Vol. XLI No. 18 April 30, 2017

TAMIL NADU: Huge Rally of CITU Demands Minimum Wage, Abolition of Contract System

K C Gopikumar

THOUSANDS of workers from across Tamil Nadu took part in a rally in Chennai on April 4, demanding a curb on price rise, check on rising unemployment, abolition of the contract system and equal pay for equal work, an end to violence against women at work place, and a minimum wage of Rs 18,000, among others. The 13TH Tamil Nadu state conference of the CITU had given a clarion call to the working class to lay siege to the Fort St George, the state secretariat, over these long-pending demands of the people, particularly the workers.

More than 25,000 workers, including women, braved a scorching sun to attend the rally. It was led by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member A K Padmanabhan, CITU state president A Soundararajan, G Sukumaran and Malathi Chittibabu. The rally started from the Rajarathinam stadium and proceeded towards the secretariat building in Chintadripet, but it was stopped by police. A CITU delegation met Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Girija Vaidhyanathan and presented a memorandum to her. Later, Soundararajan briefed the gathering about the discussions with the chief secretary. The chief secretary assured the delegation that the government would consider the demands and initiate action in areas pertaining to the state such as streamlining of the welfare board for unorganised sector labourers and abolition of contract system. Based on the assurances given by the chief secretary, the CITU suspended the agitation for the time being.

The 13TH state conference of the CITU held in Tuticorin in September 2016 had given gave a clarion call to the working class of Tamil Nadu to lay siege to the Fort St George. The state government has been toeing the line of the central government in pursuing and implementing neo-liberal economic policies, thereby denying the workers their hard-earned rights. The state government is blindly and aggressively implementing the neo-liberal policies and only protecting the interests of the big corporate companies and MNCs. The government and its agencies are not only mounting attacks on the rights of the workers but also denying social security benefits to them.

The CITU state working committee and the state committee subsequently met in Kodaikanal and Salem and formulated a 13-point charter of demands and decided to campaign extensively to mobilise the workers. The 36 district committees and various state-level unions carried out extensive campaigns to mobilise workers across the state. Extensive campaign was done among members, workers and the public. Marches were held in Kancheepuram. Two-wheeler campaigns were done in almost all districts. Street-corner meetings were conducted widely across the state.

The demands are: curb price rise, check unemployment, save Salem Steel Plant, labour rights to be preserved, abolish the contract system and pay equal wage for equal work, streamline the unorganised labour welfare board, stop violence against women at work place and constitute complaints committees as per the Vishaka Guidelines, ensure a minimum wage of Rs 18,000, provide adequate relief to peasants and agricultural workers affected by drought, and roll back the hike in renewal fees for auto and other transport vehicles. It also demanded that women should paid at per with male workers.

Rising Unemployment

The misrule of successive state governments led by the DMK and the AIADMK has taken unemployment to an alarming height. The quality of employment is also sharply deteriorating owing to the anti-worker and pro-corporate policies. The situation is becoming graver and grimmer every passing day due to the rise in unemployment, thereby grooming anti-social activities. The CITU demands filling up of the existing four lakh vacancies in government institutions. Many people working in around 2,500 Tasmac outlets (liquor shops run by the state) are on the verge of losing their jobs because of the recent Supreme Court judgement shutting liquor outlets within 500 metres of state and national highways. They should be provided alternative jobs.

Curb Price Rise

The phenomenon of price rise under the neoliberal regime reveals a paradoxical situation. Common people are forced to spend more on essential commodities to fulfil their basic needs. Adding fuel to fire, the state government recently increased VAT on fuel, which led to a hike in bus fares. The CITU demands the state government check the price rise by pursuing people-oriented policies.

Stop Onslaught on PSU, Save Salem Steel Plant

The BJP government at the Centre continues with its determined policy to hand over the national assets built with tax payers’ money and farming lands donated by peasants to big business houses. Recently, the BJP government has announced that it would sell Salem Steel Plant and IDPL in Tamil Nadu. The CITU demands the state government pass a resolution in the Assembly to save Salem Steel Plant and IDPL in Nandambakkam.

Attack on Labour Rights

In both organised and unorganised sectors, labour laws pertaining to minimum wages, working hours, contract work, right to strike and statutory social security benefits are being violated. The industrial relation bill is a draconian one. It will become impossible to form trade unions because of the insurmountable restrictions and conditions. Retrograde changes and amendments in provident fund and employees’ insurance schemes have been introduced. Employers are desperately violating the law and the authorities remain silent. The CITU demands the state take stringent action against the managements that violate labour laws.

Abolition of Contract System

Recruitments under the contract system are increasing day-by-day in government as well as in the private sector. Even in the perennial sector, widespread contractualisation and casualisation are taking place. Workers working in the same cadre, doing the same work are denied salary equal with the permanent workers. The CITU demands an end to this exploitation and implementation of a recent judgment by the Supreme Court on equal pay for equal work. This must be extended to the contract workers as well.

Increase Benefits for Unorganised Workers

In Tamil Nadu, unorganised sector workers have been the victims of reckless and unilateral decisions taken by the officials with regard to a labour welfare board. It was done without even consulting the trade unions. There has been unnecessary procedural delay in extending various benefits to unorganised sector workers as officials ask for bank account, caste certificate, etc. We demand the state government give due representation to the CITU in the tripartite committee, take urgent and serious measures to settle the long-pending claims of 2,70,000 workers, increase and double the existing benefits for the unorganised sector workers.

Adequate Compensation for Peasants   

Tamil Nadu is reeling under a severe drought. Suicides by peasants and agricultural workers are on the rise. More than 200 peasants have died due to starvation, unbearable debts in the recent past. In Tamil Nadu, two-thirds of the farmers are out of coverage of the institutional credit and taking money from money lenders. The CITU has demanded the state government increase the relief amount and extend it to all affected farmers and agricultural workers.

Minimum Wages

As per the 15TH Indian Labour Conference norms and Supreme court directives, the CITU demands the state government pay Rs 18,000 per month as minimum wages to workers. More than three lakh workers working in various government bodies and state-run PSUs are getting consolidated pay, honorarium. Those working in cooperative bodies are paid Rs 6,000-7,000 as honorarium. Around 60,000 scavenging workers working in town, city and panchayats are paid a daily wage of Rs 150- 200. In ICDS, the workers are paid Rs 4,000 and Rs 8,000 as special time scale pay. The government should ensure minimum wages of Rs 18,000, the CITU demanded.