New Delhi: About 2.5 lakh workers from 52 jute mills in West Bengal went on a one-day strike on March 15 under the banner of Centre of Indian trade Unions (CITU), against the state government refusal to agree to their demands, including hike in minimum wage and guaranteed pension for all workers.
Talking to Newsclick, Gargi Chatterjee, district secretary of CITU for North 24 Parganas, said, “All 52 jute mills are closed today. The workers have rejected the anti-worker agreement put forward in the tripartite meeting, and they are ready to fight for their rights.”
Earlier, 21 major trade unions had called for an indefinite strike starting from March 1, demanding implementation of basic labour laws. The unions had been waiting for years for the implementation of the tripartite agreement signed in 2015. However, since the agreement was signed, the worker have only seen its rampant violation, with direct patronage of the Trinamool Congress government.
The demands of the trade unions were minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month, pension of Rs 6,000 per month, equal wage for equal work for the contractual and temporary workers, dearness allowance of Rs 2.50 per point, regularisation of all badly and special badly workers, immediate payment of long accumulated statutory dues of the retired workers on account of provident fund and gratuity with a guarantee for non-occurrence of such statutory dues in future. They also demanded clearance of all dues of the retired workers on account of Employees’ State Insurance (ESI), because of which the workers have been denied the ESI benefits for a long period, and introduction of grade and scale for the wages.
Threatened by the call for the strike, the state government told the unions that their demands will be considered. Several tripartite meetings were called to discuss the issues. After 11 such meetings, an agreement was finalised on Wednesday, March 13. However, this agreement did not resolve, or even address all the issues raised by the workers.
Chatterjee said, “We had demanded that the minimum wage be increased to Rs 18,000 per month. Instead, they just increased the daily wage by Rs 2, which is an increase of just Rs 60 per month. Some of these workers receive wages as low as Rs 250 per day. What good will this increase be for them?”
The trade unions had also demanded that the workers whose names are on the pay-roll be regularised, and the ratio between permanent and temporary workers be fixed at 90:20. Currently, only 10% of the workers are permanent. Without paying any heed to this demand, the TMC government said in the agreement that only 10,000 workers will be regularised. They have also said that the wage for new entrants will be increase to Rs 370 from Rs 257. “But what about the workers who have been working for years in these mills for years at extremely low wages?” Chatterjee asked.
The workers of the jute mills have huge amounts pending in their PF, gratuity, and ESI accounts. The amounts are Rs 300 crore, Rs 600 crore, and Rs 100 crore, respectively. The mill owners and the state government refused to address this issue during the tripartite meeting.
The eight Left-backed trade unions refused to sign the agreement, calling it anti-worker, and walked out of the meeting, accusing that it did not have any benefits for the workers, and the TMC government was trying to garner more profits for the mill owners. The trade unions affiliated to Indian National Congress, Trinamool Congress, and Bharatiya Janata Party — Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC), and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) — signed the agreement.
The call for the one-day strike was given by Left-backed trade unions — Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Jute Textile Workers’ Union (JTWU), Bharatiya Chatkal Mazdoor Morcha (BCMM).
Anadi Sahoo, West Bengal State Secretary of CITU, said, “We were left with no option but to boycott the anti-worker tripartite agreement. The workers have been fighting for years and will continue to do so.”