The salt pan workers in Marakkanam, Vedaranyam and Toothukudi held a protest on 6th and 7th of September on various demands including separate welfare board for salt pan workers. The protest organized by Unorganized Workers Federation was held in the wake of the monsoon and subsequent rains which has halted the production of salt and livelihood of these workers in these areas.
With Tamil Nadu being second in national salt production, thousands of acres of central and state government lands are being leased for salt production. However most ofthe real producers are the small salt producers who sublease the land and face the risk of monsoon, price variations to produce a livelihood for themselves. According to salt producers, the compensation provided by Government to revive salt land after tsunami went to the main lessees and the real producers who were sub lessees did not get any compensation causing salt production to reduce drastically. The landless salt workers are in worse shape with work being available only for 6months in a year. The union is demanding for monsoon compensation similar to fishworkers and to implement NREGA scheme in monsoon season to provide alternate employment for the workers.
The salt cess being collected by salt department is mandated to provide welfare schemes to workers including provision of drinking water, toilet and restroom facilities at worksite. “But the central department says that the drinking water pipes need to be laid by the local panchayat and the panchayat is unwilling to lay pipes on central government land. Between their bureacracy, the workers are the victims” said Comrade Geetha, Advisor to Unorganised Workers Federation. The union has called for the mediation of State Labour Minister to resolve this issue.
Salt lands are increasingly diverted for other projects causing loss of livelihood for the workers. Salt production has completely stopped in Ennore with the setup of thermal power plants and SEZs in salt pan lands. “In spite of salt production being a main livelihood generator in Toothukudi, salt pans are being diverted for warehouses and other industrial uses” said Comrade Krishnamoorthy, Tuticorin District Secretary of Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Union. “Recently, the salt pan lands were being diverted for port expansion and sustained struggle has stopped the scheme”, he said.
While several adhi dravidar salt pan cooperative societies have been setup after Independence for dalit salt pan workers, the societies have either stopped due to lack of credit or facing financial crunch with no credit facility being extended to them. The union has demanded revival of these societies with increased credit facility.
The other demands by the union include ESI registration for workers, implementation of basic infrastructure as per the Salt Cess Act and increase in minimum wages for salt pan workers.