[As lakhs of workers gear up for a historic All India Strike on January 8-9, called for by ten central trade unions, NewsClick brings to you glimpses of the lives of industrial workers in different parts of the country.]
After the November 8 demonetisation, numerous factories were shut down in the districts of Solan, Nalagarh and Paonta Sahib, known as the industrial hub or the industrial belt of Himachal Pradesh. As a result, lakhs of workers were rendered jobless.
This industrial belt was home to many manufacturing units of pharmaceutical and electronic companies. Many of these now unemployed workers have been unable to find jobs even now, and while the others may have, they have to work for a lot less than what they were working for earlier.
NewsClick spoke to some factory workers in the Kala Ambh area near Nahan of Paonta Sahib district which is a small but densely populated factory hub.
Sanjiv, currently working in Blue Star Ltd., told NewsClick, “I have started working in Blue Star in Kala Ambh since the last month. I was previously working with SBS Biotech but it was shut down. Now, I am employed with a thekedaar here.”
When asked about the reasons why the company was shut down, he said, “Due to note ban and GST (Goods and Services Tax). There I was an employee for over 7-8 years and I was earning Rs. 7,800 per month after all the cuts. There we had to work for 8 hours per day for 6 days and sometimes even 10 hours during a crisis.”
“There were some 500-600 people in my company. But now everybody is stranded and going from pillar to post in search of employment. In my case, as soon as I got to know that the company was going to shut down, I spoke to the thekedaar. Even then for at least a month and a half I was going around looking for jobs. In some of the places, the work was very tough, while the rest were paying very less.”
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Sanjiv lives in Kala Ambh with his parents, wife, two daughters and a brother and is the sole bread earner of the house at the age of 32. When asked about how he managed to sustain his family for the month amidst unemployment, he shrugged helplessly and said, “It was very hard. We had to borrow all the groceries from either other people or distant relatives, but even others are sailing in the same boat. Now, I have a lot of debt to repay.”
He added, “In the earlier job, I was engaged in a medicine factory, but in Blue Star I am engaged in the making of ACs (Air Conditioners). There I used to make Rs. 7,800 after all the cuts while here, my salary is only Rs. 7,300. Now, if they decide to make cuts in this amount, I don't know how much money I will get in hand and how or when will things get better for us. I can just hope that this factory does not shut down or else, it will be very difficult then.”
Lesser Wages, Tougher Work
Another factory worker from the same region, Randhir Singh, 33, was rendered unemployed when a chemical factory he was working for met with the same fate as Sanjiv’s. He was the supervisor in the company which employed nearly 250-300 people and was shut down due to the “Noteban”.
Randhir told NewsClick, “I have two daughters. My parents are really old. My daughter is also not keeping well. Now with so many expenses, I am trying to find work, but no company is hiring. I used to make Rs. 7,500 in that job, but I have been unemployed for more than three months now. With so many people to feed and a sick daughter, life is just getting harder for me. What can I say! I have left it up to god now. Some days I am hopeful. But it’s been so many months. This noteban has come crashing on my house and our lives!”
Rajinder Thakur from Nahan in Paonta Sahib who works as a legal consultant for workers, told NewsClick, “In Kala Ambh and Paonta Sahib, nearly 31 industries have shut down due to GST and Demonetisation. As a result, in Kala Ambh, nearly 12,000-13,000 workers have lost their livelihoods. And this is just in Kala Ambh which is a very small area.”
He further told NewsClick, “There is no other means of jobs. Now, if they go to other companies, there are no jobs available because there is no demand in the market. The companies also are not expanding, so basically the workers are in a deadlock at all ends. Mostly workers would get paid around Rs. 6,300 per month after working for years. Now, even if they manage to get employment in other industries, they will have to start again from scratch. So, I am joining the protest on January 9 with at least 3,000-3,500 people and we will all march to the District Headquarter. This note ban has left so many families hanging high and dry. And this is just in Kala Ambh. There are three districts with the same plight. We are going to strongly protest against this”