What is the Condition of Workers in West Bengal?

September 27, 2010

By Biswajit Hazra, SharmikShakti Sept 2010.

Click here to read ShramikShakti Sept 2010 [PDF, Bengali] »

Scene 1: Hindustan Motors Factory (Hooghly District)

Once Asia’s biggest automobile manufacturing factory, Hindmotors employed 16,000 workers in its heyday.

Over time, there started the trend of worker layoffs. Production did not go down, however. The number of workers was brought down to about 10,000 in 1998, at which point workers started fighting back. A majority of workers in the factory came out of established unions and formed a new union called SSKU. Fierce resistance was given against company practices such as firing under cover of VRS, illegal casual labour, DA freeze, etc. Under such circumstances, the Birlas, the government, and the established unions coordinated themselves even more closely. This nexus reached a position of strength and in 2006, they were able to sell off 314 acres of land for an SEZ. The State government aided the Birlas in this diversion of industrial land into real estate. In 2008, the attack of the Birlas reached a peak under the protection of the government. CITU, INTUC-Trinamul leaders took VRS and left the field. The majority of the leadership of the militant SSKU was fired. The management brought down the number of employees in the factory to bout 2000. And that is the way things stand today.

Previous articles on Hindmotors: Real-estate land acquisition in Hindmotors, A photo essay, History of Trade Union Movements.

Scene 2: Ladlo Jutemill (Howrah District)

The workers are supposed to earn Rs. 250 a day. Very few receive that much. Most are casual workers. They are given Rs. 60-100.

The most ironic thing: the union leaders double up as labour contractors! With an understanding with the owners, a large portion of the daily wages of the workers goes into their pockets. In return they supply cheap casual labourers.

In 2002 some big unions sat down with the governement and made a tripartite pact that Rs. 100 would be the minimum wage in the mill. Under the circumstances, if the government itself gives permission to pay Rs. 100, why would the management hire permanent workers for Rs. 250?

Most companies today keep very few permanent workers, and get their labour from casual workers, or from “zero”, “bhaga”, “voucher” etc. types of non-permanent workers. This is the standard scenario in the jutemills of West Bengal.

Scene 3: Hosiery Industry (Kolkata District)

Over 100,000 workers in and around Kolkata are involved in this industry. According to a tripartite agreement in the State government’s Department of Labour in 1998, these workers are supposed to receive minimum wage, DA, identity cards. But 90% of the factories violate these rules. If the laws of the land were followed, the owners of the factories should have been in jail by now – but the government hasn’t touched them.

Scene 4: Kalyani Spinning Mill (Nadia District)

In this State-run mill, there are 250 permanent workers and 250-300 non-permanent workers. These non-permanent workers do not have identity cards, ISI card, or Provident Funds. If they get work, they are paid Rs. 140 a day. For the same work, permanent workers get Rs. 450. If work is unavailable, the non-permanent do not get paid for the day. In complete defiance of the country’s labour laws, the State government itself is running this kind of illegal production unit in broad daylight in Kalyani! Year after year. Tired of the false, procrastinating activities of the CITU-INTUC-Trinamul, workers here are preparing to organise themselves afresh.

This is the condition of the working class in West Bengal. The Left Front government came to power in 1977 and declared that the government would be run in the interest of the working class. After 33 years, leave alone securing other rights, even the minimum wages guaranteed by the laws of the land are not given to crores of workers.

Take for example the brick kiln workers. The owners got a High Court injunction against the plea for minimum wages by the workers. This happened 13 years ago – the government has not found time, to this day, to take legal steps to strike out this injunction. The minimum wage in the hosiery industry today is the same as that decided in 1998. Every five years there was supposed to have been a wage revision – that makes 3 such revisions to date – not one has happened. In the tea gardens in North Bengal, workers are surviving in inhuman conditions – in hunger, without medical facilities, under torture. Mangalpur, Palta and other SEZ’s have become havens for owners. The norm there is to dispense with all labour laws and get labour for cheap – protest leads to victimisation or layoff. Workers are forbidden to unionise. From the innumerable small factories dotting the two sides of the Delhi Road, to the sponge iron units in Asansol-Durgapur – the picture is the same everywhere.


2 Responses to “What is the Condition of Workers in West Bengal?”

  1. Amit M Says:
    September 30th, 2010 at 11:20

    When there were no virtual competition , HM used to make around 15000 cars annually!and those too used to be sold at a premium. Indian Government officials travelled in Ambassador (ie a captive market).Things changed with the arrivals of Maruti Cars and of various designs which was followed by others.Maruti produces more than 200,000 units annually if not more. But HM stayed where it was. Modern buyers started disliking Ambassadors.I don’t know HM’s current production rates. Unless, HM makes new design cars and of comparable numbers – HM will be more worse. TU should pay heed to this aspect( because management is rotten). The existing Birla( Owner) is a sick industrialist who have no intention of being a ‘modern’ capitalist. He will play one unit against the others ( in Chennai, Indore) and keep on laying off , meagre salary ie all those typical ‘bania’ practices. Governemnt will not disturb a Birla , will attach most priority to ‘private property’ . Labour will be glorified only during speeches. TU may resort to a vigorous campaign in Newspapers to unmask the true character of this management–as a first step.

  2. Asif Icbal Says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 02:14

    Govt. has taken initiative towards regularization of casual employees / daily rated / contractual employees as published in this order.

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