By A Krishna and Sudhir Katiyar, Solidarity Committee for Brick Kiln Laborers in Andhra Pradesh
Every year thousands of workers from West Odisha migrate to work in inta bhattis of Ranga Reddy district. There are nearly 5000 workers form Odisha working in 100 inta bhattis in villages around Dundigal of Kutbullapur mandal. The workers are recruited against a nominal advance. They are paid only 180-200 Rupees (US$3.55 - $3.95) per 1000 bricks. The statutory minimum wage in AP for brick making is 340 - 367 Rupees (US$6.71 - $7.24) per 1000 bricks depending upon quality of brick. Thus they are paid less than half the minimum wages.
This year the workers demanded that they be paid minimum wages. A memorandum was submitted to the Labor Commissioner office on 5th March demanding payment of minimum wages. A meeting was held on 18th March where it was decided to stop work to put pressure on owners to pay minimum wages. The workers have stopped working on 19th March demanding payment of minimum wages. They want to go back to their villages if they are not paid minimum wages. After this the owners have let loose a reign of terror. The Union people doing organising were called to police station where a mob of owners demandd that they be arrested. Police questioned the union organizers and advised them not to go back to the village Dundigal as they could not guarantee the security. The owners ganged up and did not let the union vehice enter the village.
Also, on 20th March the strike continued.A huge gathering of brick kiln workers took place near village Dundigal. However the Union activists could not address the gathering owing to the mob of owners that surrounded the meeting. The police also tried to disperse the workers and even threatened lathi charge. Three Union workers got holed up in village Dundigal and could be rescued with police help only late in the evening after much pressure was brought upon the police.
The owners are threatening workers with violence. In Maladri inta bhatti, the workers Sukru and his wife were badly beaten up and forced to resume work on 19th March. Workers have also been beaten up in Ekteshwar and Narsimha bhattis. The owners are even going to the extent of cutting off electricity and drinking water supply.
The concerned citizens of Hyderabad have formed a Solidarity Committee to support workers struggle. The Committee met the District Collector and the District Commissioner of Labor asking for their intervention. A meeting is now scheduled on 21st March between the Labor Department and the owners to impress upon the owners that they have to pay minimum wages. However the Labor Commissioner is already beginning to obfuscate the issue by saying that he has to interpret minimum wages. The District Collector has ordered the Deputy Collector to make rounds of bhattis and ensure that minimum wages are paid and violence is stopped.