As the nation continues to be under lockdown for the fourth week, the life of unorganised workers in Tamil Nadu have taken a jolt. Workers of cottage industries, flower sellers, roadside food sellers among others have been left to fend for themselves, after having lost their source of livelihood due to the lockdown.
Only after repeated demands of the trade unions on the necessity of relief measures, the government announced rations and Rs 2,000 cash relief to the registered workers of welfare boards. As the lockdown has been extended across the country, the agony of the workers continues. A huge number of workers have not even received the first instalment of Rs 1,000 announced during the end of March.
John Sounder Raj, secretary of Kanyakumari district General Workers’ Union, said, “The relief measures announced by the state government has not reached most of the workers. The sufferings of workers including small scale sellers including flower sellers, those who sell eatables in pushcarts, tea shops and hotel workers are much more than what we can imagine. The government should ensure that the paltry reliefs announced reach the workers at the earliest.”
NO DATA WITH WELFARE BOARDS
Even as the workers are in an urgent crisis the government has announced the distribution of relief measures to the workers in a phased manner. The trade unions accuse the lack of data of workers with the welfare boards as the reason for such an announcement. The officers from the welfare boards are requesting the leaders of the trade unions to collect the details of the beneficiaries.
Muthu Vijayan, district secretary of Ramanathapuram Unorganised Workers’ Union, said, “The data maintenance of the welfare boards are so pathetic, they keep us busy in collecting details of the beneficiaries. From the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), we have submitted details of 250 workers for receiving the relief in our taluk alone. This also shows the state negligence over the welfare boards and the workers.”
Also read: COVID-19 Lockdown: No Relief for Garment and Tailoring Workers in TN
In addition, the brokers in collusion with the officials of the welfare boards office take advantage of the pathetic state of the workers. These brokers take commission for registration and renewals of the memberships. The workers and the trade unions have been demanding to end the collusion between the middle men and the officials, but no action has been initiated so far.
DISMAL STATE OF PENSIONERS
Sixty-three years old Muthuvazhavanthal of Kamudhi village was waiting for her pension after submitting the documents in the welfare board office three years back. When the CITU leaders visited to get details of the application for pension, the documents submitted were found bundled away literally reaching the dustbins.
“This is not the situation only in Ramanathapuram welfare board office, it exists across almost all offices in the state. The people after working for so many years depend on the pension and such activities deny them their rights,” said Vijayan.
Even worse is the undue delay in the disbursal of pension to the pensioners. In certain districts, the workers are not paid the pension for almost a year. These workers depend on this pension for their medical needs.
SIMPLIFY RENEWAL PROCESS
The workers demand the renewal process in the welfare boards to be simplified or combine it with the enrolment camps done by the boards. The workers from far away places find difficulty in reaching the offices to renew their memberships which at times take more than a couple of days. This also forces them to lose their daily earnings as well.
“The workers should be permitted to renew their memberships in the registration camps held by the boards. This will ensure they get the minimal relief announced by the government for the workers at times of crisis,” added Vijayan.
The official apathy and the government’s approach towards the protection of workers rights are affecting the sector to a large extent. The government too has been reducing the fund allocation for such welfare boards leaving the workers without any benefits for education, health and even pension.
Also read: Karnataka Govt Says no Data on Informal Workers, so Cash Transfer not Possible