Unrest in cashew sector may continue

KOLLAM June 26. Though the State Government has formally announced the reopening of the cashew factories under the public sector, Kerala State Cashew Development Corporation (KSCDC), within two months, the prevailing unrest in the cashew sector is likely to continue.

Various trade unions (TUs) had been on the warpath for the last one month demanding reopening of the KSCDC factories. They said that more than 30,000 cashew workers of the KSCDC factories were remaining unemployed for the last two years and private sector employers were exploiting them.

The assurance given by the Minister for Industries, P.K. Kunhalikutty, in the Assembly on reopening the factories will not serve to settle the issue. The agitation will continue under the pretext that the Minister's assurance cannot be taken for face value since the UDF had been harping for the reopening of the factories for the last two years.

The situation has led to an unprecedented tension prevailing in the cashew sector. The Cashew Manufacturers and Exporters Association has called upon the State Government to ensure an atmosphere of peace in the sector. Through the agitation, there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the TUs to whip up an anti-private sector sentiment among the cashew workers, the association leaders allege.

However, TUs allege that the situation in which the KSCDC factories are lying closed is giving rise to a trend under which the private sector employers were rampantly switching over to the commission processing system. Such a system denies the employees their rights and the KSCDC workers are the biggest victims of this system.

Under the commission processing system, workers have to remain satisfied with the daily wages and nothing more. It means they have no claim to benefits like bonus, PF, ESI, holiday wages and the employer's contribution towards the welfare fund board. But the private sector employers say that the workers have no complaints and it is the TUs that push them into the agitation path.

The commission processing system provides an alternate means of livelihood to the KSCDC employees who had been waiting in vain for the reopening of the KSCDC factories. During the past two years, the TU leaders never bothered to inquire whether the KSCDC employees were starving or not. The decision to launch an agitation now has politics, the association feels.

No one has compelled the employees to work under the commission processing system, the association leaders said. The KSCDC employees volunteer since they view it as a windfall at a time when they are unemployed and virtually starving. They have work even on Sundays and it means an income on all days. Since the workers are already employees of one firm, they are entitled to claim the rights from that firm alone. At the private processing units they are only freelancing.

Even when the KSCDC factories had remained open, these workers used to work side by side in private factories. The previous LDF rule had provided the KSCDC employees only 240 days of work. In fact, for a good part of the five-year LDF rule, the KSCDC factories, for various reasons, could not provide regular work for the cashew workers.

It means that for more than 1,500 days of LDF rule, the KSCDC workers had no work at the KSCDC factories and at that time too the trade unions were least concerned about how the workers managed to carry on. As a means to earn their daily bread, most of them had reported for work at the various private sector processing units and at that time also such workers were not given any benefits except the wages for the day.

As far as the workers are concerned, the situation is the same even today. By and large they have no complaints since they feel that in spite of being denied many of their benefits, the work they get at the private factories had enabled them survive without starvation and that too with a decent daily wage.

This precisely is the reason why the agitation resorted to by the TUs cannot claim much cashew worker participation. In fact, the private sector cashew factories are functioning as usual with appreciable worker attendance at all factories and work is being provided to them even on Sundays. The agitations are being undertaken by members of other organisations but not cashew workers, the association feels.

The TUs allege that the trend of benefit denial to workers becoming a system, many private sector employers would start closing down their registered factories and promote the commission processing system, which is detrimental to the workers' cause. The say the agitation is to end this exploitation and that can be achieved only through the reopening of the KSCDC factories.

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