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ISSUES BEFORE THE 2ND SEPTEMBER 2016 GENERAL STRIKE CONTRACT LABOUR IN VARIOUS INDUSTRIES – SOME FACTS

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29 September 2016

A study done by CITU through its affiliated federations in various key industrial sectors of the country has starkly revealed the wretched conditions of contract labour and the increasing use of this evil system by employers – both public and private – to extract the last drop of blood and sweat from workers to maximize their profit margins. Explaining the decade old trend of declining wage share over net value added and profits, the study shows that in all the sectors, there is an increasing share of contract workers and they are paid wages that are often one third of their regular co-workers. This forms one of the foundation stones on which profit is made by corporate entities. This division is also used to drive a wedge between workers, though this has notably failed as shown by the fact that the organized trade unions of the country (except the one associated with the ruling party) have taken up the struggle of contract workers and it forms a key demand for which a countrywide strike is going to be held on 2 September 2016. Below are given key findings of the study, sector by sector.

Steel

Of the total 5 lakh workers in steel industry, about 1.2 lakh or 25% are regular workers while the remaining 3.8 lakh are contract workers. Public sector steel units employ about 35% of workers while the private sector employs the rest. In public sector units 50% of workers are on contract while in private sector, about 90% are on contract.
In the public sector units, average wage of a workers will be about Rs.40,000 per month for a regular workers. But a contract worker may get as less as Rs.8000 to Rs.8500, although some may get more.
Steel industry is passing through a crisis. Now that the industry is integrated with global markets, fall in global demand and prices of steel and the government’s failure to protect the domestic industry has led to a wave of closures engulfing it and the smaller units suffering the most. Over 70 steel plants have shut down in Chhattisgarh while 65 units have closed out of 103 units in Raniganj belt in West Bengal. In Karnataka, Odisha and Punjab too a similar situation exists.

Road Transport

This is a massive sector in terms of employment with an estimated 4.5 crore workers, 90% of them in the unorganized sector. Workers include truck/lorry/bus drivers and auto drivers. Included are about 9 lakh workers in State Transport companies. Since most of the workers are in the unorganized sector, they are denied any labour law coverage and hence do not get minimum wages, ESI or PF facilities or pension, and have no job security.
On an average a truck/lorry driver gets about Rs.6500-7000 monthly wage while auto drivers earn about Rs.100-150 per day after deducting expenses like fuel, maintenance and rentals.

Water Transport

This sector includes port and dock workers at the 11 major ports of the country and many smaller ports and docks along the coastline. The 11 major public sector ports and docks employ about 65,000 workers while about 3 lakh contract workers are employed for cargo handling, stevedores and other work.
A regular workers gets, on an average, Rs.40,000 per month while the contract workers get about Rs.8000 monthly wage.
For the past 16 years there has been no recruitment of regular workers. Because of this policy, number of regular workers has declined from about 1.7 lakh in 2000 to the present 65,000. Government is bringing a new law in order to privatize govt. owned ports and docks, sell off land, coropratise the Port Trusts and use surplus funds.

Electricity

This vital sector employs about 22 lakh workers of which about 10 lakh are regular workers while 12 lakh are contract workers. Workers include employees of State Electricity Boards, power generation companies, both public and private, and distribution companies.
A regular unskilled worker may get an average wage of about Rs.15,000 while a skilled worker will get up to Rs.30,000. But a contract worker doing same kind of work will get just one-third of this.
The sector has seen considerable privatization over the years. Currently it is passing through a crisis because out of an installed capacity of about 2.8 lakh megawatt only about 1.5-1.7 lakh megawatt is being produced. This is because power consumption is flagging as industries are in a slowdown. This is having seriously damaging impact on power workers with contract workers not being able to get work.

