Historic Strike of Brick Kiln Workers in Andhra Pradesh, India

By A Krishna and Sudhir Katiyar, Solidarity Committee for Brick Kiln Laborers in Andhra Pradesh

Indian brick kiln workers - photo by Prayas Centre for Labor Research and ActionEvery year thousands of workers from West Odisha migrate to work in inta bhattis of Ranga Reddy district. There are nearly 5000 workers form Odisha working in 100 inta bhattis in villages around Dundigal of Kutbullapur mandal. The workers are recruited against a nominal advance. They are paid only 180-200 Rupees (US$3.55 - $3.95) per 1000 bricks. The statutory minimum wage in AP for brick making is 340 - 367 Rupees (US$6.71 - $7.24) per 1000 bricks depending upon quality of brick. Thus they are paid less than half the minimum wages.

This year the workers demanded that they be paid minimum wages. A memorandum was submitted to the Labor Commissioner office on 5th March demanding payment of minimum wages. A meeting was held on 18th March where it was decided to stop work to put pressure on owners to pay minimum wages. The workers have stopped working on 19th March demanding payment of minimum wages. They want to go back to their villages if they are not paid minimum wages. After this the owners have let loose a reign of terror. The Union people doing organising were called to police station where a mob of owners demandd that they be arrested. Police questioned the union organizers and advised them not to go back to the village Dundigal as they could not guarantee the security. The owners ganged up and did not let the union vehice enter the village.

Also, on 20th March the strike continued.A huge gathering of brick kiln workers took place near village Dundigal. However the Union activists could not address the gathering owing to the mob of owners that surrounded the meeting. The police also tried to disperse the workers and even threatened lathi charge. Three Union workers got holed up in village Dundigal and could be rescued with police help only late in the evening after much pressure was brought upon the police.

The owners are threatening workers with violence. In Maladri inta bhatti, the workers Sukru and his wife were badly beaten up and forced to resume work on 19th March. Workers have also been beaten up in Ekteshwar and Narsimha bhattis. The owners are even going to the extent of cutting off electricity and drinking water supply.

The concerned citizens of Hyderabad have formed a Solidarity Committee to support workers struggle. The Committee met the District Collector and the District Commissioner of Labor asking for their intervention. A meeting is now scheduled on 21st March between the Labor Department and the owners to impress upon the owners that they have to pay minimum wages. However the Labor Commissioner is already beginning to obfuscate the issue by saying that he has to interpret minimum wages. The District Collector has ordered the Deputy Collector to make rounds of bhattis and ensure that minimum wages are paid and violence is stopped.



re: Historic Strike of Brick Kiln Workers in Andhra Pradesh, Ind

Update on the Ranga Reddy Strike, from Sudhir Katiyar of the Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action:

A tripartite meeting was held in the conference hall of Labor Commissioner office of Ranga Reddy on 21st March to discuss implementation of minimum wages in brick kilns. The meeting was attended by the District Labor Officials, a large number of brick kiln owners, and a delegation from the Solidarity Committee and Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action team. The owners were present in full strength. Even though the strike impacted only a small area in Qutbullapur mandal, the state level association turned out in strength. The three sides presented their respective positions. Owners agreed to pay the minimum wage but they interpreted the minimum wage cleverly. They said that while the minimum wage is defined for both mixing the clay and molding the clay into bricks, the mixing is being done mechanically by tractor. The District Labour Commissioner contented himself by reading aloud the Act. The meeting was clearly a letdown for pro labor activists.

The meeting was followed by a meeting of the Solidarity Committee where various next level options were considered. Prayas team presented its case that the next option lies in getting workers released from the kilns under the Bonded Labor Act. The workers have gone on a strike for the first time. Even during the preparatory phase, this was anticipated that owners may not agree to raise wages. So the next course was decided as refusing to work and leaving for home under the Bonded Labor Act. The workers are ready for this and in fact look forward to this. The implications of going for mass release of workers were considered by the Committee members. The owners in Hyderabad form a very powerful political lobby. So it was decided that the Solidarity Committee will also be strengthened by bringing in more influential members from civil society. The Solidarity Committee opined that it would be best to give some time to the Committee set up by the District Collector to investigate the conditions and ensure wage settlements in accordance with minimum wages. It was decided that members of the Solidarity Committee will accompany the official team and observe at hand the procedure adopted and results obtained. If it is felt after a week that this is not working out, then the option of getting workers released under Bonded Labor Act will be adopted.