CHENNAI: We might have started the 17th year of the 21st Century, but women in the workplace still suffer from a plethora of hardships. A State-level consultation meet held in Chennai on Tuesday saw several women come forward to explain the difficulties they faced in their workplaces.
Kanaga, a native of Pudukottai, has been a worker in the cashew industry for the past 13 years — a job which sees workers begin work at 2 am and toil till 6.30 pm. “Many women were sexually harassed and some were raped, but women don’t raise questions, thinking that their life will be ruined. One mute person was raped, but as she couldn’t speak and was scared of authority, she remained quiet,” she says.
Another problem is the stomping. They have to stomp on cashews for production throughout the day. “My knee is affected because of this and doctors advised me to take rest or remove my leg. When we raised this issue, people from the management arranged to have us beaten,” she recalled.
Vijaya, a native of Karur, works at a textile and garment factory. “Our wages range from Rs 120-170 per day, but the contractors actually have to pay us Rs 250. We have one bathroom and we don’t have any place to eat. Most of us have to eat food near the toilet but the management takes no notice,” she says. “We don’t have any proof that we work in that company.”
Sathyapriya, a 17-year-old native of Dharmapuri, worked for two years in a similar industry. The company had promised they would help her to continue studying and also give her a salary. She was taken to Tirupur without a mobile phone.
With tears in her eyes, she says, “We were not allowed to study and had to work for more than eight hours. When we suffered from fever and cough, we were a given a tablet and still made to work for hours. As I was not allowed to call anyone and had to approach the management for contacting my family, I borrowed my neighbour’s phone and informed my family. They came with the police and helped me get out of that place.”
When she was tested in Dharmapuri government hospital, she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. “It’s because of working in the garment section that I got TB. But I have to go back there to work. My father died early, and I started working at 15,” she avers.
Other accounts are as horrifying. Janaki, a native of Salem says, “While working in a silver anklet production company, we had to work for hours without moving from the place. Due to the irregular urine passage, my uterus was removed. I have been working in the industry ever since I was a kid but the management paid me only Rs 100 a day.”
Experts from the NGOs who organised the meet — THOZHI, DEEPS and KFB, say its a commom situation. Shankar, Project Facilitator, DEEPS says, “These workers get low wages, face sexual harassment, suffer long working hours and transport issues while going to work. We consult them to approach their management and fight for their rights.”
S Kalaivani, Joint Commisioner of Labour, said that there are many laws in the country that women do not take advantage of. “For health problems, women can register for health insurance and use smart card techniques to protect themselves. Women can reach out to the management to register themselves,” she says.