The indefinite strike of more than 2,000 plantation workers of the Arasu (Government) Rubber Corporation (ARC) in Kanyakumari district entered the second day on Tuesday. The workers are on strike demanding wage revision pending for the past 39 months. The wage agreement expired on December 1, 2016 after which 47 rounds of discussions have taken place, all of which failed to yield a positive result.
The workers are also demanding withdrawal of government order (GO) 9 of the forest department that claims the interim revision on wages as final settlement.
TALKS YIELD NO RESULTS
The 48th round of the talks on wage settlement is taking place today but the workers and trade union leaders are pessimistic of the outcome. The conciliation talks that have taken place so far were attended by the minister of forest, secretary to the government, deputy commissioner of labour and the labour officer.
Union leaders accuse the government and the ARC management of rejecting the genuine demands of workers who generally carry out the tapping and collection work in a highly unprotected environment.
Valsa Kumar, the general secretary of Kanyakumari District Plantation Workers Union, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told NewsClick said: “We have held 47 rounds of talks with the government through the labour department and no development has taken place so far. The participation of the forest minister and the secretary to the government has also resulted in failure as they declined to accept our demands. Unfortunately, the labour commissioner has never participated in the 47 rounds of talks so far. This apathetic attitude of the government and the labour department has forced the workers to strike work.”
INTERIM SETTLEMENT IMPOSED AS FINAL
Even worse, the department has released a GO announcing the interim settlement of Rs 23/day as final settlement. The workers are demanding an increment of Rs 100/day since the revision is pending for more than three years.
“As a GO has been released stating the interim relief as the final settlement. Legal issues have crept in much to the shock of the workers. The earlier wage settlement expired in December 2016, and as per norms, a new settlement should have been in force by now. We are fighting for the demands raised three years ago”, added Kumar.
The workers, who have to work in a highly unprotected environment, facing threats from wild animals and lack of safety measures. They are paid Rs 481 as daily wages. Since the workers begin their work early in the morning, they often end up in conflict with wild animals and face snake attacks. The minimum protective gears and social welfare measures that they get are a result of the long-fought struggles of the unions predominantly, the CITU.
The import policies of the successive Union governments continue to affect these workers in many spheres, including wage hike. The increasing import of rubber products has reduced the demand for the domestic products. The private players and government enterprises have also suffered the impact of these policy issues, resulting in job losses. Eventually, such polices affect the lowest rung in the ladder – the workers.