CJP Grassroots Fellow assists 40 daily wage workers in their fight for pending wages Labour contractor arrives at an understanding with workers after CJP fellow intervenes with authorities

10, Jan 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Shefani Rajbanshi, Ajay Phulmali, Gopal Phulmali, Sadek Sheikh and thirty six other workers of Birbhum district’s Murarai police station were unemployed through the lockdown. After a lot of searching for work, they moved to a brick kiln in Berhampur, Murshidabad and started working as bricklayers. Some of them, leaving their families, in the hope of earning some money – some hoping to make money together as a couple.

As we soak in the warmth within our thick woollen clothing, millions of daily wage labourers are busy making their livelihoods through the extremes of winter nights. One such profession is that of a bricklayer. They spend days and nights making brick cutting tools, ignoring the winter cold – while soaking the ground for cutting bricks. Then overnight they turn these soils into bricks. In September 2022, during the last Durga Puja, which is a state holiday, they asked for their dues from the owner. The total cost of their work happened to be three lakh thirty two thousand rupees. The owner paid them Fifty Eight thousand rupees – while promising to pay the balance two lakh seventy four thousand rupees soon. But even after many months, the workers were not getting their dues cleared. All these people belong to the Scheduled Caste community – most coming from marginalised and minority communities – most mainly work in brick kilns and as migrant workers in different states. Their children are living the life of a migrant. Most of them do not go to school.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.

Even when these workers went to the owner’s house multiple times, there was no solution to their ordeal. Phulmali says, “Repeatedly, the owner sent us back empty handed while he himself was leaving Murshidabad and living a luxurious life in Kolkata. Then he could not be reached even if he was contacted by phone. There is no one to listen to helpless workers; they are only seen as vote banks by the Government. But no schemes and rights associations to protect their needs have been initiated for them.” 

When the families of the workers contacted me, I promised to help them out because the livelihoods of 40 families were at stake. I contacted the West Bengal Labour Department. The higher authorities of the Labor Department had to look into the matter to resolve this issue. On receiving the instructions from the higher authorities, the Murshidabad District Labor Commission issued strict instructions on the contractor’s workplace – they also received numerous complaint letters from the other workers. The co-owners had to go to the office of the Labor Commission, apologise and admit that the workers’ money wasn’t paid. The owners confirmed that they will pay the entire money in regular instalments starting February 2022. 

After this case was resolved with the authorities, I spoke to Sadek Sheikh. He said, “we workers do not get any respect. We are underpaid and overworked – We don’t get our due wages. We have no one to help us in case of an accident. But I’m so thankful to have met you. All of us are grateful to you, Ripon. You worked hard to solve our problems with the Labor Commission. You fought for our rights.”

To conclude, my only appeal is that the central government and the state government must open one specific branch to look into the pleas and plights of migrant workers. The Central and state governments should adopt plans to stop unnecessary and turbulent migration and set better schemes for employment in their own state. Besides, a help desk, at a specific centre for migrant workers, should be opened in each panchayat area so that migrant workers can directly call the helpline if they are in danger. It’s essentially about the protection of their rights. 

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.

Image Courtesy: hindustantimes.com


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