BY A Krishna and Sudhir Katiyar Every year thousands of workers from West Odisha migrate to work in the brick kilns of Ranga Reddy. There are nearly 5,000 workers form Odisha working in 100 brick kilns in villages around Dundigal of Qutbullapur mandal. …
BY A Krishna and Sudhir Katiyar
Every year thousands of workers from West Odisha migrate to work in the brick kilns of Ranga Reddy. There are nearly 5,000 workers form Odisha working in 100 brick kilns in villages around Dundigal of Qutbullapur mandal. The workers are recruited against a nominal advance. They are paid only Rs. 180-200 per 1000 bricks (£2.24-2.49). The statutory minimum wage in Andhra Pradesh for brick making is Rs. 340 (£4.24) and Rs. 367 (£4.57) depending on the quality of bricks being made. The workers in Ranga Reddy are paid less than half the minimum wage.
This year, the workers demanded that they be paid minimum wages. A memorandum was submitted to the Labour Commissioner office on 5th March demanding the payment of minimum wages. A meeting was held on March 18th, where it was decided to stop work in order to to put pressure on owners to pay minimum wages. Yesterday, March 19th, workers went on strike. They want to go back to their villages if they are not paid a minimum wage. As a result of this action, brick kiln owners have struck out against both workers and Union organisers: some were called to police station where a mob of owners demanded that they be arrested. Police questioned the Union organizers and advised them not to go back to Dundigal village, as their security could not be guaranteed. Many owners ganged up and did not allow the Union vehicle entry into the village.
Today, the strike continues. A huge gathering of brick kiln workers took place near Dundigal village, despite the Union activists being unable to address the gathering due to the mob of owners that surrounded the meeting. The police were called, who attempted to disperse the workers, even threatening to charge them with batons. Three Union workers were forced to seek refuge within Dundigal and could only be rescued with police help late in the evening after police were put under pressure to assist them.
Owners are constantly threatening workers with violence. In Maladri brick kiln, the workers were badly beaten and forced to resume work on March 19th. Workers have also been beaten up in Ekteshwar and Narsimha bhattis. Owners are even going to the extent of threatening to cut off electricity and drinking water supplies to the kiln workers.
The concerned citizens of Hyderabad have formed a Solidarity Committee to support the workers’ struggle. The Committee met the District Collector and the District Labour Commissioner seeking their intervention. A meeting has been scheduled for March 21st between the Labour Department and the brick kiln owners to emphasise that owners have to pay minimum wages. However the Labour Commissioner is already beginning to obfuscate the issue by saying that he has to interpret minimum wages. The District Collector has ordered the Deputy Collector to make rounds of brick kilns and ensure that minimum wages are paid and violence is stopped.
A Krishna and Sudhir Katiyar
Solidarity Committee for Brick Kiln Labourers in Andhra Pradesh
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