All for Rs.30 – jostling and toiling at labourer marts

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Raipur : It’s a lucky day for Rani Sahu. She may have earned a meagre Rs.30 for 10 hours of work after being hired as a daily wage worker at a labourer’s mart here, but says she is happy to take home at least some money.

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The 34-year-old said she worked for 10 hours from 9 a.m. till 7 p.m. on an under-construction house but has no choice because she has five children to feed. She still counts herself fortunate for being amongst the few of the 250 who had gathered at a mart in Telibandha area of Raipur on a hot day this week to get employment.

Rani is among the nearly 900,000 men and women who form the unorganised sector of daily wagers in Chhattisgarh and are exploited for paltry sums. They know they are victims of injustice but they don’t raise their voice as they are desperately in need of whatever little money they can get to avoid starvation.

Like her, thousands of workers jostle for space every day at labour marts in Chhattisgarh, hoping to find work and make ends meet with whatever little they get.

A majority of these workers who turn up at Raipur marts are from nearby villages like Mandir Hasod and Mana while a few reach by train travelling over 50 km from places such as Mahasamund and Dhamtari districts.

Raju, who travelled 45 km by train from Rajim village to reach a labourer’s mart at Gandhi Maidan here, was not as lucky as Rani.

“I am a very unlucky person. I am ready to work even at Rs.30-35 a day but at least someone should be there to offer this amount. I am still looking for a person to hire me this week,” the 22-year-old told IANS ahead of International Labour Day Saturday.

According to Tapan Chatterjee, an Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) leader, exploitation of unorganised workers is extremely high in Chhattisgarh.

“There are roughly 900,000 people in this sector in the state, including the farm sector. But they get not more than Rs.30-40 a day as against the Rs.100 per day wages fixed by the government,” Chatterjee said.

“In most of the cases, contractors hire workers promising Rs.100 a day but actually they pay not more than 40 percent of what they promise and the workers have to accept it because they have no voice,” he added.

Said C.R. Bakshi, president of Sanjukt Khadan Mazdoor Sangh: “Since workers are dependent on daily earnings to survive, they rush to offer their labour at any price and the employers cash in on their helplessness.”

“In several parts of the state, mainly in Bilaspur, Mahasamund and Janjgir-Champa districts, hundreds of poor workers migrate to other states annually to work at brick kilns hoping for a better deal but they return home with bitter experiences as contractors dump them after exploiting them for months,” said Bakshi, who is also the state unit vice-president of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).

“Women workers were even sexually exploited in some cases,” he added.