Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A script gone awry? All about woman power (Pembilai Orumai) in Kerala's plantations!

A 9 day protest by about 7,000 women workers of the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Company Private Limited had begun on 06 Sep. They'd picketed the roads and the feeder highway, so effectively, that traffic to and from Munnar came to a grinding halt, cutting off supplies to the district resulting in stranded tourists and mass cancellation of tourist reservations.

The women workers' grievances were the following:-

    (a) that they're doing strenuous jobs like:-
           (i) picking tea leaves
          (ii) heaving sacks of plucked tea leaves and
         (iii) loading the sacks on to the trucks
         and their pay ranged from Rs.170/- to Rs.230/- every working day which often stretched up to
         12 lours while the men got the same wages for lighter tasks like fostering of plants! Therefore,
         an increase of wages to Rs.500/- per day.

    (b) better conditions, both in terms of bonus and facilities and
    (c) scaling up medical facilities.

The highlights of the agitation was that, alleging collusion between the trade unions and the management, they:-

     (a) kept the trade unions away from their agitation
     (b) kept the political parties at arm's distance.
     (c) chased away the local legislator and
     (d) insisted upon the chief minister's intervention for an amicable solution.

Accordingly, the deadlock was broken on 13 Sep, after a day long consultation in Kochi led by the chief minister, his cabinet colleagues, trade union leaders, representatives of the workers and the management of the Company. The grievance about wages - covering the entire lot of plantation workers of tea, coffee, spices, rubber etc -  was to be looked at during the Plantation Labour Committee meeting of 26 Sep.

The immediate effect was that the political parties and their trade unions were stunned at their isolation and were eager to get back into the scheme of things! Assessment meetings, self criticism and assorted huddles were organised among the trade unions to come up trumps from the ignominy of isolation!!  

The Plantation Labour Committee meeting of 26 Sep could not arrive at a consensus regarding the pegging of minimum wages at Rs.500/- as the managements expressed their inability to cater for the hike. The representatives of the women workers who weren't party to this meeting, in the meanwhile, had got another assurance from the chief minister that the problem would be settled amicably.  

Seizing the window of opportunity, the entire array of trade unions had called for striking work on 28 Sep. The women power had decided to stay off from the 'hartal' with the rider that it wouldn't enforce any decision on its members!

That the trade unions could wean away a majority of the women workers into their call for striking work brought about a quick end to the unity of the 'women power'.


Is it the end of the 'women power'(Pembilai Orumai) or was it a misstep? Only time will tell!


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