Don't Forget Workers on International Labour Day

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The Seoul Times

Seoul, South Korea

1 May 2007

Don't Forget Workers on International Labour Day

Today (May 1, 2007) as the world observes International Labour Day (or May Day), countless millions of workers on the frontlines of unorganized sector toil hard completely oblivious of today's significance. How is it possible to usher in a change for social justice when those most under-represented are not engaged and their voices not heard, especially today?

THE SEOUL TIMES went to capture concerns of most under-represented voices.

International Labour Day is observed to pay homage to the workers who had laid down their lives for Labour rights in Chicago on 1 May 1886. It commemorates the historic struggle and efforts of working people.

One doesn't have to go very far from India's capital New Delhi . Employees of a company called Wow Information Solutions Private Limited have alleged that their employers (especially Mr Sohrab Khan, Human Resource Manager) are threatening them on emails and phone, so as to dissuade them by intimidation from asking their dues like salary, form-16 or provident fund papers. Rajeshwar Ojha and Vishal Anand, two ex-employees of this company while showing copies of threatening emails, say that Mr Sohrab Khan has even denied Form-16 to them.

Moving away from the India's capital Delhi to a village Lalpur in Hardoi district, people voice similar concerns. Ram Babu, a native of Natpurwa village, said that despite of the fact that National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) promises 33% of job cards to women, only 12 women have been able to get job cards under NREGA out of 10,000 job cards distributed so far. When people of these villages conducted a social audit in end of November 2006, they uncovered massive irregularities in the muster rolls. Money was shown to be paid for many days (at the rate of Rs 58 per day) in names of people who weren't even aware of such a scheme leave aside getting work or money!

During the social audit the workers got to know that the actual due wage is Rs 58 per day, whereas they were being paid arbitrarily anything between Rs 30-40 per day before.

Chandralekha, who hails from Natpurwa village, infamous for 350 years old sex-work trade in Hardoi district, laments that despite of lobbying for more than 7 years, she got no response from authorities. Most of the population of natpurwa village will qualify to get BPL (Below Poverty Line) cards and therefore be entitled to get free rashion from public distribution system (PDS) under Antodaya Scheme. In reality, not even a single person has got BPL card or rashion supply under antodaya scheme so far in Natpurwa.

This is a dangerous trend, where we do have special days on calendar like International Labour Day, but while observing May Day today forget to involve the most important stakeholder – the workers' themselves. With vast majority of people working in unorganized sector, it becomes all the more important to raise awareness about rights of these workers so that they are not subjected to abuse or exploitation, says Dr Sandeep Pandey, noted social activist and recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Award 2002. It is also important to provide security to these workers, like landless farmers for example. If they stop growing food, what will we eat then, asks another activist Mahesh Kumar of Kanpur.

A senior government official on condition of anonymity says that it is a huge challenge to talk of rights and regulations in unorganized sector. Not only corporate powers are slowing down the process, but also those whose vested interests are at stake. Real democracy and end of feudalism will only happen when we are able to restore dignity of life for every landless labourer, said he.

Let's hope the policy makers are listening!