In Byculla, Dhobighat, Nagpada, Madanpura, Dagadchawl, Lathiwali Chawl, Sari Bazaar, K K Art, Shribai Chawl, Sakhri Street, Battery Chawl, Thandi Sadak, Saat Rasta and other areas of Mumbai, there are enterprises making school bags, suitcases, embroidery items, nylon bags and leather items.
Courtesy: Child labourers working in an embroidery unit in Mumbai. (Express archive photo)
There are more than 2000 such enterprises. About ten to fifteen thousand adult workers work here. There is flagrant violation of existing labour laws. Adult workers have to work from 8 in the morning to 1:30 or 2 in the night. And for that they get merely Rs. 8000 – Rs. 9000 a month! They get no weekly holiday. If they are ill, they have to go to some municipal hospital, swallow some medicines and report for duty. They get no rest. If a worker takes leave, his wages are cut. At times the owners even beat them mercilessly.
These enterprises have no compunction employing children. About five to eight thousand child labourers are employed here. They are brought from the villages and made to work for monthly wages between three and four thousand rupees. There is total absence of any child protection law.
The owner decides the wages of the workers and even after that does not pay them in full. Whenever any worker needs money, the owner pays what he calls an “advance”. But none of this is recorded on paper. When the full account of wages is given at the end of the year, the owner invariably says that the worker is in debt. And from that point on there is no escape from his clutches. Even after a workers spends his entire life working in this way, he is not free.
Worker are not free to sell their labour elsewhere. Workers are not allowed to quit from these enterprises. They are told to first return the loans and then leave. Returning the loans is very difficult. If by chance the worker runs away and returns to his village, there is more trouble. The owner threatens the workers through the panchayat members of the village so he has no choice but to pay up. At times the worker has to sell off his bit of land to settle the loan. Or else he has to return to work in the same factory. The factory owner does not allow the worker to escape easily.
The police is also a party to the loot of the workers. Workers are illiterate and ground down by poverty and high levels of unemployment. It is difficult for them to raise their voices in protest. Those who do so are beaten mercilessly. The workers repeatedly fall ill due to overwork on one hand and beatings on the other. At times workers even die. Then the owner buys of the police, pays something to the family members of the dead workers, and the whole matter is buried.
There is not only wage exploitation of a modern capitalist society but even worse – bonded labour and slavery in the manner of pre-capitalist society! The government that legislates “labour laws” to seemingly protect the rights of labour and the enforcement agencies of the state – labour officers and the police – willingly connive with this situation in return for some monetary favours. It is a blatant violation of the rights and dignity of workers and must be condemned outright.