Delhi's almond workers on strike demanding hike in wages

NewsDrum Desk
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New Delhi, Mar 13 (PTI) Workers who extract, clean and pack the famed 'California Almonds' coming from the US in northeast Delhi's Karawal Nagar have been on strike for the last 13 days demanding a raise in their wages which they claim were last hiked 12 years ago.


Yogesh Swamy, convenor of the Karawal Nagar Mazdoor Union (KNMU), said around 500 families are engaged in the informal sector and most of them are from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Around 90 per cent of the workers are women, he said.

"The last time rates for cleaning and extracting almonds were increased was 12 years ago. Labourers get just Rs 2 for cleaning almond kernels and we are demanding that it be increased to Rs 12 due to inflation," Swamy said.

According to the KNMU, small contractors who own warehouses in Karawal Nagar and nearby localities like Prakash Vihar, Bhagat Singh Colony and New Sabhapur have been running the city's unorganised almond sector for the last three decades.


These warehouses are like small factories employing 40 to 60 labourers each, it said.

The traders of Khari Baoli order the almonds from the US and Australia which are then given to contractors in Karawal Nagar who employ thousands of labourers to get them cleaned and extracted, Swamy said.

Indu Singh, who works in one of the warehouses in Karawal Nagar, said the low wage is the main concern for everyone.


"I have been working here since 2001. Initially, we used to get Rs 30 to Rs 60 for cleaning one sack. In 2012, the price was changed to Rs 2 for one kg of almond. We want that this should be increased to Rs 12," she said.

Anita Devi, who has been working in one of the warehouses since 2009, said the warehouse owners had promised to increase their wages by Rs 1 every year, but it never happened.

Some of the workers also rued the erratic shift timings which was affecting their personal lives.


"The owner calls us any time even at 4 am. Moreover, we work till 11 pm every day. We do not get any time for ourselves or our families," Ranju Singh, who hails from Bihar, said.

Singh said he lives in a rented accommodation and pays around Rs 2,500 per month as rent.

"Earlier, the rent was around Rs 1,000, however, it has now increased to around Rs 2,500. Apart from this, we also pay electricity and water bills," he said.


Singh's views were corroborated by Sujit Kumar who said almonds usually arrive late at night following which the workers are called to the warehouses.

"We are not allowed to leave the place until our work is done. We work for hours without eating or drinking. There is a lot of risk in doing this as chemicals are also used in this work," Kumar said.

Swamy said the strike started on March 1 and women workers in large numbers are participating in it. On Wednesday, there were around 150 women present at the protest site, he said.


The protest begins at around 9 am every day. We also take out a march every morning and pass by all the warehouses in the area, Swamy said.

"We are planning to start a community kitchen here so that the women can cook and stay here all day during the strike. They will get lunch and dinner here.

"We have also organised a painting workshop for the kids of the labourers with the help of volunteers," Swamy said.

Another worker, Munka Devi, said it was getting tough to feed her children as she has not been paid her salary since Diwali last year.

"My employer has not given us a salary since Diwali. We are going through a tough time and it is becoming very difficult to feed our kids. My son studies in class VIII and he has not gone for tuition classes for the last three months as we have not paid the fees," Munka said.

According to Swamy, the KNMU is also demanding eight-hour shifts for the workers and a minimum salary of at least Rs 25,000 per month.

"They should receive their salary in the first week of every month," Swamy said. PTI NIT RHL