New Delhi: As many as 21 trade unions in West Bengal have demanded that closed jute mills be reopened as early as possible and employees be paid pending salaries. Unions say that workers have not been paid during since the past seven months because of the lockdown, despite the state government’s orders to not deduct salaries.
On Monday, September 28, a protest demonstration was held by 21 trade unions in front of the Indian Jute Mills Association’s office in Kolkata. The unions presented a seven-point demand charter, which includes immediate reopening of the mills and payment of pending salaries. The demand charter was also presented to the chairperson of the Indian Jute Mills Association.
The mills have been closed for over six months now. The workers say they have not received any financial support from their employers during this period. The families of the workers are struggling to survive.
Deepak Dasgupta, president of the Bengal Chat Kal Mazdoor Union, raised several questions at the protest on Monday. “How do the mill owners have the courage to disobey the orders of the state government? And why is the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government in the state not taking any steps against these mill owners? What is the labour department doing?”
Dasgupta alleged that several mill owners were not depositing gratuity for the workers and there had no intervention from the state government in the matter.
Speaking with Newsclick, Dasgupta said the mill owners were not directly recruiting workers anymore. All recruitments are being done through private agencies, which makes it easier for the owners to find loopholes and exploit the workers, he added. Another demand raised by the jute mill trade unions and federations is that recruitment of workers through agencies must be immediately stopped.
Talking to NewsClick, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader Gargi Chatterjee, who was part of the protest, said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the jute industry will play a key role in improving Bengal’s economy. However, he does not care about the jute mill workers. Otherwise, policies would have been made to replace plastic bags with jute bags.”
She added, “The state government does not care about the jute mill workers either. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pretends to care about the workers, her speeches make it sound like she is empathetic towards jute mill workers, but if that was true, she would have ensured that the workers were receiving their salaries during the lockdown.”