Bengaluru Migrant Labourers Full of Hope Post Farmers' Protest
A permanent job in the
country comes with employee benefits like PF, bonus, ESI, pensions and
stronger job security, while a contractual system recognises workers as
part-time employees and provides them with no benefits or job security.
“In sectors such as electricity, forest department, medical and even
among pourakarmikas, you have many of them who have been working for
decades but are still denied basic provisions that permanent employees
are given. These codes will only exacerbate this injustice,” asserted
Presently, several labourers are fighting for permanent employment in courts but the implementation of the labour codes will also take away their legal right to fight for better working conditions. “It will turn into a hire-and-fire system,” explained Shridhar while highlighting that there has already been a spate of labour-related protests in the state where workers have been arbitrarily fired or denied/delayed wages.
Understanding the future these codes hold for them, workers from all corners of Karnataka showed up at Bengaluru’s Majestic railway station to walk towards Freedom Park demanding four things. First and most important, that the labour codes be taken back. Workers also demand that the contractual system be scrapped, a minimum wage of Rs. 25,000 per month for a worker with a family unit of three and that there be equal pay for equal work and no wage difference between contractual and permanent workers.
Being an oppressed caste, Bengali Muslim woman in Bangalore, Khatoon’s problems are multifold. “There is still a lot of casteism and Islamophobia here. When people hear my name, some of them stop interacting with me. When I show the police my ID proof, they call me a ‘Bangladeshi’, force us to move out of our huts and ask us to go back,” she explains. “If we (labourers) don’t work, the country will be brought to a standstill, yet we are treated so poorly,” added Khatoon.
She further explained how cops treat Bengali migrant workers in the city as illegal immigrants and demand money from the men. When the men have no money to give, they are often taken to jail and beaten up and detained for a few days before being let go. “They harass us a lot,” said Khatoon while emphasising that not every cop is a bad egg and that she has also been helped by a few of them.
Amidst a large number of workers are also a small section of students and youth who are there to show solidarity. “These issues are not just workers’ issues,” explains Sourya. “These codes allow the Union government to set a floor wage which can be less than the minimum wage agreed upon by states and makes it almost impossible for employees to strike,” he added.
Despite these codes being introduced a few years ago, the pandemic and its ensuing lockdowns made it difficult for people to mobilise. But the recent success of the farmers’ protests has ignited new hope among the labourers. “Even though we would like to, we cannot hold a protest as consistently as our farmer friends,” said Shridhar. He explained how farmers — given the nature of their jobs — can be more flexible about their work hours and timings making it possible for them to sustain long, organised protests. “Labourers don’t have that luxury.They have superiors and workplaces to show up at and even without the implementation of these laws, labourers often struggle to get paid on time,” Shridhar elucidated. “But if the government refuses to listen to our demands we will make this a bigger issue and collectively take our rallies to Delhi so that our demands fall in the ears of the people governing us.”