TN: Ahead of Budget Session Agri Workers Hold Protests, Demand Minimum Wage
AIAWU protest in Dindigul district. Image courtesy: Mariappan
The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) held protest demonstrations in front of district collectorate offices across Tamil Nadu on March 16. They demanded a separate department to be set up for agricultural workers in the state.
“There are departments for various sections of society, but there is no space to raise the issues of agriculture workers. So we demand a separate department,” V Amirthalingam, Tamil Nadu secretary, AIAWU told NewsClick.
The association noted that agriculture workers are suffering without sufficient work and even menial agricultural work is underpaid.
They urged the state government to set the minimum statutory daily wage of Rs 600 for agricultural workers according to the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. They demanded the announcement to be made in the legislative council.
According to Theekkathir report more than 15,000 people participated in the protests across the state. Women participated in large numbers.
There are more than one crore agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu, out of the total population of the state 7.21 crore.
UNEMPLOYMENT & LOW PAY
The association observed that due to the extensive mechanisation of agricultural work, labourers have lost work opportunities and incomes.
“The gender disparity in pay is high across the state,” read the statement released by AIAWU, Tamil Nadu. In many districts, the wages for female workers are, on average, Rs 150. Whereas for male workers it is Rs 350. The pay for women workers stoops at as low as Rs 100 per day.
The demand for minimum wages is made against the backdrop of the impact of economic liberalisation policies of the union government over the past decade. Inflation, disproportionate increase in Goods and Services Tax (GST) levy on all essential commodities and currency devaluation has drastically increased rural unemployment and hit hard at this section of the population.
Moreover, rising prices have pushed rural labourers into debt and the workers are trapped by usurious microfinance loans.
AIAWU informed that the inability to repay loans is increasing suicides among agriculture workers.
‘EXPAND URBAN WORK’
AIAWU, Tamil Nadu demanded Rs 1,000 crore to be announced towards the urban employment scheme in the upcoming budget session. Last year the state allotted only Rs 100 crore for the scheme.
The state budget session begins on March 20.
“Upon the demand of AIAWU, Rajasthan launched a similar scheme aping to Tamil Nadu, and they allot more funds than our state,” said Amirthalingam.
“More than 300, out of the 528, town panchayats in Tamil Nadu have rural features. That is why we are demanding expansion of employment opportunities in these areas” he said.
The scheme was launched in 2022 and it draws on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, to improve the livelihood of the urban poor.
The association reiterated that the funds towards employment should not be diverted to infrastructure development work like buildings, roadways, bridges, etc.
AIAWU also insisted that free house-site pattas and Rs 5 lakh to construct houses should be provided for agriculture workers who do not own houses.
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