By : Sarah Hafeez
Around 600 workers from the hot-rolling plants of 23 steel utensil-making factories in Wazirpur, North Delhi, assembled at Jantar Mantar on Thursday to demand wages prescribed by the Minimum Wages Act, workers’ safety and provision of health insurance. Workers have boycotted work since June 6 as they were denied a rise in wages in the financial year 2014-15.
Another 1,000 workers, who are engaged in ancillary units like cold-rollers, steel pickling units, shearing and machine-pressers in the 23 factories, have also joined the protest in Raja Park, which is into its 20th day.
Workers are negotiating with factory owners through their organization, Garam Rolla Mazdoor Ekta Samiti, which was formed in 2012. They want a wage hike, job security and health insurance as hot-rolling is a high-risk job. They also want working hours to be decreased from 12 to eight hours a day, as per the Factories Act, 1948.
“We demand that employers pay us the minimum wage of Rs 10,374 for skilled work as notified by the Delhi Government. We also want Provident Fund accounts and Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) cards for health benefits,” Head of the Samiti, Raghuraj said.
After several rounds of talks over the last 20 days failed, representatives of the Samiti and those of the factory owners met at the District Labour Court in Wazirpur on Wednesday. “The strike has been an extremely long one and has run into its 20th day. The problem is serious and the Labour Court will take time to settle the stand-off between the parties,” Commissioner (Workmen’s Compensation) U K Sinha said.
The factories, which have hardly been manufacturing utensils since June, have been running losses of up to Rs one crore a day.
“We are following all norms prescribed by the government. The labourers are lying and politicising the issue…We are already planning on hiring new workers from steel industrial pockets like Jahangirpuri,” Jai Kumar Bansal, president of Delhi Stainless Steel Trade Federation, said.
Workers who could not make it to Jantar Mantar on Thursday, remained put in Raja Park. Ranjit Singh (54), a migrant labourer from Bihar who had come to Wazirpur in 1984 said, “I work in temperatures as high as 1,500 degree Celsius, rolling and pressing out slabs of red hot steel into thin flat plates which are then shaped into steel utensils and cutlery. The only safety equipment I use are home-stitched gloves made from scraps of jeans.”
“Vegetable and kerosene prices hit us the hardest. Hamari wetan badti hai saal mein ek baar, lekin mahangayi saal mein badti hai baar baar (Our wages are raised only once in a year, but price of essential commodities go up several times a year). I used to earn Rs 500 back in 1984 and today after 30 years of putting my life at risk, I only earn Rs 7,000,” Singh said.