(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 27, 2008
AIDWA Organises Convention on Home Based Workers
IN the run up to the two-day CITU Strike in Delhi on April 24-25, 2008 on April 17, 2008, Delhi state committee of Janwandi Mahila Samiti held a day long convention in BTR Bhavan on the rights of the home based women workers.
Under the impact of rising prices, weakened public distribution system, crisis of employment, retrenchment and closures, growing indebtedness, decreasing public system of health care and the implementation of the policies of liberalisation and privatisation, a large number of women in our country have been forced to look for work in order to support their families. Women suffer from a double burden of work that involves both running their households and earning a livelihood. Unfortunately, their labour often goes unrecognised. With shrinking job opportunities in the organised sector, they are getting drawn into the vast unorganised sector of our country.
According to the Arjun Sengupta report, 92 percent of the total work force of India today, comprising 45.7 crore people is engaged in the unorganised sector. Of this unorganised work force, 14.8 crore (32.3 percent) are women. While a large number of these women seek employment as domestic help, over 8 crore women are engaged in home based work like making bidis, doing zari, charkha, or other handloom work, stitching labels, food processing, and even hazardous work involving acids and chemicals etc. 79 percent women home based workers work on piece-rate basis, which is characterised by irregular or seasonal availability of work and delayed or reduced payment by agents or contractors.
Prof Jayati Ghosh from JNU inaugurated the convention. She pointed out that the media corporations do not present a correct picture of India today. They talk of an India with a booming economy, rising GDP, doubling national income. What they do not tell us is the reality of the work force, where the unorganised labour force is increasing in number, and of which women form a large part. And that the booming economy and the increasing profits of the capitalist class are built upon the labour of the work force which is dominated by the unorganised sector.
Prof Ghosh explained that the changing character of the workforce has come hand in hand with the government efforts to withdraw from the industrial sector, labour regulation and its wider policy of globalisation. The capitalists and the government pass on this difficult employment situation as the fall out of new groups of people entering the competition for these jobs. But the reason for this lies entirely in government policies, such as: removal of restrictions on imports; removal of protection to small scale producers. There is a reduction in government expenditure on health care, which is forcing people to turn to unaffordable private institutions. Finally, there is a reduction in government jobs. The unorganised sector has been termed as the ‘self employed’ work force by the government. What this implies is that these are workers with no protection, social security, benefits or insurance etc. With convenient use of the term ‘self employed’ the government has excused itself from the responsibility of making provisions for social security for these workers.
Prof Ghosh’s concluding point was that Arjun Sengupta Committee report has recommended that social security should be provided to all unorganised workers and to do so would only amount to a small percentage of the GDP expenditure. In order to achieve this the struggle must be intensified with the conviction that the current economic growth of India is built on and dependent upon the labour of the unorganised sector.
The convention was addressed by Sumangla, who works with the commission set up by the Planning Commission to look into work conditions of the unorganised sector. She told the convention that between the years 2000 and 2005, unorganised labour has seen an increase. Work is facilitated through middle men and contractors. Home based workers are at the bottom of a long chain of employers. Often we find that, the products of home based work are being prepared for multi national corporations and the objects for which these workers are receiving a pittance are being sold for huge profits. With the expansion of globalisation, such domestic labour has increased tremendously.
The costs of this work on the health of the labourer are tremendous – repetitive strain syndrome, lung problems, backache, loss of eye sight, joint pain etc., are some of the problems common among these workers. These problems stem directly from the area of their work– for example, those who work in the beedi industry, with cotton etc., suffer from respiratory problems.
The positive thing is that with the setting up of this Commission and the submission of its report, there is now a governmental recognition of this as a problem area. Sumangla said that we should take a step further to push for legislation – like the social security bill for the unorganised sector labourers. We already have examples of measures taken by Left led governments in states like Kerala – which has formed the Coconut Welfare Board for coconut workers and West Bengal, which has provided a scheme of Provident Fund for home based women workers.
Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of AIDWA gave the concluding speech in the convention. She congratulated the Delhi state committee for raising such an important issue and stressed the importance of a struggle for the rights of home based workers. She pointed out that this struggle is an integral part of AIDWA’s struggle for women’s rights – whether it is in the political sphere in the form of 33 percent reservation in legislative bodies or the economic sphere in the form of social security for home based women workers. She called upon the JMS to intensify and strengthen initiatives on this issue.
27 women home based workers from different parts of Delhi, engaged in a wide variety of work shared their personal experiences. Nearly 175 home based workers from different parts of Delhi participated in the day long convention. They ranged from those who stitch sequins on cloth, cloth piece makers, bead and bracelet makers, bindi makers, chuna workers, glass and cardboard pickers, handicrafts workers, whistle makers, makers of small industrial products like elements from press, rings etc. They receive work from middle men and contractors and earn an average of 10 – 15 rupees after an eight hour day. For most of them, the cost of transportation comes from within this income. While they receive something like 25 paise to Re 1 for each piece they produce, the goods produced by them are sold in the market for as much as Rs 40 to sometime over Rs 1000. For example, elaborate pieces of sequin and embroidery work sell for as much as Rs 1000.
All of the women who spoke at the convention suffered from health problems as a consequence of the work they did. Those who work with chuna (limestone) have boils and long lasting wounds on their hands. Those who work with glass suffered cuts on their hands, which take a long time to heal. The women who work with sequins and embroidery suffer vision impairment, some of them have even lost their eyesight.
They face the additional pressures arising out of their double burden of work. Since they work from their homes, women often do not perceive themselves as workers but as mothers and wives, while the employer ends up making more profits by paying lower wages as well as saving the cost of operating a work place like - rent, electricity, water, equipment and other maintenance costs. It is even more shocking that the rates per piece have been reducing progressively for many types of work. Some examples of the condition of work among home based workers in Delhi are as follows:
For a 47 inch beads necklace comprising of 600-700 beads, the piece rate in Mangol Puri is Re 1.
For making the bristles of one dye brush, the piece rate is 10 paise per piece.
Sticking fancy bindis on 144 packets is paid with 7-12 rupees.
Making a double bed quilt over 3-4 days is paid with Rs 150.
In addition to the shockingly low rates of remuneration, the women have to face abuse and misbehaviour from the contractors. The payment for their work is never regular or complete.
In the backdrop of this discussion, a resolution with the following demands was passed in the convention.
The Janwadi Mahila Samiti calls upon women from all sections of the society to support the demand for a comprehensive bill, providing social security benefits to all workers in the unorganised sector. We also demand from the Delhi government the formulation of concrete policy measures in this direction. This will especially benefit home based women workers who suffer from extreme hardships in order to make their ends meet.
Provide social security to all unorganised workers
Provide pension and provident fund to all home based workers
Provide health insurance to all home based workers
Provide maternity benefits to all home based workers
Give minimum wage of Rs 140 per day for unskilled, Rs 146 per day for semi-skilled and Rs156 per day for skilled home based workers
Give education and housing cover to home based workers
Give identity cards to all home based workers.
The Delhi government must immediately conduct a survey among home based workers and identify their types in order to formulate a comprehensive policy for their benefit.
The JMS Delhi also resolved to hold district wise conventions on this issue in the coming days as well as conduct surveys in different areas followed by a state level demonstration in the month of July.