A minimum monthly wage of Rs 18,000 — this was the resounding demand which united workers from across industries, and across the country, at Parliament Street on Wednesday. Prajeesh from Kerala’s Kannur rattled off a list of workers at the rally from his village: “Water authority employees, handloom workers, construction workers and mobile tower employees. Everybody is here to demand minimum wage and to protest against contractual labour. We want our jobs to be secure and permanent.”
A sizeable part of the crowd were women — Asha workers, anganwadi employees and mid-day meal cooks. “Fifty women who cook mid-day meals in primary schools have come together from my district,” said Kanaklata Das (41) from Koimari village in Assam’s Kamrup rural district. “We get paid just Rs 1,000 a month — far less than colleagues in other states — after putting in six hours of work a day. We are even made to clean toilets and children when they soil themselves… We are not paid for two months a year — July, during summer vacations, and December, even though schools are closed for just half the month. Maybe we will never get Rs 18,000 but we are pushing for as much as possible,” she said. Renu Devi, a widow from Bihar, claimed 200 mid-day meal workers from her district get paid Rs 1,250 per month and had come to the rally.
Each demand was similar yet different from the others. Manju Begum (35), who accompanied Kanaklata Das’s delegation, is an anganwadi worker from Rampur, Assam. “The Rs 3,000 a month I get is low anyway, but we are also made to do additional government work like paperwork for the NRC process…,” she said.
Roshni Kamble (32), an Asha worker from Nagpur, contended that their working conditions are worse than that of anganwadi workers. “We are on duty 24/7 as a child delivery can happen anytime. We regularly deal with tuberculosis patients. But we make Rs 500-1,000 a month,” she said.
Many at the rally were unemployed and demanded generation of work opportunities. Among them was Gopal K (62), a mason from Kozhikode in Kerala, who said: “I want to be given work up till my death. I used to work on a daily wage basis for Rs 500 and haven’t got work for a very long time.”
Shoulder to shoulder with those seeking employment were government employees hoping to get issues with their pension scheme addressed, and those with grouses against private employers.
Ram Singh, a migrant labourer from Muzaffarpur doing tailoring work in a private firm in Noida, said 150 of his co-workers were present as their employer had cheated them by giving them fake papers for provident funds.