Two Thousand Almond Workers Stage a Protest

Abhinav Sinha,
Bigul Mazdoor Dasta

Demanded implementation of Labour Laws, condemned the collusion of Police with contractors and employers

December 23, New Delhi. Nearly 2000 almond workers staged a huge demonstration at Jantar-Mantar in the afternoon under the leadership of ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’. As is well known, approximately 20 thousand almond workers have been on strike for past one week. These workers organized themselves into ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’ (BMU) a year ago and since then, they have been fighting for the rights to which they are entitled under various labour laws. The BMU declared strike in the almond processing industry located in Karawal Nagar which is situated in the North-East Delhi, following which 20 thousand workers’ families stopped work, who were engaged in this work. Due to this strike the entire almond processing industry of Delhi has come to a standstill. This pressure is hurting even more because these almonds come from the US, Canada and Australia to India for processing, after which they have to be sent back. These companies outsource the work of processing to India to exploit the extremely cheap labour of India. Khari Baoli, situated in Delhi, is the largest dry fruits market of Asia. The big businessmen located in Khari Baoli take contract for this processing work and then give it on subcontract to petty contractors situated in Karawal Nagar. These petty contractors get this work done by poor labourers on wages which are next to nothing. The workers are given a mere Rs. 50 for the processing of one 23 kg bag of almonds. The total profit on one bag of almonds is arount Rs. 7000. Of this profit, one share goes to the foreign company, another to the big businessmen of Khari Baoli, and yet another to the petty contractor who play in lakhs of rupees, while the workers are constantly on the verge of starvation.

Workers who came to Jantar-Mantar demanded that this almond processing industry which runs in Karawal Nagar and some other areas of Delhi should be given a formal status by the government and it should be regularized, as not a few hundreds are involved in this industry, but thousands of workers are toiling in it to earn a meagre livelihood. Ashish Kumar, Convener of BMU told the mediapersons that the contractors who are at the helm of the affairs in this industry laugh away the labour laws and exploiting the workers in a primitive and barbaric way. It is one of the most glaring example of wage slavery in modern times and that too in the heart of National Capital. For this, they have squandered away money to collude with the Police and local musclemen and political leaders. Against this dictatorship and exploitation, the workers in this strike are demanding that this industry be regularized by the government and labour laws be implemented. The second demand of the workers is that the workers should be given Rs 80 per processed bag of almonds rather than Rs 50. That would be equivalent to minimum wages. Besides, these contractors have not provided the workers with any identity card of job card due to which often they refuse to make due payments to the workers and the latter have no proofs whatsoever, to make a claim. The BMU also demanded that double payment should be made for the overtime. Apart from that, the contractors sell the rind of almonds to the workers. The workers use it as fuel to cook food. As this is a useless by-product of the process of processsing done by the workers themselves, it should not be sold to the workers. It should be given to them free of cost. The workers also demanded that the Police should lodge an F.I.R. against those goons of the employers who attacked BMU leaders and women workers with deadly weapons on the morning of December 17. Ironically enough, the Karawal Nagar Police arrested the Union leaders instead of arresting the contractors and their goons and lodged a F.I.R. against them under section 107 and section 151 and sent them to jail, from where they were released on bail on December 19. The BMU leaders also demanded action against the Karawal Nagar Police.

This strike which started on December 16, is being already hailed as one of the biggest unorganized workers’ strike in the history of Delhi. Almost 20 thousand workers’ families are involved in it. The whole almond processing industry of Delhi has been paralysed due to this strike. Due to the stoppage of almond supply, the prices of almond are increasing. On the other hand, the contractors are dreaming of crushing this huge movement of workers with the muscle power of their goons and tacit support of the Police administration. However, the workers are in no mood to surrender and they are intensifying their strike with every passing day. The BMU leadership demanded the Labour minister of Delhi and the Deputy Labour Commissioner of North-East Delhi to intervene in the matter and ensure the implementation of the labour rights of these workers. If the snatching away of workers’ rights goes on like this, then the workers will gherao the Labour Minister and Chief Minister of Delhi. It is the right opportunity for them to become cautious and implement these laws. They also warned the employers and contractors to wake up before the time runs out. They warned them not to try strength of the workers as it might cost dearly to their profit machinery. They cannot defeat organized working class power with petty street goons. They need to implement the labour laws and give the workers what they are legally entitled to.

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