Kolkata: Over one lakh brickfield workers and dependents are in dire straits after Brickfield owners of Bashirhaat area of North 24 Parganas of West Bengal declared the closure of their units bypassing government-stipulated norms in the thick of the festival season.
There are over 150 brickfields on the side of river Icchamati in the district, each employing over 350 to 400 persons. All workers and their families now face immense financial hardships owing to the sudden decision of closure.
Talking to NewsClick, Gargee Chatterjee, district secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), who has closely participated in the brickfield worker movement in the state said that the workers in the sector were terribly exploited.
“Workers were getting Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 as monthly wages (Rs 150 per day), much below the minimum wage declared by the State government pertaining to this industry. They do not even get a provident fund or any statutory benefits and are sacked from work without any hesitation by the brickfield owners. The brickfield owners have now cited excess stock of materials and lack of sale of bricks before the festivals as the major reason for the closure.” Chatterjee said.
She added that “While indeed the construction industry due to the Corona outbreak is in a difficult stage, however, the allegations that bricks are not selling is a false campaign launched by the owners to increase their profits by creating an artificial crisis of materials.”
Earlier the State government used to purchase bricks and stone chips for building up roads in the state. These procurements have halted now, leading to further troubles for the industry.
On November 2, a mass deputation of brickfield workers arrived at the North 24 Parganas district administration office, to highlight their demand of reopening the brickfields of Basirhat subdivision along with 8 other demands, including a provident fund for the workers.
Organised on behalf of the district’s brick and talee-bhata worker unions, the rally started from Pramod Dasgupta Bhawan in Kolkata. Workers decried the one-sided closure of brick kilns and sloganeered how the closure was anti-worker. The rally ended at Basirhat ghat, where the demands of the unions were highlighted.
The unions also demanded that a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 be fixed in the brickfield industry, vaccination of all brickfield workers of the state and that only law-abiding contractors be provided with tenders by the state administration.
In the rally, Chatterjee, along with Shankar Ghosh and Mirkashim Mollah of CITU addressed the workers. Chatterjee called on the subdivisional officer of Barasat to take responsibility for starting the brickfields after the bhaiphonta festival concludes in the state. During the rally, a five-member delegation also went to meet the administrative officials of the area and submitted a deputation to the deputy magistrate of the district administration.