Construction

One of the biggest in terms of employment the construction sector, ranging from brick kilns to giant construction projects like hydroelectric projects and roads, employs 5-7 crore persons. Except for the regular employees of some big construction companies, most of the workers are unorganized and contractual. There is also a big proportion of self-employed construction workers who take up small jobs like building dwelling units.
Wages vary widely across states ad type of work, with Rs.250 to Rs.600 per day for unskilled work and Rs.350 to Rs.1000 for skilled work.
Although various laws relating to construction workers have been enacted, providing for a welfare fund, and making builders responsible for providing housing etc., all this remains on paper. A 1% cess was supposed to be collected from the builders/contractors for spending on welfare of construction workers. Since 1996, Rs.70,270 crore should have been collected till 2016. But only Rs.26,962 crore or 38% was collected and out of that only Rs.5685 crore or 21% was spent. With government moves on allowing foreign capital to flow freely in construction, the situation will get worse.

Coal

This important sector employs about 6 lakh workers out of which about 3.3 lakh (55%)are regular and 2.75 (45%) are contractual. These figures are for the public sector. The government has auctioned off several coal blocks to private parties. Some have started production others have not.

On an average, a regular worker will earn about Rs.27,000 monthly. Unskilled contract workers will earn Rs.500 per day or about Rs.13,000 per month. But work is often not given for the whole month.
Over the years, as regular employees have retired, the govt. has not made fresh appointments and just replaced them with contractual workers. In this was over 15,000 workers have been replaced. Currently, the coal industry is passing through a crisis as a slowing economy has meant dipping demand for coal. About 45 million tonnes of coal are piled up at mine pit-heads. This is causing contract workers to be turned back for days.

Plantation

There are several types of plantations in the country – tea, coffee, rubber, coconut, cardamom, cashew etc. Most tea plantations are in Assam and W.Bengal while all others are in South India. An estimated 20 lakh workers are employed in these plantations, about 55-60% of them being women. About 10-12 lakh are regular employees while 8-10 lakh are contract workers. During heavy seasonal work, family members of workers also join in.
On an average the daily wage is Rs.132 for regular workers. In addition they get various facilities like housing, healthcare etc. and some firewood and rice (till NFSA started). Contract workers may get about the same cash amount but no other facilities. Most of them don’t get bonus or PF. The unions have been struggling for at least Rs.423 per day minimum wage for several years but TMC govt. in Bengal and first Congress and now BJP govt in Assam have been dilly-dallying. Women workers specific facilities like maternity leave entitlements are not implemented fully.
There has been a restructuring of the tea-garden ownership pattern in the past few years with several small gardens cropping up after the closure of 135 gardens in 2003-04. These are run by growers who may be propped up by larger entities. Although the tea market is growing steadily yet the workers in plantations are still suffering from low wages and job insecurity.

Petroleum & Gas

This sector employs 1.65 lakh workers in public sector enterprises. About 65,000 (40%) are regular workers while 1 lakh (60%) are contract workers.There are no details available for workforce in the private sector.
On an average a regular worker will get Rs.30,000 basic wage with various other benefits and allowances. The contract worker gets the minimum wage of the state in which he/she is employed and an additional 10% or other facilities. In some places even the minimum wage is not paid. Minimum wages vary from Rs.5000 to Rs.14,000 per month across states.

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Contract Labour: Slavery for Workers

         

Steel

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

5 lakh

 

Regular

40,000

Contract workers

75%

 

Contract

8500

Road Transport

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

4.5 crore

 

Regular

20,000

Contract workers

90%

 

Contract

7000

Water Transport

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

3.65 lakh

 

Regular

40,000

Contract workers

82%

 

Contract

8000

Electricity

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

22 lakh

 

Regular

15,000

Contract workers

55%

 

Contract

5000

Construction

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

5-7 crore

 

Regular

na

Contract/self-employed workers

 app. 95%

Contract

6500 to 18000

Coal

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

6 lakh

 

Regular

27,000

Contract workers

45%

 

Contract

13000

Plantation

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

20 lakh

 

Regular

3432 + housing + facilities

Contract workers

40-50%

 

Contract

3432

Petroleum & Gas

     

Av. Wage (Rs./month)

Total Workers

1.65 lakh

 

Regular

30,000 + perks

Contract workers

60%

 

Contract

5000 to 14000

         

Source: SWFI, RTWFI, WTWFI, EWFI, CWFI, CWFI, PWFI, PGWFI

 

Tapan Sen

General Secretary

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