Agri Business

Seasonal workers in Maharashtra on strike seeking higher wages from sugar mills

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on October 07, 2020

Ahead of harvesting season, labourers and their contractors remain unbudged from their demands

The sugarcane harvesting season in Maharashtra is set to commence in a week. Heavy monsoon has led to a bumper crop with almost 33 per cent increase in the planted area over the last year. However, about 15 lakh seasonal workforce is on a strike seeking higher wages.

According to the figures shared by the Maharashtra Sugar Commissioner office last year, a total of 8.22 lakh hectares of sugarcane were harvested. The planted area this year has increased by 33 per cent to 11 lakh hectares.

For decades, sugarcane and sugar mills have operated in western Maharashtra but seasonal workers migrate nearly 400-500 km from under-developed districts such as Beed in Central Maharashtra to work here.

Keshav Andhale, ex-MLA and Convener of Gopinath Munde Sugarcane Workers, Transporters and Contractors Organisation, said on Wednesday that workers and their contractors have gone on strike seeking higher wages from the sugar mills in Maharashtra. The rate of sugar harvesting machine per tonnes works out to ₹350-400. The workers want the same rate, but the rate being offered is ₹239 per tonne, he said.

The labour contractors also demand an increase in the commission paid to them. Out of every ₹100 earned by a labourer, the contractor gets ₹18.5 per cent as commission. The contractors now want an additional 10 per cent hike in the commission. Although the work is seasonal, the contractors have to provide advance money to the workers; therefore, they are keen to get a higher commission, Andhale said.

He added that the talks of sugarcane workers’ unions under the leadership of senior BJP leader Pankaja Munde with Maharashtra government and Maharashtra State Co-Operative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd continues, but the matter of higher wages is still inconclusive.

Pasha Patel, Former chairman of Maharashtra Agriculture Price Commission and farmer leader, said that wages and commissions of the workers and contractors could still be negotiated with sugar factories, but Covid-19, there is fear of life among the workers. Plus, this year, due to good monsoon, opportunities for farm labour employment in their district are also high.

Despite a large area under sugarcane in the State, the mills have not purchased harvesters in large numbers due to capital investment and maintenance challenges.

Difficult crop to harvest

GD Agarwal, Chairman of Shrijee Group, said that unlike wheat or rice, sugarcane is a different crop altogether, and even with a machine it is tough to harvest. The machines continuously breakdown and require regular maintenance.

He said that Shrijee Group offers turn-key equipment solutions to the sugar mills and had also imported the harvesting machines from Thailand and was selling it in the Indian market. However, there was less customer satisfaction due to frequent breakdowns. The company decided to close that business.

The Chairman of Maharashtra State Co-operative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd, which represents cooperative sugar mills in Maharashtra, was not available for comments.

Published on October 08, 2020

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