium fully funds the bursaries that are available to estate workers to help fund their children’s education. Ravi’s son’s fees for his BComm are the equivalent of two and a half months of his pay for each year of study. For Ravi, receiving this bursary, he says, is ‘a big relief’.
As a supervisor, one of Ravi’s responsibilities is to ensure the tea fields are kept in a good condition. ‘You have to take two leaves and a bud. If you leave that the first time when you pick, when you come back to it the next round it is going to be overgrown. [The] thing is to ensure that all the ‘two leaves and a bud’ is picked.’
October and November is known as ‘the rush season’, where favourable conditions cause the tea bushes to grow rapidly. During the rush, it is more difficult to prevent the tea from becoming overgrown.
In October/November it is not possible to control with hand picking and so, compulsorily, they (tea workers) would have to use shears.
…people left because they got educated and so they went away, also taken their parents away and gone, and there was a time when [workforce] was very low, much less than what you really needed, but now [there are] some people from Jharkhand, from the North.
Ravi sits on the Fairtrade Premium Committee. He says he is very happy and proud of being a Fairtrade Premium Committee member because he can help the workers, and ‘from his heart’ he is getting enjoyment. It is an opportunity to represent them.
Two committee members represent a division, made up of 300 workers. The committee meets monthly to decide how to use the Fairtrade Premium to benefit the entire community. The committee members consult their division about their needs. They have fifteen Fairtrade Premium projects underway at United Nilgiri estates, and these include education bursaries, medical facilities, gas stoves and pensions, to name but a few.
In today’s world they [tea workers] have no guarantee that their children are going to come back and look after them. So, they need to have some security for their old age. So this [is] a very
positive development for us.