Thousands of workers across West Bengal organised a protest demonstration in front of the labour department office of the state government under the banner of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) on August 22. CITU, along with various other trade unions and workers’ organisations has been repeatedly asking the government to protect the interests of the workers, however, the department has time and again failed to take any actions to meet these demands.
On Thursday, June 22, the rally started from Babughat in Kolkata, where thousands of workers and activists from all across the state had gathered. The police tried to stop and disperse the rally as the crowd headed towards the New Secretariat building, but the protestors said that they will block the road if they are not allowed to go to the labour department office. After this, the police let the rally move forward.
The protest march was led by CITU State Secretary Anadi Sahoo, and CITU leaders Dipak Dasgupta and Saman Pathak. CITU State President Subhash Mukherjee presided over the rally. Leaders and activists addressed the crowd from a truck that was being used as a platform. Later, a seven member delegation led by CITU leaders Debanjan Chakraborty and Rabin Rai met with the state Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak and submitted a demand charter to him.
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Anadi Sahoo, former Labour Minister of the Left front government in Bengal, said while addressing the rally, “The actions of the labour department under the current government and under the previous Left Front government are diametrically opposite. Earlier, the department used to work for the interest of the workers. Under the present government, it only cares about the interests of the big industrialists. The state government and the central government are like two sides of the same coin when it comes to diluting and defying the labour laws.”
He added, “The centre is trying to sell profit-making public sector undertakings (PSUs) like Bridge and Roof, Bengal Chemicals, Alloy Steel and Chittaranjan Locomotive, but the state government is taking no steps to stop it. They do not care about what will happen to the workers, even though several workers have already been forced to take their own lives.”
Former Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] MP Saman Pathak said, “It is a pity that the government has not increased the minimum wage of the tea workers after 2015. The government had urged tea workers to accept an interim rise of Rs 60 per day, promising that a permanent hike in wages would be finalised within days. However, it has been four years, but the state government has not kept its promise. The tea garden owners are reaping huge profits while the workers are still dying of hunger.”
Colliery Mazdoor Union leader and former CPI(M) MLA Gouranga Chatterjee alleged that under the Trinamool Congress (TMC) regime in the state, on one hand, the coal mafia have created a havoc, while on the other hand, the government is allowing the administrations of the mines to exploit the workers by bending the labour laws. The mine owners bring in tribal workers from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha, so that in case of death in the hazardous underground mines, the bodies can be quickly disposed without interference from the family and the incidents can be covered up.” He added, “16 coal mines across the state have been closed in recent years, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs, but the state government has not blinked.”
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The workers have said that they will not let the government ignore their exploitation any longer. They have said that they will continue to protest again and again until the government agrees to their demands and ensures that the labour department is working for the welfare of the workers.