Thousands of workers of over 60 almond processing factories in the Capital completed the third day of their strike on Friday, demanding increased wages and better working conditions.
The factory owners of the almond processing sector, which has a yearly turnover running into crores of rupees, have not yet responded to the demands of the workers who have organised themselves under the banner of the Karawal Nagar Mazdoor Union.
Karawal Nagar in North-East Delhi has seen mushrooming of almond processing industries which, activists allege, run illegally as they are not registered under the Factory Act, 1948.
As part of the process, workers break the shells, prune almonds and re-pack them before sending them to local and international markets like the United States and Australia.
Some of the workers’ demands include revision of wages – increment in pruning rate from Rs.1 per kg to Rs.3 per kg – and proper toilet facility and availability of pure drinking water in every factory, besides identity cards for every worker. They have also demanded that harassment and sexual exploitation of women, who constitute a large part of the work force, be stopped immediately.
Union secretary Navin told The Hindu that a large number of the workers are women and children who work in inhuman conditions. “For the past three years, since mechanisation of the almond sector took place, owners have not increased the wages and neither have they done anything to improve the working conditions. Even though the price of almonds has increased manifold, the working conditions remain abysmal and the workers do not even have proper drinking water or toilet facilities,” he lamented.
Navin alleged that the whole sector was operating illegally with the nexus of the local police. The present wage for manual shelling of an almond packet of 16 kg is Rs.60. The workers are demanding that it be increased to Rs.40 per packet.
Ironically, the workers who shell the almonds have to spend a decent amount if they have to retain the shell for use as fuel. “These shells do not come for free to them as reward of their labour. Rather they have to pay Rs.35 for a sack full of shells, despite these being of no use to the owners. The workers have been demanding that this rate be reduced to Rs.15 per sack,” Navin added.
To press their demands, the workers have planned a demonstration outside the house of the area legislator this Sunday.