October 10, 2021

TELANGANA: CITU Padayatra Demands Minimum Wages, Restoration of Labour Rights

S Veeraiah

THE Telangana state committee of the CITU organised a 22-day padayatra covering a distance of 400 km across industrial hubs in the five districts around Hyderabad on the demands of minimum wages and restoration of workers’ rights. A four-member team consisting of S Veeraiah, P Jayalakshmi, Paladugu Bhaskar and Bhoopal undertook the padayatra. While travelling from Koyyalagudem to Pochampalli, the marchers came across a board at the entrance of a company which reads in Telugu: ‘Nee edupe naa edugudala’, or ‘As you shed tears, so I prosper’. It is true for other companies too: tears of workers are merry for owners.

Seventy per cent of industrial workers are migrant labourers. Six to seven people are forced to stay together in a small room. The situation is so pathetic and helpless that they have to live with heaps of dirt brought by rats in their rooms. One of the workers of a company came to the padayatra team and showed his unattended physical injuries that he sustained on duty. The condition of another worker whose hands and face were burnt was pathetic. The management said he was not their worker. A 20-year-old man’s hip bone was injured and he cannot walk anymore, so he was terminated from service. In another company, six workers were killed in a fire. In another, one worker committed suicide due to harassment by the management. Many of such incidents do not come to light as company managements suppress them. In case of any accident or injury to local workers, it cannot be kept a secret. If trade unions or local people intervene on such incidents, managements are agreeing to pay compensation to some extent. But in case of migrant workers, this is not happening. It is not known whether the information about any unfortunate incident is shared with their parents or relatives. 

The companies are not implementing the minimum wage law. Monthly wages of anything between Rs 6,500 and Rs 12,000 are being paid. Generally, the industrial areas are seen to be abuzz in the afternoons, with the workers changing shifts. But the padayatra team witnessed the area wears a deserted look right from the sunrise to sunset. Twelve-hour work per day has become the new normal. In many companies, weekend holidays are not being given. The plight of women workers is more miserable. They have to attend to domestic chores and look after children. They practically get no time to sleep. Women are being paid less than men. Young women are being harassed, and they are even questioned on the amount of time they spend in toilets. Sexual abuse and harassment have become the order of the day. If at all a worker union is there, only local and regular workers are allowed to join it. As a result, the collective bargaining strength of the unions has decreased notably. In many companies, the minimum wages are not being implemented even for those workers who are members of union. There is no escape from working extra hours. This is a result of the decrease in the bargaining power of the unions.

There are 8,000 heavy, medium and small industries (micro industries not included) in and around Hyderabad with 4,50,000 workers. Unions are existing in only 230 companies and their membership is only 20,000. In this situation, there is no limit to exploitation by the managements. When an attempt was made to form a union in the Tata aerospace company, over 100 workers were removed. The company is situated in the Adibhatla Industrial Area. The padayatra team was even not allowed to pass through the area. The team members were unlawfully arrested and kept in custody, 70 km away. They were released only after state-wide protests and intervention and pressure from opposition political parties. In the Shamshabad Industrial Area, GMR built and donated the police station, equipped with all modern facilities. These examples are enough to understand the open nexus between the industrialists, police and the government. The leaders of the ruling parties are openly supporting the misdeeds of company managements while enjoying various contracts for works from them in return. Locals didn’t get employment. It is not due to the non-availability of education or talent. If the locals are employed, they will have a local base and demand various rights. But the migrant workers can be made to work like slaves. That is the strategy. Many companies are polluting groundwater and damaging agricultural fields. The condition of roads in the industrial areas is pathetic, but neither company managements nor the government is doing anything about it.

Some construction workers stopped the delegation to express their difficulties. In one instance, the contractor’s vehicle, taking one of the workers to workplace, met with an accident. Both the contractor and the worker were hospitalised. But the contractor refused to take responsibility for the worker’s treatment. Another worker approached the ‘Red Flag’ (CITU) for help. The padayatra team stayed at a municipal plumber’s house one night. The family considers the Red Flag as their true saviour and looked after the team very affectionately. The team members rested for some time in the Renuka Yellamma Temple, one afternoon, after lunch. The temple priest came and shared his woes. As the rush of devotees at the temple is for a few days only, he is dependent on contract work for livelihood during the rest of the year. He pleaded that the Red Flag should solve his problems. The team members stayed in the houses of poor workers during the padayatra. Majority of these workers were dalits and from weaker sections. An Anganwadi helper has to do additional work as weaver to support her family of four, including two daughters and mother-in-law. As the team members spent so many days in the houses of poor workers, they got to see their economic and social conditions from close quarters. Their confidence in CITU and its leadership has increased. As against the leaders representing the bourgeois parties and reformist unions, the workers felt that the leaders of the red flag movement (CITU) are their own leaders.

The rulers today are thinking that the workers can be won over with small welfare measures. In the state of Telangana, there are more than one crore workers in the industries coming under the list of 73 scheduled industries. According to the law, the minimum wages should have been revised every five years. As this was not done, the workers in the state have lost around Rs 17 lakh crore. The lives of workers are so miserable even though there are statutes for the workers’ rights. Now, the Modi government has repealed these labour laws. So, there would be no limit to the exploitation by the managements. It is in this situation that the working class of Telangana had no other option but to go for a one-day strike on October 8.