Featured image courtesy Pixabay
My fellowship with Aajeevika Bureau started on March, 2019. It was the time when the financial year was soon to be over. Once I joined, I immersed myself into field visits and my journey as a fellow was ‘on’. I was meeting migrants predominantly from Odisha, followed by Uttar Praddesh and Maharashtra.
The Surat wing of Aajeevika started to work in 2015. It is one of the new migration destination centres of Aajeevika Bureau just after the Ahmadabad centre, our first. Most of the rest of the organization’s work is centered around Udaipur in south Rajasthan – the source of migration. Ahmadabad has most migrants from our source region working in the construction sector. In Rajasthan, the work started around Salumbar and Gogunda blocks. The organisation was well accustomed to the issues faced by the migrants from these towns who used to migrate to Ahmadabad for work. With centres at both source and destination, Aajeevika developed a deep understanding of the issues and dynamics; which was supported by a robust framework to work on them.
Surat being the textile capital of India has a lot of powerloom migrant workers from Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Once the centre was setup in Surat, initial communication with the migrants from these different states was a new experience for the team. With no prior centre at most of these source states and the powerloom sector also being new to the team, Aajeevika thought of an approach. It tried to initially concentrate on providing services to the migrant workers in order to reach out to them. Services started by assisting the migrants to get their official documents, government identity cards, work identity card to establish identity as they move around and become visible to avail entitlements. Making the migrants aware of the different health schemes and insurance policies provided by the Central and State governments and help them to be a part of these schemes.
Meanwhile the organization also worked with the government to setup health services for the migrants. In its initial years, it concentrated on reaching out to maximum number of people with its services. The main aim of the organization was to form a migrant representative group who could voice their struggles and demand what they deserve. Simultaneously as more people came to know about the organization an informal group called Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch was setup. This group became a voice to anyone with legal issues. The issues were sometimes payment disputes or compensation to be paid in case of an injury or death in workplace. Guided by the organization, this group would fight for a fellow and help him/her to make a strong claim. In the last few years, the Surat team made progress in understanding the issues at the destination which enabled to eventually plan for a final outcome.
As the new financial year started (a month after i entered the scene), the team at Surat was informed of two new changes that should be prioritized from. One will be the change in strategy in work and the second is the new funds that should be utilized. The change in strategy meant a clear approach to make Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch an abled, strong self sufficient body which would eventually be able to solve its own issues and work for the welfare without any guidance from anyone. A major goal will also be a new legal initiative. The new funds will ensure that the operations proceed smoothly.
Most of the powerlooms in Surat are registered under the Shop And Establishment Act. These looms are mullti storey buildings where each floor is registered separately. Although these floors are registered separately, they actually work as a single unit. According to law, a unit will be considered a factory, if ten or more workers are working, or were working on any day of the preceding twelve months, and in any part of which a manufacturing process is being carried on with the aid of power. All these units which are separately registered under the said Act should be registered as a single unit under Factory Act. In the Factory Act, workers are entitled to a number of provisions and the unit has to follow strict rules of law, that includes:
- Working Hours: No adult worker shall be required or allowed to work in a factory for more than 48 hours in a week. There should be a weekly holiday.
- Health: For protecting the health of workers, the act lays down that every factory shall be kept clean and all necessary precautions shall be taken in this regard. The factories should have proper drainage system, adequate lighting, ventilation, temperature etc.
- Safety: In order to provide safety to the workers, the Act provides that in every factory adequate and suitable facilities for washing should be provided and maintained for the use of workers.
- Utilities: Facilities for storing and drying, clothing, facilities for sitting, first-aid appliances, shelters, rest rooms and lunch rooms, crèches, should be there.
However, none of this is ensured in the Shop And Establishment Act. In order to ignore all these rules and provisions the owners register their units illegally under the Shops and Establishment Act. As a result, 1 million people work on 12 hour shifts every day of the week without any weekly holiday around machines which makes deafening noise. Accidents leading to death due to faulty machinery is commonplace.
The Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch was already dealing with such cases and providing support to similar issues. Now with the increasing number of members in this group, a formal membership process has started. In the coming years, this group is believed to be ready to understand it’s problems and issues and decide collectively on how to deal with them.
The Aajeevika team will simultaneously work on legal grounds with the help of Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch to ensure that the illegal setups under Shop And Establishment Act can be identified and eventually these setups come under the Factory Act.