Contract workers’ Struggle at Military Stations in Assam
The All Assam Contractor Workers’ Union affiliated to AICCTU has begun to organize contract workers of military and air force stations in the two upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.
There are more than 1500 contract workers engaged in regular and almost perennial nature of works in military and air force stations of Dinjan, Chabua, Mohanbari in Dibrugarh and Lekhapani in Tinsukia District of Assam. In these military and air force stations, there are four categories of contract workers – unskilled, semi-skilled/unskilled supervisory, skilled/ clerical and highly skilled.
The majority of the contract workers of the unskilled and the semi-skilled category get only Rs. 70-80 and the skilled ones get only Rs. 120 a day. In violation of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, female workers still get Rs 10 less than their male counterparts in the military and air force stations.
The Regional Labour Commissioner (C), Guwahati, on the basis of various notification No. S.O.1284 (E), S.O.1285 (E) & S.O.1286 (E) dated 20.05.09 issued by the Union Minister, Labour and Employment, issued a Circular No. 41R.93 (C).96.Cor.L.s-11 dated 16.10.09 fixing the minimum daily wage of contract workers working in various categories in the central sphere in scheduled employment in Assam will be Rs.135 for unskilled, Rs.158 for semi-skilled/supervisory, Rs.192 for skilled/clerical and Rs.225 for highly skilled.
The circular was to be implemented from 1.10.09 but the contractors continued under-paying unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers respectively at Rs.55, Rs.83 and Rs.72 per day. It is the responsibility of the Labour Department to see for itself whether the workers are being paid at the enhanced rates or not. Moreover, according to the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 (CLARA), the Principal Employer (here, Garrison Engineer (G.E)) has the duty of ensuring payment of wages rates in their presence. But the ALC (C) Dibrugarh and the G.E. did nothing to uphold the provisions of CLARA.
The Union took up many efforts and protest actions before going on strike; these included a letter requesting the G.E. to compel the contractors to make the enhanced payment at the enhanced rates on 17.11.09; gate meetings at both in Dinjan and Chabua - twice at each place; a workers’ mass meeting at Mohanbari to form a union branch. But the G.E. did not respond. The Union then served a strike notice on 4.12.09. In order to seek intervention by the ALC (C ), a militant demonstration of more than 400 workers was staged at his office. The ALC (C) then called a meeting at his office on 21.12.09 which was attended by the Union representatives, the representative of the G.E. Dinjan, but the contractor and the G.E. Chabua stayed away. The strike became inevitable from 4.01.2010.
The strike was total on January 4 in Dinjan Military and Air Force Stations in which more than 600 workers participated. The strike was temporarily withdrawn at the Dinjan Military Station when contractors gave an assurance that they would make payment of Rs. 110 to the unskilled and semi-skilled workers (instead of Rs. 70-80 as was being paid earlier but short of the enhanced rates of Rs.135 for unskilled, Rs.158 for semi-skilled/supervisory); Rs.140 to the skilled workers (instead of Rs. 120 as was being paid earlier but short of the enhanced rate of Rs. 192). Most workers agreed to the above enhancement for the time being. The strike in Dinjan Airforce Station continued for 9 days till the contractors were compelled to concede the enhancements notified in the new circular.
But the contractors (excepting four of them) betrayed the workers of Dinjan Military Station. On the next payment day (January 9) they made payments of Rs. 80 to a section, Rs. 90 to some others and again Rs. 100 to another section. On 11 January, 2010 the workers again resorted to strike and continued up to January 17 demanding full implementation of circular. This strike was decided by the workers themselves and the Union fully supported it.
At the Dinjan Air Force Station, the contractors were forced to make concession due to the workers; while the number of workers here are less (just 100) they are more conscious and organizationally and ideologically better equipped. At the Dinjan Military station the workers had to remain satisfied with Rs. 110 and Rs. 140 (short of what was notified in the circular.)
During the strike, the contractors’ Union lodged a false complaint against the General Secretary of All Assam Contractor Workers’ Union Subhash Singh, who is also a national councillor and Assam State Committee member of AICCTU, threatened his life, sent police to his residence time and again to harass him and deter other activists. They also engaged hired goons and lumpens against workers and tried to hire workers from other places. The Union foiled the terror tactics by mobilising workers as well as wider sections of society.