Collective voice for wage security

photo: Photo: © Buddhi Acharya

by Buddhi Acharya, International Program Officer at LO/FTF Council (Denmark)

Ms Hansa Sahu (Teli), 40 years, doesn’t fix the price of salt prior to the production now. Earlier, she used to borrow money from salt traders before the season started and used to fix the price at that time.

Such a system gave her no money left in her hand at the end of the production, and sometimes she even couldn’t pay back the borrowed money.

Times have changed. Now, Hansa is a member of a cooperative initiated by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Through that cooperative, salt production workers consult among themselves, even with producers far away, with the help of mobile phones to agree on the price of salt that they produce every year.

A collective decision of the salt producers gives no chance to the traders or middlemen to pick the lowest price. Moreover, Hansa’s cooperative has launched a revolving fund which lends investment money to families, providing space for a strong bargaining power in relation to traders and middlemen.

It took almost 15 years for SEWA to bring conditions to this level. Ms. Heena , an organiser of salt production workers from SEWA, says: “Reduction of the production cost is necessary to secure the minimum wage of the workers. So, we encourage workers to produce industrial salt which can be sold at a price three times higher than the normal eatable salt. In addition, we are introducing a solar system to pump water from the wells that could reduce the cost of diesel by 60% which ultimately helps workers to get better earnings.”

Salt production workers migrate from their villages to the desert along with their families to produce salt every year in Gujrat, India. The season starts from September and lasts until May (the period varies based on the monsoon) and they stay the entire season in temporary makeshift houses made out of mud and bamboo.

The profession has been run by a special group of people and has been transferred from generation to generation. There are about 30000 families of traditional salt producers, and out of them 19000 families are members of SEWA.