Beedi workers denied their dues in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada

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Forgotten: Rohini (left), has not yet received her arrears from a local beedi manufacturing company.
Forgotten: Rohini (left), has not yet received her arrears from a local beedi manufacturing company.

Sudipto Mondal

Only Gujarat-based companies have made the payment

MANGALORE: The exploitation of several lakh beedi workers continues in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, with local beedi manufacturing companies yet to disburse the Rs. 4,500 they owe as arrears to every worker.

The companies were supposed to pay this amount to the workers three years ago following a State Government directive in 2006 towards full and final settlement. It also included benefits such as bonus and gratuity.

So far, only Gujarat-based companies have paid the dues. However, workers employed in these companies form only 30 per cent of the workforce, according to officials at the Assistant Labour Commissioner’s office. Over 3.5 lakh of the estimated five lakh workers in the district are employed by local companies and most of them have not received their dues.

The few workers who have received the money are those still employed by them, says Barate Bolar of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

She said workers who had retired had not received any payment. “The reason is not difficult to figure out. They (company owners) have paid people who are still employed because they need their services. But the workers who have retired and are in greater need of the money without other sources of income, are of no consequence to the companies,” she said.

In all this, the most disconcerting feature is that nobody, except the company owners, knows just how many workers have been denied their dues. Neither the office of the Assistant Labour Commissioner nor the trade unionists have been able to conduct a precise census of beedi workers. Given the unorganised nature of this sector (it is classified as a home industry), it is suspected that companies might in fact be hiring more workers than those who figure in their books of accounts.

There may be more than five lakh beedi workers in the district. While these workers can at least hope to get their dues, the rest continue to be exploited. Shashindra (62) from the Kuthkori Gudda slum in the heart of the city, and his wife Bennibai (56), are prime examples of this exploitation. They are paid Rs. 40 for every 1,000 beedies rolled. They have been rolling beedies for the last 20 years.

According to the present minimum wages, they should get Rs. 67.63 for every 1,000 beedies rolled.

The couple is unaware of this. It is not surprising that they do not know anything about the Rs. 4,500 they should receive as arrears. They do not even know which company they are rolling beedies for. “We deal only with the contractor,” says Bennibai. Other beedi workers like Rohini (60) and Rita Gonzalves (55) who are from the slums of Bolar, are no different from Shashindra and his wife, although they were formally employed with a certain beedi company. Both have since retired and have not got their arrears.

Long struggle

For them the struggle started several years before the Government directed the companies to pay arrears. “I was part of several agitations demanding minimum wages and arrears in the mid-1990s,” says Ms. Rohini, adding, “I have not been given even a rupee.”

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