The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action, in Ahmedabad, which along with its sister organisation, Majoor Adhikar Manch, works for the rights of workers in Gujarat, conducted a survey of workers in the industrial areas in Kadi and Kalol talukas near Ahmedabad. The results of the survey reveal that -
i. The firms in which the respondents of the survey work are mostly doing fairly well as far as growth in income, profit after tax and balance sheet is concerned but they are not giving the benefit of this growth to their workers in the form of fair wages and other facilities.
ii. Most of the workers are not being paid minimum wages, given statutory benefits.
iii. Most of the workers are employed on contract either by the company itself or by contractors without any formal agreement.
iv. Union formation is actively discouraged by the employers and the administration and police side with the management in cases of strikes. So, there is considerable fear among the respondents that their jobs will be taken away if they organise. This is despite the fact that they are aware that they are being exploited by being given almost half the wages as compared to what they need to lead a dignified life.
v. Women are mostly in packaging jobs and are paid less than men. They do not get maternity leave and other statutory gender benefits.
Thus, Arvind Mills, which is an internationally renowned large textile company with its plant in Santej in the Kalol industrial area in Gujarat near Ahmedabad with annual income in 2019 of Rs 6645 crores and a profit after tax of Rs 199 crores, officially reported that it has 7486 employees but in reality it employs more than 15000. A substantial number of those on the official rolls are mostly managerial and accounts staff who are crucial to the running of the factory and the company. The workers on the shop floor are on its unofficial rolls without any official agreement even though they have worked for more than a decade and so are not officially declared as its employees. There was a strike in 2015 at the Santej factory against the heavy work load for the employees and the low wages they were being paid in violation of the statutory minimum wage norms. The strike was resolved with an agreement to reduce the workload and increase wages. However, once work started again, the workers who led the strike were dismissed and the agreement dishonoured. These workers are fighting cases against their dismissal in the labour court while the workers who are still employed are labouring as before under adverse working conditions and being paid low wages. This is the case with many other big companies like Hitachi, Torrent, Adani etc which have their plants in this area. This is the situation throughout the country.
This invisibility increases even more with the migrant labourers. They are kept in colonies within the factory premises and they are not allowed to mingle with the local population. Thus, the CLRA and MAM activists found it near impossible to talk to these workers. The migrant labourers have been brought in, not because there is a shortage of local labourers, but because they are prepared to work for lower wages and are unlikely to unionise given their lack of local roots. Thus, the huge migrant labour work force which according to some estimates is around 100 million across India is strategically used by the employers to keep wages depressed. A right to information application filed with the government labour department for data on the workers employed in the area drew a blank response as the department said that they do not have any records since the industrial establishments were not filing the reports that they are mandated to do under various laws. Even though the laws empower the government to regulate the employers so as to ensure that the rights of workers are not compromised yet such is the power of the employers that the labour department does not carry out its responsibilities.
This is what Marx had described as primitive accumulation. The blatant exploitation of labour in the early phase of capitalist development when not much skills were required to run the machines and there were a huge number of serfs being displaced from agriculture. While later the advance in technology required skilled labour and they were able to unionise to get many labour rights, further advancement in technology has meant that the number of skilled workers required has gone down drastically and the workers required for other ancillary activities can be employed on contract. This has resulted in the bottom falling out of worker's unions and they have become powerless. So only a very few workers are in official employment in accordance with labour laws and a huge number are on contract and invisible.