On the occasion of the World Disabled Day Blind Workers took out a huge rally at the Parliament Street against violation of labour rights by NGOs and Government connivance.
Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment warned of intensified agitation and struggle if it does not provides employment at the earliest.
On the occasion of World Disability Day, blind workers under the banner of the Blind Workers’ Union took out a huge rally of blind workers regarding the entrenched problems faced by the disabled in the labour market, and towards the unfulfilled promises of the Social Justice Ministry to provide alternative employment to the disabled (in particular, the retrenched workers of National Federation of the Blind) in government undertakings. It is to be noted that since November of 2011, the blind workers have been protesting the retrenchment of several blind workers by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). This NGO retrenched the workers because they were speaking out against denial of minimum wages and other basic labour rights in the Training and Rehabilitation Centres (TRCs) run by the NGO. The blind workers have highlighted again and again how the Federation has been violating all statutory labour laws at its different production units. In fact, rather than minimum wages, the workers employed across NFB production units were being forced to work on the basis of a production-wage structure, which provides them barely Rs. 2600/- per month. This was way below the rate of minimum wages. The protest also raised the need for the Government to provide alternative employment for the disabled. A delegation of blind workers also submitted a memorandum of demands to the Ministry of Social Justice.
In the memorandum we raised the concerns of the blind workers and how they have been forced to become beggars in the absence of any employment. Also it is deeply disturbing that despite making several representations to the ministry these blind workers still await justice. For example, the Ministry has yet to take stern action against the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which has entrenched large number of blind workers from its various Training and Rehabilitation Centres (TRCs) in October 2011. Neither has the concerned Ministry fulfilled its assurances of providing alternative employment to all the blind workers retrenched by the National Federation of the Blind at the government sponsored NGO, Arunim. Furthermore, discussion on and clauses in the pending Bill on the Rights of Persons with Disability (2011) continues to lack any serious engagement on the question of protecting the labour and economic rights of disabled persons employed in the private sector (i.e. by NGOs and private businesses). For us, such failure of intervention by the Government amounts to reducing World Disability Day to a day of pomp and show with no actual commitment towards upliftment of disabled workers through protection of their basic labour and economic rights like the right to gainful employment, right to equal remuneration, right to daily minimum wage, right to the eight hour work day, etc.
We also pointed out during the rally that our struggle is not just against the NFB, but against the overall exploitation of blind workers across the country by private companies and NGOs. It is an undeniable fact that in the interest of availing of certain benefits like tax exemption for employing persons with disability, the private sector is known to employ yet brutally exploit disabled persons. The arbitrary hiring and firing practices, unregulated working hours, etc. prevalent in the private sector, amount to a serious breach of social justice, which is why the blind workers have been approaching the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. More importantly, the workers realize that the failure of successive governments to provide adequate employment to the blind community is the main reason why blind workers are dependent on the highly exploitative private sector.Hence, our struggle is based on the fundamental right to a livelihood—a right the Government is to protect and uphold. The specific demands that the blind workers put forth in the memorandum include the following:
(i) Inclusion of a special section in the long pending Bill on the Rights of Persons With Disability (2011), which would safeguard the economic rights of blind workers employed in the private sector. For example, the Bill should include provisions to the effect that bodies violating basic labour rights will be penalized to the effect that NGOs indulging in such violation will face the cancellation of their registration;
(ii) That the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment tables a concrete plan of greater job creation for blind persons in the public sector. It is only with the provision of more government jobs that the dependence of blind workers on exploitative private companies and corrupt NGOs can be overcome;
(iii) That the central government stops funding NGOs who fail to comply with the country’s statutory labour laws while employing people;
(iv) That the central government ensures that blind workers are given parity at workplaces and are paid minimum wages;
(v) That the central government ensures all statutory labour laws are implemented in production units run by “social service” organizations like the NFB, as well as in workplaces run by other employers;
(vi) That the central government takes over the production units run by NGOs like NFB, in consequence of such NGOs repetitively failing to provide proper employment and conducive work conditions for physically handicapped workers;
(vii) That the retrenched workers of NFB be provided immediate employment either in Arunim or any other government-funded institution/workshop.
The blind workers have warned that the ministry must take immediate steps to provide employment. The inaction of the ministry will compel us to intensify our agitation and movement to expose the Government’s lack of commitment towards protecting disabled workers’ statutory rights.
Alok Kumar Ramnath
(On Behalf of Blind Workers Union) (On Behalf of Blind Workers Union)