Casual cane labourers in Maharashtra have threatened to go on a strike before the start of the sugar season of 2014-15. The Maharashtra Ustod Kamgar Vahtuk Majoor Va Mukadam Sanghatana that looks into labour issues of sugar workers has indicated no worker will cut cane in factories or will allow factories to begin functioning unless the demands of workers are met. The new crushing season is expected to begin on October 15. Around 100 cooperative mills and 65 private factories will crush cane this year.
Around 14 lakh workers in the state are dependent on the sugar sector for livelihood. Shrirang Bhanage, state secretary of the Sanghatana, says the workers who cut cane for a living are due for a wage hike and should get the same wages as the payment given by factories for harvesters.
"At present, workers receive wages of R190 per tonne while payment for harvesters is around R450 per tonne. Our demand is to improve the level of workers’ wages at around the same level, failing which no worker will be allowed to be attached to any sugar factory," he warned.
A couple of workers can cut upto 2 tonne of cane a day while a harvester can cut upto 60 tonne per day. Sugar factories are now increasingly opting for harvesters since manual labour has become an issue. The number of harvesters has gone up to 192 from 126 in the earlier season.
Bhanage, who claimed that no meeting has been held with the government or sugar federation officials, also pointed out that factories should pay up arrears to workers before the start of the season. Arrears come upto some R10 crore for all workers, he added.
The Sanghatana has demanded identity cards for all workers and inclusion under labour laws of the state. Bhanage said the workers should also be given insurance of R5 lakh on the lines of the insurance given to construction workers in the state. He also said the workers should be given pension of R5,000 a month on retirement. The representation has been given to the CM, state cooperation minister and the federation, he said, adding that the Sanghatana will now await communication from the other end.