The 24-hour token stir called on Sunday by workers of houseboats, motor-boats and resorts owing allegiance to the Tourism and Houseboat Mazdoor Sangh, affiliated to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), did not affect in a large way the movement of houseboats, barring a few tense moments involving workers of BMS and CITU unions.
The Punnamada Finishing Point in the town witnessed some tense moments when houseboats starting their journey at 12 noon with the protection of police and CITU workers in separate boats, passing near the BMS workers in a boat stationed some distance away from the shore.
However, the BMS workers did not stop the house boats.
There were reports of BMS workers threatening travellers and destroying beer bottles from a houseboat that operated, at Punchiri boat jetty. The workers also threatened boat workers and forced the tourists to leave the house boat on Sunday morning. They were also seen stopping vehicles carrying tourists and dissuading them near Punnamada finishing point.
The stir was called by BMS demanding disbursement of minimum wages stipulated under the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments (KSCE) Act. Earlier, BMS workers and House Boat and Resort Workers Union, affiliated to the CITU, took out separate marches from Boat jetty to Punnamada finishing point. The CITU Union had called for workers not to cooperate with the BMS stir and had offered protection to the houseboats that operated.
According to Jacob Samuel, president, All Kerala Houseboat Owners Association the houseboat owners sign a contract with the workers’ union which was renewed every two years. “When we inked the agreement last time, there was no union affiliated to BMS. The last agreement has validity up to August 31 this year. We apprised the BMS Union representatives of this matter in the meeting called by District Labour Officer (DLO) on Saturday. But they went ahead with the agitation, but most of the boats owned by Association and others in the district operated on Sunday,” he said.
The houseboat workers stir during the peak season of foreign tourist arrival had raised concerns. “Some of the tourists cancelled their trips on houseboats today as per the advice of their travel agents, especially those who had a day to spare for the cruise,” Mr. Samuel said.
According to BMS union leaders, monthly salary of a worker was Rs.4500, with Rs 125 as bata on operating days, while daily wages worker get Rs 350 per day. The union wants the bata be hiked to Rs 300 and daily wages to Rs 600. “Since minimum wages and other benefits fixed two years ago were not disbursed yet, we were forced to go on a strike,” they said.