Memorandum to Government of Odisha by Brick Kiln Workers To Honourable Chief Minister of Odisha Sir Western Odisha is a major source area of brick kiln workers who migrate to South India every year for six months a year in distressing conditions. The w …

Memorandum to Government of Odisha by Brick Kiln Workers

To

Honourable Chief Minister of Odisha

Sir

Western Odisha is a major source area of brick kiln workers who migrate to South India every year for six months a year in distressing conditions. The workers migrate from a cluster of 15 blocks around Kantabanji town, coming from districts of Bolangir, Bargarh, Nuapada, Boudh, Sonpur and Kalahandi.

It is estimated that nearly 300,000 workers migrate every year. Workers are recruited against monetary advance by local labour contractors, known as sirdars who traffic them to far off location all over South India. Whole families migrate including children and women. The workers are only paid a food allowance at the work sites.  This is linked to their daily production with the result that the whole family has to work for 12 to 16 hours a day to earn enough to eat. Most workers return famished to their homes with empty pockets to recuperate their strength for another season of back breaking labour.

The workers gathered under the aegis of Shramik Adhikar Manch and Dadan Jan Jagran Sangh to deliberate upon their situation and find ways to tackle it on 25th September at Kantabanji. The meeting was addressed by prominent politicians and activists.

The following resolution was passed at the meeting for submission to the Government of Odisha:

1.     Efficient administration of MGNREGA will reduce distress migration. We commend the Odisha Government for increasing the number of days under MGNREGA to 150 in KBK area. However we demand that this should be further increased to 200 days in KBK area. Half the projects under MGNREGA should be directed towards drought mitigation and land development. MGNREGA workers should be paid timely wages.

2.     Landless persons should be given land for agriculture and homestead.

3.     Forest Rights Act should be implemented urgently all over the KBK area. Community forest rights should also be given. Government should support sustainable economic development of community forest lands.

4.     Every year a large number of Odisha workers are released under The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and given release certificates. However the Government of Odisha is not recognising the release certificates given in other states. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the State Government acknowledged only 28 workers as bonded labourers in the year 2011-12 which is only a fraction of the actual number of workers released. We demand that all the released bonded workers be given rehabilitation benefits.

5.     Odisha being a major labour exporting state, we demand that

i.     An office of the Odisha labour department headed by an appropriate officer should be opened in all the states that receive more than Odisha 50,000 workers. As a beginning, offices should be opened in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

ii.     A senior post at the level of Joint Labour Commissioner should be created to look after the welfare of inter-state migrant workers specifically at the state capital.

iii.     Officers of the Labour Department should visit major clusters of brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh under the aegis of the Inter State Migrant Workmen Act.

6.     In spite of repeated complaints by workers and memorandum by civil society, the brick kiln workers in Andhra Pradesh are being paid only half the minimum wage rate in most parts. Our survey undertaken this year at the end of the season confirms it. This fact was also highlighted during the visit of the Odisha MP. The workers are making all possible efforts to get their due rights. They have filed cases under the minimum wages act and have applied for registration of a Trade Union. However the Labour Department of Andhra Pradesh is clearly acting in a partisan manner. It has not taken any action in complaints of minimum wages. The Trade Union has also not been registered. We request the state to intercede on behalf of workers by asking the Andhra Pradesh state to (i) ensure payment of minimum wages to brick kiln workers and (ii) allow the brick kiln workers to register a Trade Union.

7.     The railway journey by brick kiln workers is a nightmare with workers travelling in crowded compartments. They are harassed by unscrupulous elements who extort money from them under all sorts of pretexts. Keeping in mind the large movement of workers, special trains should be run during the brick kiln season in November and December between Kantabanji and Hyderabad and for the return journey in June. The workers should be provided subsidised tickets at a special counter.

8.     Right to move out for employment is a fundamental right of the workers. However the state efforts are mostly directed at checking this movement itself through application of force. This makes the movement of workers go underground. We suggest that the state should seek to regulate the movement by setting up a Wage Labour Exchange. The Exchange should register all the employers, labour contractors, and workers who wish to go out. The movement of workers should be facilitated through this Exchange. This will help in solving most of the problems listed above.

9.     Inter State Migrant Workmen Act should be amended to make registration of workers compulsory in areas of distress migration.


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