Skip to main content

South Gujarat sugarcane harvesting workers' struggle leads to 10% hike in wages

A sugar workers' protest, September 2019 
By Sudhir Katiyar*
Cooperative Sugar Factories of South Gujarat have hiked the wages of sugarcane harvesting workers by Rs 25 per ton to Rs 280 per ton. The commission paid to the labour contractors has been hiked by Rs 5 per ton to Rs. 55 per ton. This was declared by the labour supervisors of the Cooperative Factories at their meetings with the labour contractors, known locally as mukaddams, on August 18 and 19.
The wage hike will impact nearly 2.5 lakh tribal workers who migrate every year from districts of Daang and Tapi in Gujarat and Dhule and Nandurbar in Maharashtra to harvest sugarcane in farms of cooperative sugar factories of South Gujarat.The workers have organised under the banner of Majur Adhikar Manch, a trade union of informal workers in Gujarat, to demand higher wages and improved work conditions. Last year the workers had imposed a moratorium on migration demanding that the wages be hiked.
The Union also gave a call for work stoppage during the season in the month of February. This year too, as the season began, the Union had stepped up its campaign and threatened to impose a moratorium again unless wages are hiked and other demands are met. The factories have announced a hike in wage. They have also promised to respond positively to another major demand of insurance against accidents and Covid-19.
Sugar workers meet in Dangs district
The workers work under conditions that are frequently referred to as modern day slavery. A pair of workers toil for up to 12 hours a day to harvest and load on to trucks one MT of sugarcane for which they were being paid Rs 255 so far. Thus, average daily wage worked out to Rs 127.50 that is significantly less that Rs 178 per day for agriculture workers in Gujarat. However, what is even worse is that the workers take an advance before they are engaged for work. At the end of the season, they have to pay back one and a half time the amount taken as advance. This works out to an interest rate of more than 50 percent per annum. 
The advance is necessitated by the fact that the factories do not pay the workers regular wages as defined under the Payment of Wages Act. Instead,they provide bare minimum food ration and pay wages at the end of the season in gross violation of law. The workers migrate from their homes and live for six months literally on the road in tents of polythene sheets without any basic facilities like drinking water, electricity, and sanitation. Children migrate with their parents and join them at work as there are no educational facilities at the camp sites.
The union is demanding Rs 400 per ton as the wages for harvesting sugarcane.The long work hours and pitiable work conditions have been confirmed by a Time Motion study undertaken by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay. The study reported that a pair of workers takes eight hours to harvest one ton of sugarcane and carry it to the truck for loading. 
Sugar workers on strike at their camp
The current work conditions entail extensive abuse of labour and human rights of workers as entailed below:
  • Creation and perpetuation of system of bonded labour by Cooperative Sugar Factories of Gujarat: The system of recruitment and conditions at work place fulfil conditions of bondage as specified under The Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act. The workers are recruited against advances against which they have to pay a usurious rate of interest (at least 5 percent per month). They cannot leave before the work is completed. There is no regular payment of wages as specified under The Payment of Wages Act. While they are paid statutory minimum wages at piece rate, the piece rate is fixed so low that it is almost two third of the statutory minimum wage on a time rate as explained in the next section.
  • Extremely low fixation of piece rate by the State of Gujarat that ensures that daily wage rate is two-thirds of the time rate minimum wage: The state Government has fixed minimum wages for sugarcane workers on a piece rate basis. This piece rate was notified as Rs 238 per ton by the Government on January 21, 2015. Studies carried out show that a unit of two persons working together for 10 to 12 hours per day is able to harvest one tonne of sugarcane per day. Thus, daily wage rate works out to Rs 119 per day that is two-thirds of the time rate agriculture minimum wage of Rs 178 and 38% of the industrial minimum wage of Rs 313.
In addition, there is violation of Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act, Child Labour Act and numerous other labour laws like Provident Funds Act and Bonus Act.
It is noteworthy that the Centre for Labour Research and Action Union has undertaken mapping and research studies carried out and supported by Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung. It also sponsored the Time Motion study by IIT-Bombay referred to above.
--
Secretary, Centre for Labour Research and Action Union

Comments

TRENDING

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).