The limping jute industry of West Bengal seems to be hurtling towards an indefinite strike. Twenty jute trade unions have submitted a 49 point charter demanding an effective 118 per cent hike in the worker’s minimum wages from Rs 206 per day to Rs 450 per day.
According to industry estimates, it will entail an annual industry outgo of around Rs 1260 crore. The estimated cost of producing one ton of jute bag will go up by Rs 34.44p and production cost by Rs 9840/ ton. Industry insiders said, as per union demands they would have to pay Rs 17810 / month instead of the present Rs 11,414/ month. It include all nine statutory benefits and allowances in addition to basic and dearness allowance.
However, the state labour department has not called any tripartite meeting as yet.The trade unios are waiting to see how the jute mills respond to their demands. The jute miilers feel that the unions might resort to arms twisting tactics by seving the 14 days notice for strike once the tripartitie meeting breaks down.
Last time the industry experienced a a mjor strike was in December, 2010 which lasted for nearabout two months and the millers had to give the workers some additional Dearness Allowance (D.A.).
Each year, the jute industry produce around 12.8 lakh tons of jute bags for packing sugar and food grains. Almost 40 hands are required to produce one ton of jute bag. There are about 2.5 lakh industrial workers in 54 operating jute mills of the state.
"The demand is ridiculous and baseless. Almost fifty percent of jute mills are run under B.I.F.R revival packages. Most jute mills will close down if the trade unions' demands are accepted," says a mill owner who does not want to be identified.In 2010, a finance sub-committee report of the Union finance ministry, however, pointed out that between 2005 and 2009, assets of jute mill owners went up by 356 percent and 20 mills have showed net profits of over 67 percent. Until date, the jute industry has not accepted the position.
Jute workers are one of the worst paid in the country. For half century, since 1963 there has been no revision in workers’ pay of grades and scales.
2002, the mill owners have further deprived the workers by not paying 2499 points increase in dearness allowance (DA). The previous three year tripartite agreement ends on Sunday and the unions have demanded on its termination. Some arrear DA adjustments were made in the agreement.
February 2010 and December 2012 the mill owners have only paid the difference in amounts of DA increase thereby avoiding the total increase of 873 points during this period. In 2002, DA was 2427 points. Till December 2012 it was 4926 points. If the per point Consumer Price Index (CPI) neutralization at 1.9 is calculated then the workers are supposed to received a wage of Rs 7348.10 / month excluding allowances and statutory benefits ( Rs 2499 x 1.9 = Rs 4748 + Rs 2600 ( Rs 100 being basic in 2002 x 26 days). Which means Rs 282 / day (i.e. Rs 7348.10 / 26 days in a month).
Meanwhile, sensing trouble three mills on banks of Hooghly – Hastings, India and Gondolpara jute have increased wages and have started paying Rs 314 per day to it’s workmen. A section of the industry is annoyed at the move as it feels would erode it’s bargaining power during the tripartite negotiations. A spokesman for the Kajaria owned 3 mills said, Rs Rs the industry is starved of workers because of different social sector schemes like NREGS. There is no alternative but to hike daily wages to lure workmen’’. A study conductedby the jute industry last year showed that the migrant workers who had been the majority of the work force in the jute industry, are no longer coming in numbers. In the 1980s migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh used to constitute 70-75% of the total workforce. Now, the share of the migrant workers has gone done to less than 38% of the total workforce.