BANGALORE: The beedi industry may soon lose its sheen if the disparity in the minimum wages of workers in Karnataka with the rest of the country is not addressed.
A number of state beedi manufactures moved out due to availability of cheap labour in other states. The power of fixing minimum wage rates lies with state governments.
The minimum wage for beedi workers for Karnataka is `120 and. However, it is lesser than `75 in West Bengal and Orissa.
For decades, the beedi industry was prominent in Dakshina Kannada district with the presence of units like Ganesh beedi, Bharath beedi, Prakash beedi, Sadhu beedi and PVS beedi. According to Dharwad District Beedi Workers Association (DDBWA), the industry employed around seven lakh people in the state and 90 per cent of them were women.
“It is convenient for the state manufacturers to move to other states where labour is cheap. Most of the raw material required for beedi is from north India. So it is easy to set up shops there as it saves both input and labour costs,” said managing director of Sadhu Beedi Works Vinod P P.
The Karnataka-based companies spent huge amount on transportation. “The industry will have a challenging time in the south unless there is uniformity in terms of wages across the country. The industry also faces the challenge of skilled manpower. It is not easy to roll 1,000 beedis per day,” Vinod added. He explained there were more skilled workers in north as compared to south India. In Kerala the beedi industry collapsed when the minimum wages were increased to `130 per day.
“Karnakata will face the same situation like Kerala if the wage disparities continue,” said Yogish Shenoy, a senior official at South Canara Home Beedi factory in Mangalore. The beedi industry made several requests to state government and labour department but nothing was done. “After several failed attempts, we submitted a memorandum to Union Labour Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge last month. The government has to act on the minimum wages and contract labour practice before we all lose jobs,” General Secretary of DDBWA Devanand Jagapura said.