SINCE THE November 8 announcement that rendered old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes invalid, workers of factories in the industrial suburbs of the national capital have been spending more time queuing up outside ATMs and bank branches than on the shop floor.
While owners say production has been hit as a result of people skipping work to withdraw money or exchange old notes, workers say they have been doing it for their owners.
Devinder Singh, president, Mayapuri Industrial Welfare Association, said production had “decreased by 50 per cent and demand has fallen as well” since the announcement. “At least half the workers in each of the roughly 1,800 factory units of Mayapuri have been lining up outside banks because they have no money for food and essentials. So we are letting them stay away from work for as long as they need to,” he said.
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Workers, however, said they had been queuing up outside Union Bank of India’s Mayapuri and Naraina branches since Thursday on behalf of their factory owners.
Holding up a deposit slip of Rs 35,000 issued in his name, a worker at an iron engineering works unit, in Mayapuri Phase I, said: “My factory owner gave me Rs 35,000 in old notes and told me to deposit it in my bank account. He said he would deduct Rs 5,000 from my salary of Rs 9,000 every month till he recovered the amount. I stood for six hours outside Union Bank on Friday and deposited the amount. The owner has kept my Aadhaar card and asked for my address and details of a local guarantor and some relatives. He asked other workers to deposit money, too — some deposited lakhs of rupees.”
In Okhla industrial area, workers stood in long queues, with many saying they had been standing for hours. A “permanent employee” of Orient Craft, an export factory in Okhla Phase II’s Block B that employs around 700 workers, said, “Today, my owner handed me and 20 others in my department bundles of Rs 4,500 each to exchange at banks branches nearby. I did not mind standing in the queue for half-a-day because it’s better than toiling in the factory for eight hours. And I am getting paid my daily wage.”
Paramjeet Kaur, personal assistant to Orient Craft director Kishan Kohli, refuted the claim. “We have granted workers leave so that they can exchange or deposit their own money and wages. But the factory has not asked workers to conduct banking operations on its behalf,” she said.
Rajesh Kumar, general secretary of the Delhi unit of the International Federation of Trade Unions, said, “Factory owners are using workers to clear their unaccounted wealth. They have been targeting workers with valid bank accounts and proof of identity and those who are old and trusted employees. Owners are also paying factory workers their wages in advance, some for three or four months, all in old notes.”
He said that while most workers were “forced to do what the owners asked them to”, 42 workers in a factory in Mayapuri B-Block refused to take their wages on November 10.
Umesh, one of the workers at the Mayapuri factory, said, “Every month, the owner would deposit our wages in our bank accounts but this time, he offered us our money in cash. We boycotted work on November 10. We have not taken our salaries and are insisting that our salaries are deposited in our bank accounts.”
Workers who have accepted their wages in old notes say they have been unable to spend their money in Delhi or send them to their families in states such as UP, Bihar and Bengal.
Jasbir, a shopkeeper selling mobile phones who also works as an agent for EcoPay, a company which hosts e-wallets and remittance services, said the company had warned him against accepting old notes from labourers.
“Usually, around 20 to 30 workers come to my shop to e-transfer money to their bank accounts in villages across India. But since this announcement last week, I have not made any transfers,” he said.
In Wazirpur’s steel manufacturing units, workers say they have been surviving on the “cut” they make by exchanging money for others.
Kunal, a migrant from Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, said, “My friends and I are offering to stand in queue for Rs 500 for anyone who wants to get money exchanged at the bank. But that’s often not enough. I had to pay off all the debts I ran up last week buying vegetables and ration on credit. Now I have spent all the money I earned through cuts and haven’t paid my rent yet. I had to pay by the 10th, but luckily, the landlord has given me time till the end of this month.”