Labourers fight for Rs.60 a week (May 1 is International Labour Day)

May 1st, 2009 - 2:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sujeet Kumar
Raipur, May 1 (IANS) Workers around the world celebrated International Labour Day Friday, but Kesar Bai was not one of them. The 40-year-old daily wager continued to jostle with 500 others in a labourers’ mart in this Chhattisgarh capital to find work. She considers herself lucky if she is hired for a day in a week.

“Don’t ask, I am just like a dead person despite being alive. The whole day I wait for people who come here in search of workers. But I have to pray to god that they pick me. I have to take care of my five children,” Kesar told IANS.

“I consider myself lucky if I find work even a day in a week because people cash in here on workers’ desperation and pay just Rs.60-70 (less than $2) to women,” said Kesar, whose effective earning thus comes to Rs.60 a week. She takes a train daily from her village 45 km away to come to one of the many labour marts in the state capital.

People hoping to get work as daily labourers come at 7 a.m. and sometimes wait till 5 p.m. in the hope that someone will hire them for Rs.50-100 a day.

Kirondi, 48, who lives in a slum here, said: “People come to pick up workers promising Rs.60 a day but after the work is complete they pay around Rs.40-50 saying that the work was unsatisfactory.

“Despite knowing that I am being exploited I have no option but to accept the amount because I can’t afford to oppose these people.”

Trade union leaders estimate that there are about 600,000 workers in the unorganised sector in Chhattisgarh.

“Chhattisgarh is one of the states where the exploitation of people who work in unorganised sector is very high. Workers are being exploited at meagre daily payment between Rs.40-60 as against about Rs.100 per day minimum wage,” said Tapan Chatterjee, state chief of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).

“There is different daily wage amount for each district set by the collector but it’s largely around Rs.100 per day. A majority of the labourers are unaware about the rates and accept whatever amount is paid by the employer. In many cases, they are forced to work extra hours daily and are paid less than what was promised,” he said.

Arun Choubey, leader of another trade union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), said: “The workers in the unorganised sector are subjected to extreme injustice as they can’t raise their voice. Since workers are dependent on daily earnings to survive, they rush to offer their labour at any price and the employers cash in on their helplessness.”

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