Employees of sugar factories in Maharashtra will begin the new season on a sweet note. The long-pending wage agreement between the workers’ union and the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation (MSCSFF) has finally been signed following the intervention of Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.
Nearly 1.5 lakh workers are employed with the sugar factories in Maharashtra. The state’s crushing season is slated to commence on December 1.
As per the agreement, workers will now receive a 15% hike in their salaries. According to Tatyasaheb Kale, president of the Maharashtra Kamgar Union, Sharad Pawar had met representatives of the union this week and after the meeting the NCP chief asked federation members to begin implementation of the agreement. The wage agreement will come into effect from July 4, 2016, he said.The last wage agreement expired on March 31, 2014.
Significantly, at least 50 sugar factories still have to pay salaries for the past couple of seasons to their employees. Kale, however, pointed out that the issue will be taken up by the workers after the Dussehra celebrations. The pending salary bill comes up to some R200 crore, according to top union sources.
Kale said that an attempt will be made to resolve the issues at the local level. “Now that the new wage agreement has come into effect, the factories will have to sign agreements with the local unions on the lines of the main wage agreement signed with the federation. These union members will then take up the issue of the pending wages with the respective factories,” Kale pointed out.
Earlier, Shivajirao Nagawade, chairman of the MSCSFF, had agreed that more than 50 factories still owe workers’ salaries. “The sugar sector is going through a tough time and therefore it is difficult for mills to make payments. Mills have already been finding it difficult to make fair and remunerative price payments to farmers,” he had said.
The coming season is also expected to be tough for the state since barely 55 lakh tonne of sugar is expected to be produced, he said.
Interestingly, with the delay in the start to Maharashtra’s sugar season, at least 5 lakh casual labourers have migrated to neighbouring states including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
According to Shrirang Bhange, state secretary of the Maharashtra Ustod Kamgar Vahtuk Majoor Sanghatana, which looks into issues related to sugar workers, said that several workers had gone in search of work to these states since Maharashtra’s season will begin late.
However, there is no cause for worry since these workers get wages on a weekly basis and are not tied down for the entire season.