Delhi shop and factory workers cry foul

August 14th, 2011 - 6:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) Rakesh Soni, a 42-year-old worker at a factory in north Delhi’s Karawal Nagar Industrial Area, will be busy polishing metals Monday when most will be at home celebrating India’s 65th Independence Day.

Soni is among thousands of shop and factory workers made to work on national holidays with the promise of a compensatory off or/and monetary incentive. However, the promise is seldom kept.

According to the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act, 1954, every commercial establishment shall remain closed on three national holidays: Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. However, an amendment to the Act in 2004 said that shops or commercial establishments may remain open on a national holiday and added the proviso of compensatory offs and overtime wages.

“It has been years now that many of my colleagues and I have been working on national holidays,” Soni told IANS. “But our employers never compensate. In a few cases, the employers did act, but in most cases our voices go unheard.”

His views were corroborated by Adarsh Singh, a shoe factory employee, who said compensatory offs were denied. Two years ago, he and other employees had taken up the matter with the labour commissioner.

It seemed to have worked. “In the last two years, we have got the offs in lieu of working on all public holidays,” Singh said.

Deputy Labour Commissioner K.R. Verma told IANS: “Action can only be taken if any employee files a complaint.” However, employees’ unions feel that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure due implementation.

Narayana Singh, general secretary of the Hindustan Engineering and General Mazdoori Union, said: “When the duty hours and wages prescribed by the government are being flouted by shopkeepers, how can we expect overtime from them?”

He further said, “The system of complaint is easily accessible to the worker, but he risks losing his job since the system requires him to disclose his name.” His union has over 10,000 members.

Fakruddin, general secretary of the Engineering and Allied Karmchari Union, criticised the amendment that allowed commercial establishments to run on public holidays.

“This move is completely opposed to the welfare of the workers,” he said. He feared that the practice might extend to holidays other than Aug 15. “The amendment has definitely been made under the pressure of big industrialists and shopkeepers,” he added.

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