Sugarcane harvest season is round the corner and about 1.5 lakh labourers from Dang district in South Gujarat are agitating for better daily wages, which they claim is about Rs 119 per day now. These tribal manpower work as sugarcane harvesters in Surat and Navsari districts.
Arvind Chaudhary who works at the Bardoli Sugar Factory in Surat district said about 150 of the agitating workers held a meeting with Dang district collector on Wednesday but it was inconclusive. “Collector warned us not to continue with our agitation,” Chaudhary who was at the Majur Adhikaar Manch office in the city with three of his colleagues from Subir taluka of Dang district told mediapersons.
Stating that the wages they were drawing at present was fixed six years ago, Chaudhary said, “We are paid Rs 238 for every tonne of sugarcane we harvest, bundle and load on to the trucks. In a single day, it requires two persons, working 12-14 hour, to harvest a tonne of sugarcane. So per person we get just Rs 119 per day.”
Ramesh Shrivastav, executive committee member of Majur Adhikaar Manch, said, “These labourers do not fall under agricultural labourers who get a minimum wage of Rs 178 per day. They also do not fall under the Factory Act where the minimum wages for unskilled worker is Rs 276 per day. The sugarcane harvesters get a fixed low wage of Rs 238 per tonne. This was fixed six years ago and all representation to the district and state labour department so far fell on deaf ears.”
The NGO on behalf of the labourers have also written to the management of Sugar Factories as well as the Gujarat State Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories where the Gujarat minister for cooperation, sports, youth and cultural activities, Ishwarsinh Patel, is the chairman.
According to Shrivastav, the cooperative sugar factories in South Gujarat employ koytas (a pair of sugarcane harvesters) to cut the crop spread in the districts of Valsad, Navsari, Tapi, Bharuch, Narmada and Surat. “The koyta families are transported in commercial vehicles to padavs (squatter like settlements) on the outskirts of villages in sugarcane growing areas of these districts. During the harvest season, which begins after Dusshera, these families are paid an advance of Rs 30 per month and a monthly allowance of 30 kilogram of jowar,” he said.
Representatives of the Majur Adhikaar Manch will visit the labour department on Friday in this regard.
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