March 27, 2016

CITU Holds Massive Rally of Unorganised Sector Workers in Mumbai

Vivek Monteiro

MORE than 16,000 workers from four sectors – construction, powerloom, beedi and domestic work – poured into Azad Maidan to attend the statewide rally of unorganised sector workers called by CITU on March 16. The always precarious condition of these unorganised sector workers has deteriorated even further under the policies of the BJP led governments at the centre and in the state. At the same time when the Modi government was holding “Make in India” extravaganzas in Mumbai, matched by “Make in Maharashtra” sloganeering by the Phadnavis government, the beedi and powerloom manufacturers  shut down their establishments en masse, depriving lakhs of workers in these sectors of their daily earnings.

Under the Phadnavis government, the state labour machinery has completely stopped functioning. Minimum wages notifications are openly flouted. The welfare boards which are mandated under existing legislation for construction workers and domestic workers are non functional.

The beedi and powerloom industries employ 4.5 lakh and 5 lakh workers in Maharashtra, concentrated in cities like Solapur, Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur, Bhiwandi, and Malegaon. Construction work and domestic work are expanding sectors in all cities and towns in Maharashtra, as a consequence of the rapid urbanisation that is taking place in the state. In the last one year, statewide rallies of construction workers and powerloom workers were organised by the CITU in the state capital in addition to mass mobilisations at the district level.

The March 16 rally of all these four sectors together was organised with specific demands. For construction workers these included reviving the mediclaim insurance scheme, which had lapsed since last August, implementation of the assurance of giving a onetime tool allowance to each registered construction worker, registration of construction ‘naka’ workers  and artisans who are employed daily through the local ‘naka’ labour markets in the scheme and reviving the welfare board, which has become non functional under the BJP led government. For powerloom workers, the demands included the implementation of the notified minimum wage and basic labour laws, and constitution of a welfare board for powerloom workers. For beedi workers, the demand was for implementation of the notified minimum wage of Rs 210 per thousand beedis. For domestic workers, the demand was for revival of the defunct welfare board, restoration of the onetime ‘sanman’ allowance scheme payable to superannuated workers, and legislation for statutory rights like  weekly holiday, minimum wage and bonus.

Despite the massive turnout on the 16th, the state government at first tried to ignore the rally, with no response till 3 pm. This situation changed when a section of the workers defied the police barricades and staged an impromptu rasta-roko outside Azad Maidan. A delegation was immediately called to meet the state labour minister for discussions.

The delegation led by CITU state president Narsayya Adam, and CITU state general secretary Dr DL Karad  had an extended discussion with the minister Prakash Mehta who gave assurances of implementation, within15 days, of several demands, which are as follows: revival of the mediclaim scheme for construction workers, clear instructions to local bodies from the state government to register naka workers, formation of a  board for powerloom sector, strict implementation of minimum wage for beedi, legislation on service conditions like minimum wage and weekly holiday for domestic workers.

The rally concluded with victory slogans and a firm warning from Narsayya Adam that if the demands were not implemented as agreed and assured by the minister within a month, the workers would return in even larger numbers in April, with a determination to stay put until the demands are implemented.

During the day-long programme, the rally was addressed by Narsayya Adam, Dr DL Karad, Bharma Kamble, MH Shaikh,  Kiran Moghe, Shubha Shamim, Mariam Dhawale, Sunil Chavan,  Shivaji Magdum, Mahendra Singh, Vivek Monteiro, Sitaram Thombre, Armaity Irani and other CITU state leaders.