Agreement initiated by unions signed
A raise of one paisa per point from April 2008Arrears of last 10 years to be paid shortly
BANGALORE: An agreement initiated by beedi workers' unions was signed here on Wednesday with beedi manufacturers to increase dearness allowance (DA) and pay the arrears in variable DA.
Manjunath Shastry, State Joint Labour Commissioner, presided over it.
DA has been raised by one paisa per point (to be paid from April 1, 2008), and the arrears of the past 10 years amounting to Rs. 4,500 for each worker will be paid in a lump sum shortly. As modest as these achievements may appear, the agreement nevertheless signifies the important role of unions in the lives of beedi workers.
In October 2006, pressure from the unions got the minimum wage raised from Rs. 55.25 to Rs. 60 for every 1,000 beedis rolled.
How many beedi workers actually stand to benefit from these developments? According to B. Madhava, president of the State Beedi Workers' Federation affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), only a third of the 10 lakh beedi workers in the State, those who have been issued identity cards by their employers, will benefit from these schemes.
The beedi industry, the largest employer of women in the unorganised sector in India outside agriculture, perhaps represents the most vulnerable and exploited. Almost every beedi worker is a woman, many belong to Dalit, tribal and minority communities. And the nature of their home-based work often renders them invisible to the Government. "While the official records suggest three lakh beedi workers in the State, the actual number is over 10 lakh," says Mr. Madhava. There are an estimated 70 lakh beedi workers in India.
Beedi workers actually appear to be some of the more fortunate among home-based workers. They get a mention in the schedules of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, for instance, which does not list most other home-based activities.
There are also specific Acts, such as the Beedi Workers (Condition of Employment) Act, 1966, and Beedi Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1976, that provide schemes for workers. The provisions include health insurance, maternity benefits, scholarships for children, provident fund and housing assistance.
"The employers take advantage of the home-based nature of work and deny that the women even work for them," says K. Hemalata, convener of the All India Coordination Committee of Women Workers.