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

HSBC shareholders seek exit from funding Adani's 'contentious' Australian coalmine

By Our Representative  In a move that may embarrass India's top business house known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shareholders of HSBC, a British multinational investment bank, the largest in Europe with total assets of US$2.715 trillion, are likely to decide at its AGM on May 28, 2021 a plan to exit coal financing related to the Adani Group, as it begins digging the Carmichael mega coal mine in Australia, reports Melbourne-based South Asia Times.

Gross 'injustice' to children: Rs 5000 cr cut in education budget; 15 lakh schools shut down

Counterview Desk  More than 100 dignitaries, including educationists, academia, social activists, teachers’ union, civil society organisations (CSOs), various networks and people working on child rights, in a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have sought reversal of reduction in allocation for education in the Union Budget 2021-22, even as demanding substantial increase in it.

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Ciminalising 'tool' created, name: Gujarat Land Grabbing Prohibition Act 2020

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Rejitha Nair* The year 2021 in Gujarat opened its account with 647 alleged land grabbing cases under investigation, 16 FIRs filed against 34 land grabbers within 35 days of Gujarat Land Grabbing Prohibition Act 2020 (GLGPA), as informed by the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Gujarat State, in a press conference on January 22, 2021. He further informed that of 647 alleged cases, 605 applications of land grabbing were received by different collectors who have initiated suo moto proceedings in 42 cases. The total land in these cases is estimated to be around 1.35 lakh square metre, worth Rs 220 crore as per jantri rates (ready reckoner of land prices in different parts of the state). By March 15, 2021, at least six even cases are before the Gujarat High Court. Of about 11 cases reported in the daily newspapers, in three cases, grabbing of government land is charged, and the rest are land disputes between two individuals. The promptness of the district collect

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.

RSS love for 'killer' Myanmar junta behind Indian military presence at Tatmadaw Day?

By Shamsul Islam*  If a shameful act means an action which is criminal and nauseating, it would be an understatement to describe the attitude of the present RSS-BJP rulers of India towards the demolition of democracy and large-scale killing of the people of Myanmar by the military ( tatmadaw ) junta which took power through a coup on February 1, 2021 after renegading the election results in which the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy, was a clear winner.

Chhattisgarh’s Apra riverfront imitates Sabarmati: 'Devaluing' water, environment

Sabarmati riverfront By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  This year’s #WorldWaterDay (March 22) focus was on ‘Valuing Water’. My school friend, Pragati Tiwari from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, called that day knowing my interest in water matters. We were remembering our childhood days as how we used to play on the banks and the bed of the Arpa Nadi (River) during the summer holidays and as how the river would swell like Anaconda to flow happily during the monsoon.

Bihar massacre on Holi day: Brahminical, casteist mindset behind 'uneasy' silence

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Several people were killed in Bihar amidst Holi festivities, but not much response has come in from the media. The silence of the government and the society as a whole is also appalling. We seek to romanticise these festivals, yet we forget that every year they take so many lives. This despite the fact that Holi appears to be the best time for 'avenging things'.

India's draft migrants policy: Whither concern on job restrictions imposed by states?

By Anil Kumar*  India’s Niti Aayog has prepared a Draft Migration Policy. The draft policy acknowledges migration as an integral part of development, and it calls for positive government interventions that facilitate internal migration. With a rights-based solution to migration, the draft states that the policy should “enhance the agency and capability of the community and thereby remove aspects that come in the way of an individual’s own natural ability to thrive”.