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Update on the Ranga Reddy Strike, from Sudhir Katiyar of the Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action:

A tripartite meeting was held in the conference hall of Labor Commissioner office of Ranga Reddy on 21st March to discuss implementation of minimum wages in brick kilns. The meeting was attended by the District Labor Officials, a large number of brick kiln owners, and a delegation from the Solidarity Committee and Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action team. The owners were present in full strength. Even though the strike impacted only a small area in Qutbullapur mandal, the state level association turned out in strength. The three sides presented their respective positions. Owners agreed to pay the minimum wage but they interpreted the minimum wage cleverly. They said that while the minimum wage is defined for both mixing the clay and molding the clay into bricks, the mixing is being done mechanically by tractor. The District Labour Commissioner contented himself by reading aloud the Act. The meeting was clearly a letdown for pro labor activists.

The meeting was followed by a meeting of the Solidarity Committee where various next level options were considered. Prayas team presented its case that the next option lies in getting workers released from the kilns under the Bonded Labor Act. The workers have gone on a strike for the first time. Even during the preparatory phase, this was anticipated that owners may not agree to raise wages. So the next course was decided as refusing to work and leaving for home under the Bonded Labor Act. The workers are ready for this and in fact look forward to this. The implications of going for mass release of workers were considered by the Committee members. The owners in Hyderabad form a very powerful political lobby. So it was decided that the Solidarity Committee will also be strengthened by bringing in more influential members from civil society. The Solidarity Committee opined that it would be best to give some time to the Committee set up by the District Collector to investigate the conditions and ensure wage settlements in accordance with minimum wages. It was decided that members of the Solidarity Committee will accompany the official team and observe at hand the procedure adopted and results obtained. If it is felt after a week that this is not working out, then the option of getting workers released under Bonded Labor Act will be adopted.

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