Kolkata: Thirty-two years old Naresh Ojha, a father of three, is struggling to manage money to buy ration for his family after the jute mill where he works in West Bengal’s Titagarh cut back on its workers due to special COVID-19 restrictions. The jute mill has been operating with only 30% workers following the government guidelines.
A special badli worker (temporary worker), Ojha’s employers are required to pay his salary even during this period, however, the mill owners have refused to pay him. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, he has been trying to travel back to his hometown in Bareilly along with his family. But the unavailability of train tickets has forced him to stay back so far.
“Gaon mein bhukhe nahi marenge, idhar toh khana milna bhi namumkin ho raha hai (we won’t die of starvation in the village. Here the food crisis has already begun.),” he told NewsClick.
Ojha is among over 2.5 lakh jute workers, who have been plunged in dire straits owing to the announcement of the state government that jute mills will operate with only 30% of their total workforce. Meanwhile, eight jute mills in the state have reportedly announced their closure citing unavailability of jute.
Talking to NewsClick about the situation of jute workers, Anadi Sahoo, secretary of the Bengal Chatkal Majdoor Union said that working with 30% workforce means 70% wage days will be lost and even if they work under rotation, each worker will get 10 days of work per month which is insufficient for the workers and their families to sustain in the city.
“Our demand is that either the state government or the management should provide them with financial assistance. Also another major demand has been that the chatkal’s (jute mill’s) young workforce should be vaccinated through ESI at the workplace,” he added.
Also read: Buoyant Industry But Future Uncertain for Jute Workers Across Major Mills in West Bengal
Demanding the same, 21 unions led by the Bengal Chatkal Majdoor Union have written to the Chief Minister for the second time, as the earlier letter did not yield any response. The letter, a copy of which has been sent to the Jute Commission and the concerned minister at the Central Labour Commission, mentions the plight of the jute workers amid the semi lockdown.
Notably, the state is going into a full lockdown beginning May 16, with only essential services sectors allowed to function.
The letter further stated that the government’s announcement to allow 30% workforce is the onset of crisis in the lives of 2.5 lakh jute mill workers. “Those workers who are not getting work should be paid full wages under the Disaster Management Act’s lay off statutes,” it said.
The unions have also demanded the government to look into the matter wherein eight mills have already shut down operations while some are operating in two shifts. They have requested the CM to sort out the shortage of raw jute with the Jute Commissioner’s department.
The letter mentions that the state government takes the responsibility to vaccinate all jute mill workers and their families. It also draws attention towards the fact that all ESI Hospitals, barring one in Maniktala, have been converted into COVID-19 hospitals, which has resulted in the workers facing difficulties in accessing medical facilities. Further, as local train services are suspended, the workers are facing difficulty in travelling to the only non-COVID 19 ESI Hospital in Maniktala.
Not only that, a large chunk of the workers have not received their statutory leave payments during last year’s lockdown. The CM has been requested to clear the backlog of salaries as soon as possible.