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Minimum Wage Implementation Campaign

Many agricultural laborers work in the fields for 12 to 14 hours a day--all for less than minimum wage.

Though Gujarat’s minimum wage is one of the lowest minimum wages in India, daily laborers often receive significantly less than that.  When they try to stand up for their wage rights, the landlords often simply stop hiring them, and employ another poor laborer desperate for whatever money he or she can make.  

Many organizations have tried to organize rural laborers, but one big hurdle always stands in the way: caste.  In Gujarat, agricultural daily laborers are generally composed of Dalits, Tribals, and OBC’s (Other Backward Castes).  Typically, OBC’s do not feel much sense of loyalty to Dalits, as they consider themselves higher up on the caste ladder. 


Within the Navsarjan Minimum Wage Implementation team, there are Dalits, one Tribal, and one OBC.  This was a conscious decision, as the makeup of the team reflects the makeup of the laborers.  More than a decade of work has been done on the ground in Baroda, Anand, and Mehsana Districts, including thousands of day and night meetings to educate people as to their rights.  Navsarjan and its Minimum Wage Implementation team has worked hard to gain the laborers confidence and trust. 

The results are powerful.  A laborers union, Gujarat Kamdar Ekta Sangathan, has been organized, and through that union, minimum wage rights have been asserted.  Within the union, there is diverse membership that reflects the makeup of the laborers in the targeted areas.  Union membership cuts across caste and religion: 25% are Dalits, 50% are Tribals, and 25% are OBC.  There are also some Muslims. 

Because of the diversity within the union, Dalits and non-Dalits are becoming closer; they sit together and drink tea together, and fight for their minimum wages together.  This fact has the added benefit of decreasing untouchability practices in the targeted areas. 

Union members pay Rs. 125 to join the Union.  Navsarjan organizes leadership training camps to help train male and female union leaders; the goal is to have the union be totally autonomous and self-sustainable.  Navsarjan has also organized a life insurance plan for Union members.  Several Union members have died, and their life insurance plans have brought Rs. 30,000 each to their families. 

Navsarjan has also been involved in campaigning for an increase in the minimum wage, which has been achieved: as of 2009, minimum wage stands at Rs. 100. 

Impact:

  • Often, Navsarjan organizes in one village, and then the union spreads through self-organization of the laborers to other neighboring villages.  The laborers see how organizing themselves and working together can benefit them all. 
  • Dalit and tribal women laborers are becoming more vocal, but OBC women are still remaining silent; this is primarily because of Navsarjan’s sustained work with Dalits and Tribals, while Navsarjan has not worked extensively with the OBC community. 
  • Other social issues have come up through the union to Navsarjan for legal support, not necessarily related to labor issues.
  • Right now, a particularly important struggle is in Diver village, where the fight for minimum wages began in 2006.  Due to persistent efforts, the laborers now get minimum wage there, and laborers in neighboring villages are also getting minimum wages.  Since the latest election, the entire Panchayat body in Diver village has been made of agricultural laborers; the voters—primarily laborers, many of whom are Union members—voted their own into the local government. 

 

Challenges:

  • Convincing laborers that joining the union is in their interest.
  • Convincing laborers across caste and gender lines to join the union.
  • Successfully implementing strikes for minimum wages.
  • Heavy resistance from the dominant caste landlords.