Issues – Minimum Wage
Agragamee has adopted an issue based approach to tribal development, attempting interventions to address problems and needs as identified by the tribal community. This has necessarily called for an in-depth dialogue with the community, challenging it to look at its own situation in a critical, analytical manner, identifying inner strengths and seeking alternatives, rather than accepting the status quo. It has also provided a learning experience for Agragamee, helping it to develop sensitivity towards the different facets of tribal life.
When a community has nothing left, they have to sell their labour. The tribal people have been dispossessed, and rendered landless by historical processes that did not stop with the attainment of independence. With majority of the people in the tribal regions depending on wage labour, this has become a buyers’ market, and this last resource of the tribal people is also used to further exploit them.
When Agragamee took up tribal development, it found that people were not getting Rs.1 a day as daily wages. There were several cases, where contractors had employed people in Government works, and not bothered to pay them at all. The understanding of minimum wages did not even exist. Dialoguing with the people on the issue, and organizing camps and meetings, where the issue could be discussed, Agragamee encouraged villages to analyse and debate on the situation, to understand the complex linkages between wage labour, and the continuing poverty of tribal communities. Agragamee also took up a participatory study with women wage labourers, in which the forms of exploitation through wage labour was studied and analysed in depth. This proved to be the entry point for a critical understanding of the poverty situation within the community. It resulted in a demand for the payment of the appropriate wages, and a region wide movement, that ensured that contractors could not get away by getting labour from other areas and villages to subvert the process.
In village after village, people refused to work unless the contractors ensured payment of minimum wages. There were several struggles and tensions, people learnt about labour laws, and learned to use labour courts to their advantage, the State Government also came to the help of the tribal communities, and things gradually began to change, as contractors were forced to pay the minimum wages. For the first time, in the tribal districts of Southern Orissa, the establishment, and the power elite were made to realise that tribal people could also raise their voice., and slowly, the vested interests were forced to bow to the legitimate demands of the tribal people.