Women’s power triumphs - Today's Paper - The Hindu

Women’s power triumphs - Today's Paper - The Hindu


Lessons from Munnar (Kerala: God’s Own Country)
G Warrier
A few weeks back, writing
in Moneylife, I made the following observation:
A report in a mainstream newspaper (July 8, 2015) says: “To ensure
uniform minimum wages across the country, the Centre has hiked the national
floor level from Rs137/day to Rs160/day with effect from July 1, 2015.” Last
such revision was two years back when the revision was from Rs115/day to
Rs137/day. As more and more jobs are going out of the organized sector and
employment of all unskilled labour and skilled labour in many sectors are being
sourced through ‘service providers’ the bench-mark minimum wage becomes more
relevant in present day India. I am not able to relate the rates of minimum
wages mentioned here to the needs of individuals/families in any geographical
area in India. Perhaps, some researchers may be able to guide how the nutrition
needs, clothes, shelter, healthcare and post-job needs are factored-in, in
these figures. Let us wait and watch.”
Though the number of those who surfed the article @moneylife.in was in
four digits, none of the readers recorded any view on this observation.
Excerpts from a report in The New Indian
spontaneous agitation by tea estate workers in Munnar, mostly women, that began
nine days earlier ended on Sunday, September 13, 2015 with the management
yielding to their demands to increase bonus. Kannan Devan Hills Plantations
(KDHP) Limited agreed to give 8.33 per cent bonus and 11.67 per cent ex-gratia
to workers. According to media reports, the demand for increase in daily wages
from Rs 231 to Rs 500 would be addressed by the labour commissioner later. The
5,000-odd workers had started the sit-in in Munnar on September 6. KDHP was
forced to close down all its factories after the agitation cut off supply of
tea leaves. The strike was embarrassing for Tata Tea as KDHP was held up as a
model for making workers feel part of the company. It was formed a decade ago
following Tata Tea’s strategy to hand over a chunk of its shares to employees
and managers of the estate. However, while a workers’ representative was made
the board director, the operations continued to be controlled by the Tatas.
Tata Global Beverages also retained the Kannan Devan tea brand and the
marketing of the estate’s products. Currently, the 13,000 workers on KDHP’s
rolls, most of them women engaged in plucking tea leaves, hold 68 per cent of
the shares, while 18 per cent are held by Tata Tea. The remaining 14 per cent
are held by a trust and others. The cover page of KDHP’s annual report for the
last fiscal had noted that it “featured among the 100 best companies to work
(by) its employees in India; ranked No. 1 in the category (of) best company for
employees’ involvement and participation in India”. The agitation had begun
after the management decided to cut workers’ bonus from 20 per cent to 10 due
to the sagging fortunes of the tea industry. A statement by the company said
its income had fallen by 68 per cent in 2014-15 from the previous year. The
angry workers later also raised the issue of daily wages. The basic daily pay
of an estate worker engaged in plucking tea leaves is Rs 80 to 85. With all
benefits, it comes to Rs 231. A worker has to pluck 21 kg of leaves a day to
get that pay, plus Rs 1.50 for every extra kilogram of output. On the contrary,
estate supervisors get Rs 4 each, staff members Rs 6 each and managers Rs 10
each on every extra kilogram plucked by the worker. Apart from the demand to
increase wages and bonus, the workers also raised the “poor conditions” in the
one-room houses allotted to them. One of the protesting workers said that the
claim that “the company belongs to labourers” was an “eye wash”. “We have to
pay for every service offered, even Rs 100 so that our cows can graze. Ordinary
workers’ children do not get admission in the school run by the company.””
Additional information:
The company
had brought down the bonus from the previous year’s 19% to 10% during the
current year. The per employee bonus after enhancement to 20%(11.63% Ex-Gratia
plus 8,33% Bonus) post-agitation would be Rs8,000. The employees’ demand was a
1% increase over the previous year!
The basic
wage decided by state government to this category of employees is Rs3500 per
month(Looks, this is based on the minimum wage stipulation that existed prior
to two revisions mentioned in my article quoted at the beginning of this
write-up!). 20% of 3500X12 works out to roughly Rs8,000
Trade unions
did not support the struggle. Women workers took on themselves the
responsibility of fighting it out. About 7,000 women were on the streets of
Munnar for 8 days.


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