06 December 2011

Rescue Of Migrant Bonded Workers From Mangalore, Karnataka

15 workers, including one woman, were rescued early morning today from Purkodi in Mangalore SEZ Area, Karnataka as they faced abuse and were kept as bonded labourers on site. The workers went as construction workers from Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal, employed by Gannon Dunkerley & Co. Ltd (GDCL), who is constructing for ONGC Mangalore Petrochemicals Ltd (OMPL).

The workers were made to work for 14-16 hours with very little payment of wages, were also subjected to physical violence and abusive language when they raised their problems before the employers. They were not being allowed to go back home and were tortured with hot water and hot rods when they had protested to work for long hours.

They had been working for almost two months in the Mangalore SEZ area, a proposed 3985 acres for Petrochemicals and Petroleum sector; out of which 1800 acres have already been acquired for two projects. The area has hundreds of colonies, with a large number of migrant worker population from West Bengal. Being a SEZ area, no outsider is allowed to talk and access to their residence is very restricted.

The families of the workers informed the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, about their family members not being in contact after they had left around 23 September through Dibesh Das Layekdi village, Lakhanpur, Hura, District Purulia who had recruited these workers. They were handed over to a labour contractor, Bholanath Singh, resident of Dishergarh, Kulti in Burdwan district, who in turn sent them for work to Mangalore through his employee Sanjay Singh.

The workers are forced to work in places like Mangalore because of hunger and starvation situation in their own villages. Sriram Bauri, 60 years, died of neglect and long term hunger on 9 September, in Layekdi village of Purulia district. On 10 September 2011, our union sent a medical team to this village to examine the health status of in the village and identified around 15 persons who were highly malnourished and in immediate need of medical help and nutrition.

There has been no NREGS work in the villages despite dharnas by workers asking for work. Wages from earlier work are yet to be paid. With a total absence of a system of regulation of contractors by the Labour Department in both States, recruitment of labour from Bankura and Purulia districts are common, and in violation of the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act.

In addition, there seems to be no system of labour inspection in Mangalore, and labour laws are blatantly flouted with workers working in the SEZ area. It is apparent that West Bengal is not exporting workers, but instead exporting slaves to these areas.

We immediately ask for the following:
·     the State Government of Karnataka to recover full wages due to the workers from the contractors and principal employer;
·     the State Government of Karnataka declares the workers as bonded labour and that the State Governments of West Bengal and Karnataka make available to them aid under schemes for bonded labour
·     the State Governments arrest the principal employer and the labour contractors in West Bengal and Karnataka and take legal action against them
·     all the concerned State Governments improve their systems of inspection and properly implement the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act, Minimum Wages Act, Contract Labour Act, Child Labour Act etc.
·     That the Government of West Bengal ensures that workers get employment with timely payment of wages under the MGNREGA and are therefore not forced to migrate to such precarious work.

17 October 2011

With the intervention of the Karnataka police and Labour Department, the workers recovered Rs.2.89 lakhs as wages , but no punitive action was taken against the employer. Nor were the workers declared as "bonded". The workers are now back in the village.

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