To commemorate the international women’s day, women workers of AITUC conducted a public meeting and a cultural program in Chennai on 23rd March. The women workers from various occupations including Domestic Workers, Factory Workers and Service Workers came together to demand a minimum wage of Rs 10000 per month or Rs 50 per hour for domestic workers, 6 month maternity leave and benefits and contractual work arrangements in factories.
Women workers participating from Bharat Food Company, Redhills said that their salaries have not exceeded more than Rs5000 even after more than 15 years of service and overtime has become a necessity to earn a living wage. Even though PF is being deducted, they have not been given PF number and no paid holidays are being given. “Can anyone live a decent life without earning atleast Rs8000 today?” asked a woman worker. She said that young male workers also get only Rs 3000 to 5000Rs and older male workers may get around Rs 6000. They demanded a revision of minimum wage for the workers.
Ms Renuka, a bank employee and an organiser traced the origin of the International Women’s Day to the protests of Garment and textile women workers in New York who demanded reduction of work hours to 10 hours a day. “Today International Women’s day is being coopted to signal women as consumers in the capitalistic consumerism and there is a need to recapture the significance of the women’s day to its origin for better labour rights” she said. Condemning the Central budget announcement on new public sector bank for women, she said that existing public sector banks announce schemes for women but do not fulfill these obligations and what is needed is a women centric approach by all banks.
S.S Thiyagarajan, National Vice President of AITUC said that sexual harassment is alone presented as women workers’ issues thus obscuring other forms of economic exploitation of women workers. He deplored the prevailing sumangali scheme where young women workers in Garment Industry are paid less than minimum wage for the first three years and a settlement is made at the end of the 3 year contract in the name of dowry. “While a permanent worker earns Rs 500 to 600Rs for the same work, these women workers are paid only 40-50Rs per day and made to work double shifts” he said. “Recently the State Government has increased the wage under MNREGS from Rs 132 to Rs 148 which constitutes a mere 11% increase and is unacceptable. We are demanding a minimum wage of Rs 10000 per month in all forms of work” he said. He demanded that the state extend the benefits of 6 month maternity leave with wages for public sector workers to all women workers and to provide a 6 month benefit of Rs 36000 for unorganized women workers through welfare boards.
Children of women workers performed various cultural programs on the occasion including dance and music.