Nearly 1.5 lakh workers have threatened an indefinite agitation unless a decision is taken on their wage demand
Nearly 1.5 lakh sugar factory workers in Maharashtra have threatened an indefinite agitation from January 2 unless the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation (MSCSFF) takes a decision on their wage demand. An announcement to this effect was made in Pune by Kamgar Sangh leader Tataysaheb Kale on Wednesday.
“Factory employees will stop work from January 2, which means none of the mills will be able to function, unless the federation takes our demands into account. Nearly 20 months have passed since the last wage agreement expired and the mill owners are in no mood to take any decision,” he told FE.
Factory workers have been seeking a 40% wage hike or an interim wage hike of Rs 3,000 per month, he said. A meeting of the Worker Union’s General Council was called in Pune to announce the agitation. He accused the federation members of adopting delaying tactics and said that they are in no mood to listen to worker demands. Three meetings held by the tripartite committee appointed by the government failed to arrive at any solution because of the absence of the mill owners at the meets. When contacted, Jayprakash Dandegaonkar, vice-chairman of the federation, said that although the factories are positive on giving workers a wage hike, none of the mills are in a financial position to pay increased wages to workers.
“For the last six years, there has been surplus sugar production and cane prices have gone up by 73%. Apart from wages, the dearness allowance of workers has also gone up by Rs 5,400 in the last five years. The production cost of sugar is now Rs 30 per kg and millers were forced to sell sugar at Rs 23 per kg because of falling market prices. Sugar prices have only gone up in the last few days and this does not reflect on the financial condition of mills. The installment of the loan taken by mills also comes up in March 2016,” he pointed out. Dandegaonkar said the federation is seeking the opinion of all millers and will also take workers into confidence to find a middle path. “Hopefully, we shall solve this issue amicably soon,” he said. Moreover, the 6th wage commission’s directives have also been implemented and it remains to be seen how many mills are paying salaries as per the commission’s recommendations, he said.
The term of the committee, headed by Shivjirao Patil, vice-president, Vasantdada Sugar Institute, ends on January 8.The third meeting held by the committee met with little success for the lack of response from members. According to Shivajirao Patil, the four-year wage pact between the workers and factories came to an end in April 2009 and a new committee came into existence to hear out the workers.
The new committee was formed in July 2015 and a meeting was held thereafter without any success. The second meeting held in October in Pune also met with a similar response. Maharashtra’s sugar season is likely to end early this year due to shortage of cane.