Demonetisation and industrial woes

For jute workers in Kolkata, the seams come undone

Difficult days: Workers in a jute unit in Hoogly in West Bengal. Many of them are called ‘ghost workers’ as the units keep no record of their employment. File photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty  

‘Ghost workers’ of the jute industry, also known as zero number workers, are hit hard by the cash crisis triggered by the Centre’s demonetisation. Most have been forced to go without wages, which are paid on a daily cash basis.

Some are returning to their villages.

A bane of the nearly 160-year-old industry, these are the faceless workers who work in night shifts in jute mills.

They arrive in truckloads at night and leave at dawn. No records are kept. These nameless, faceless workers are mostly skilled and get daily wages around Rs. 330 per shift (against the Rs. 239-Rs. 250 range earning of a regular worker) .They are “arranged by labour syndicates that are run with the patronage of trade unions and political leaders.”

Says a mill manager .. “it is a win-win situation for all ... the mill owners get labour on demand on a hire and fire basis in a skill shortage industry and they have no liability either on statutory payments [PF, ESI, gratuity].”

The agents get hefty commissions and the workers too feel they are getting a good deal as they work regular shifts during day and double up as zero workers at night.

All this changed from midnight of November 8, when Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes were demonetised. “While for a few days mill owners paid these workers ... the supply dried off as they started having problems paying their own regular hands by cash — many of whom had no bank accounts or declined cheque payments,” said S.P. Singh, leader of a Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh-affiliated trade union.

“Most of us have not got any payment for nearly a fortnight now ... we now face an uncertain future,” rued Mansukh Lal, a zero worker. He said many had returned to their villages.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 12:33:55 AM |

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