Bengal jute mill unions threaten stir if wage for coronavirus lockdown period not paid

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April 14, 2020 1:00 AM

The jute section of the Ministry of Textiles has granted dilution of up to 6.46 lakh bales of jute of 21.55 lakh bales that have been indented for manufacturing HDPE/PP bags in 2020-21.

Although the jute industry falls under the Essential Commodities Act, the state government has not allowed jute mills to continue with their operations.Although the jute industry falls under the Essential Commodities Act, the state government has not allowed jute mills to continue with their operations.

More than 21 jute mill workers’ unions in West Bengal have threatened stir if they are not paid due wages for the lockdown period. All the 69 jute mills of the state have been brought under the ambit of lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Although the jute industry falls under the Essential Commodities Act, the state government has not allowed jute mills to continue with their operations.

While both the state and the Centre have urged all jute mill owners not to deduct wages for the lockdown period, the Indian Jute Mill Manufacturers Association (IJMA) said mills do not have the cash flow to pay wages to workers for the lockdown period.

CITU leader Anadi Sahoo said except for two jute mills, around 10 lakh workers of 67 jute mills have been denied wages. “We have sought intervention of both the state labour minister and the chief minister, but there has been no response so far. If this continues, labour unions will be forced to hit the streets,” Sahoo said.
Debashish Dutta of the INTTUC echoed the same sentiment.

IJMA sources said since there were orders of jute bags pouring in from Orissa, Telangana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh for packaging of the rabi harvest, the association approached chief minister Mamata Banerjee urging her to allow opening of mills under a safety protocol. The state said it can only take a call after directives from the home ministry, but the ministry has not issued any directive as yet.

The jute section of the Ministry of Textiles has granted dilution of up to 6.46 lakh bales of jute of 21.55 lakh bales that have been indented for manufacturing HDPE/PP bags in 2020-21.

Since jute is a regulated sector, the Centre places orders for jute bags in terms of jute bales to be used for making those bags. The government has diluted orders for 6.46 lakh of jute bales in four phases and has made indents for plastic bags.

But it has mentioned that the Department of Food and Public Distribution should make a review of the situation if there is “any change in the emergent situation”. However, the government has considered diluting 6.46 lakh of jute bales with the provision that whenever production of jute bags resumes after the lockdown, priority will be given to such bags for packaging of food grains.

The textile ministry has written to the governments of all jute growing states to allow movement, sale and supply of jute seeds, fertilisers and other necessary materials so that the interest of jute farmers are protected. The Jute Packaging Materials Act (JPM), 1987, provides for 100% reservation for packaging of food grains in jute bags. But jute manufacturers say if the Union Home Ministry does not intervene, sales of raw jute may get hit.

Jute mills with a well-defined safety protocol can start operations with a workforce that stays in and around the mill area. Around 60% of workers stay in and around mill areas and the government should at least look at the feasibility of starting operations in these mills. Otherwise, it would mean an indirect support to plastic bag manufacturers, a jute manufacturer said on the condition of anonymity, adding that there was a backlog of 6.5 lakh of jute bags from the previous year.

The wheat packaging, for which the government has placed orders to plastic bag manufacturers, is likely to start from April 20.

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