Support to the cause of migrant labour
In January 2013, the Times of India carried a story alleging exploitation of migrant Odia labourers in brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh. Following these reports, Jay Panda wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and the Labour Minister, requesting them to investigate the matter and to ensure that the rights of the workers are protected. On the basis of his letter, the NHRC directed the Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh to respond to the complaint with all relevant information.
In April, he pursued the matter further by visiting the brick kilns of Randa Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh to get a first-hand account of the situation.
During the visit to the brick kilns, Jay Panda was accompanied by the Joint Labour Commissioner; the Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Ranga Reddy district and four Assistant Commissioners of Labour, Ranga Reddy district along with the Project Officer, Rajiv Vidya Mission (RVM) and the Alternate School Coordinator, RVM. Several activists and civil society personnel from organisations such as PRAYAS and Aide et Action also joined him during the visit.
Some surveys have brought to light that over two lakh migrant workers from western districts of Odisha seasonally migrate to brick kilns in primarily three districts of Andhra Pradesh. Ranga Reddy district is one such centre. Kiln owners through contractors lure workers by offering an advance payment of Rs 10,000-15,000 per head. Once there, the workers are made to work for over 12 hours a day. The wages paid to these workers are much less than the amounts stipulated by the Minimum Wages Act in Andhra Pradesh. The situation of the workers is akin to bondage because freedom of movement and change of employers is denied. It is reported that in some cases, actual physical abuse or threats of violence have also been used to seek compliance from workers.
Jay Panda toured three kilns in the district and closely interacted with several labourers to understand the issues being faced by them. He also met with the association of kiln owners who explained their viewpoint to him. The visit was followed by an interaction between Jay Panda and the Joint Commissioner of Labour, other officers of the district administration and members of the civil society. The Joint Commissioner highlighted the welfare efforts being undertaken by his office. A project titled ‘Reducing Vulnerability to Bondage through Promotion of Decent Work’ has been started in Nov. 2012 with a budget of Rs. 2 crore to enumerate workers, enrol them in schemes such as PS, ICDS, provide healthcare benefits under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), improve housing conditions and provide education to Odia children in worksite schools.
While Jay Panda acknowledged the initiatives being undertaken by the Labour Commission and the district administration, he felt that the core issue remained unaddressed. The core issue is the implementation of the Andhra Government’s own Minimum Wages Act. Unless this Act is implemented in the right earnest, worker welfare cannot be ensured. In addition, the State must take all measures to ensure the safety of all workers, especially women and even the activists working in the area.
Jay Panda has assured the labourers that he will visit the kilns again in one year’s time to assess the improvements in their living and working conditions. The Joint Commissioner has given an assurance to Jay Panda that monitoring mechanisms that are being devised to supervise the payment of wages will be implemented before the close of this migration season.
He is now taking the cause further through his interactions with the media and government officials. Following his visit, the Times of India published an interview of Jay Panda on the issue. The interview can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/15qlkAg