March 29, 2020

AIAWU Demands Unemployment Allowance for Agri Workers

THE country is in a fear psychosis because of the ever increasing cases of coronavirus infected, which need to be prevented from going out of hand. All public institutions starting from Supreme Court to educational institutions are going through self imposed quarantines. Several government offices have become temporarily dysfunctional. The government itself is asking people to restrict themselves to their homes. Moreover, several state governments and the central government are encouraging people to improve their sanitation and use masks, hand sanitizers etc. The central government is also asking the state governments to ensure that there are no large scale gatherings or even limited gatherings.

The major problem, however, is to protect the lives and livelihood of a large population living in miserable conditions, suffering from serious malnutrition and lack of proper work.Among these, agricultural workers, men, women and children, are the most vulnerable. This alarming situation is going to lead to a considerable loss of employment for agricultural workers. Already alternative employment, like building and construction activity, has come to a standstill. Even domestic servants and house maids are discouraged to attend their work. This will result in making them even more helpless than they are already.

The All India Agricultural Workers Union, in a statement issued on March 20, has demanded the government to take immediate steps to pay unemployment allowance specified under MNREGA Act. It also demanded the government to supply free grains through the public distribution system from the vast stock of food lying in its godowns, provide Medicaid equipment at subsidised rate for agricultural workers and increase social support in the light of the impending danger of the coronavirus.  This is the time when MNREGA work begins. But because of the corona pandemic, local bodies are desisting from taking up works under MNREGA resulting in a further loss of livelihood and earnings for agricultural workers when they most need them.

As the situation is alarming and reaching the proportions of a national calamity, the safeguards proposed by government should also be matched with the gravity of the issue at hand. The AIAWU CWC demands the government to increase the public health infrastructure to meet any eventuality. Also, it demands the inclusion of the nutritious food component into the Food Security Act to improve the capacity of immunity without which the COVID 19 will seriously endanger the lives of crores of rural workers unless immediate steps on a war footing are launched by the central government and the state governments. There is no time to be lost.