Brick kiln workers in India are mobilising. “Ho gai hai peer parvat see, ab pighalni chahiye Is Himalay se ab koi Ganga nikalni chahiye”   A public meeting of brick kiln workers is being organized at Kantabanji on 25th September. The objective of the m …

Walton Pantland

striking workers at brick kiln

Brick kiln workers in India are mobilising.

“Ho gai hai peer parvat see, ab pighalni chahiye

Is Himalay se ab koi Ganga nikalni chahiye”

 

A public meeting of brick kiln workers is being organized at Kantabanji on 25th September. The objective of the meeting is to support the ongoing struggle of Western Odisha brick kiln workers (i) for minimum wages and decent working conditions in Andhra Pradesh and other states (ii) against exploitative and feudal set up at source areas that ensure perpetuation of bondage.

Western Odisha is a major source area of brick kiln workers who migrate to South India every year for six months a year in distress condition. 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 500,000 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 condition of recruitment in source areas and work at destination areas clearly illustrate that workers are bonded labourers. Persistent underdevelopment and continuation of feudal structures has ensured perpetuation of bondage conditions for last many decades.

Recent years have seen stirrings for change. The workers have organised under the banner of ‘Shramik Adhikar Manch’ and ‘Int Bhatta Mazdoor Union’ – supported by USi – and taken up the wage struggle in the destination areas during the last two years. Average wage rates during the past two years have ranged between Rs. 180 to 200 per 1000 bricks against the minimum wage of Rs. 367. For the first time, brick kiln workers in Dundigal area near Hyderabad organized and raised demand for minimum wages in the year 2011-12. They went on a strike for two days in March 2012 demanding payment of minimum wages. The struggle continued in the 2013 when two public meetings were organised at Dundigal village demanding minimum wage.

The workers’ struggle led to a violent response from the brick kiln owners who launched a vicious attack on the activists investigating a complaint at a brick kiln in Thukuguda mandal of Ranga Reddy district in March this year. The workers’ struggle has begun to bear fruit. Workers in Dundigal cluster, the epic centre of the struggle, were paid minimum wages this year. For the first time, a small section of Odisha workers returned with money in their pockets. However the struggle has just begun. There is need to consolidate it and more importantly extend it to all the workers. Workers in Dundigal area comprise just five percent of the total migrant workforce.

To addressing the whole situation especially conditions of bondage, recently a member of parliament of Odisha ruling government party ‘BJD’ Mr. Jay panda also witnessed the horrific life of brick kiln workers in Rangareddy district. Later on he wrote to NHRC and AP government sharing his experience to implement Minimum wages act and laws pertaining to labour rights as non-implementation of these perpetuate western Odisha indigenous people in to bondage condition and encourages distress migration. Solidarity committee has also filed petition before NHRC, which is presently under consideration there to seek justice and rights of Bonded brick kiln workers of western Odisha.

In source areas, effective attempts are being made to challenge the perpetuation of bondage conditions under the leadership of Jan Jagran Dadan Sangha [JJDS]. The state is refusing to acknowledge presence of bondage. In a response to a question in Rajya Sabha, the state reported only 28 cases of bondage during three years 2009-12. Recently JJDS organised a historical dharna in Bolangir and gave a memorandum to the administration to address the structural inequities that give rise to bondage including immediate rehabilitation of all the rescued bonded labours.  After long two days protest, district administration had negotiated with JJDS to end dharna with assurance of immediate implementing of demands of charter submitted by them. This was indeed a landmark achievement for all of us as this was beginning to mobiles bonded brick kiln workers in western odisha

Shramik Adhikar Manch and Jan Jagran Dadan Sangha together are organising a public meeting come labour convention on 25th September in Kantabanji town, follow up with representation by solidarity committee with demands of charter before Odisha chief minister office and sharing the same through press conference in Bhubaneswar, in order to take forward the bonded brick kiln workers’ struggle. We call upon all the progressive forces and individuals to support this historical struggle by participating in the meeting!

In solidarity

Golap Nial (9937866649)

Patnagarh, Dist Bolangir

On behalf of

Solidarity Committee for the struggle of Western Odisha brick kiln workers


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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