April 26, 2012
by Blind Workers Union
Today, large numbers of blind workers collected outside the residence of the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Shri Mukul Wasnik. These workers have met the concerned Minister, as well as officials in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on several occasions since November 2011. However, the deep rooted concerns of blind workers lay un-addressed. Today, when the blind workers initially gheraoed the residence of the Hon’ble Minister, he did not meet them, and left his residence in haste. This response once again convinced the blind workers that the Government is least concerned about providing adequate employment to the blind, as well as protecting the basic labour rights of blind workers employed in the private sector. However, undeterred by the Minister’s initial decision not to entertain a delegation, the blind workers continued to sit outside the Minister’s residence in the scorching April heat. The militant protest finally led to some dialogue as the K.M. Acharya met with the workers’ delegation. Following a lengthy discussion between Shri Mukul Wasnik and officials in the Ministry, the Ministry finally agreed to provide alternative employment at a government-supported institute, to all the blind workers retrenched by the NGO, National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Since November of last year, the blind workers have been protesting the retrenchment of several blind workers by the NFB. This NGO retrenched the workers because they were speaking out against denial of minimum wages and other basic labour rights in the Training and Rehabilitation Centres (TRCs) run by the NGO. However, the struggle of the workers is not just against the NFB, but also against the overall exploitation of blind workers across the country by private companies and NGOs. In the interest of availing of certain benefits like tax exemption for employing persons with disability, the private sector is known to employ yet brutally exploit disabled persons. The arbitrary hiring and firing practices, unregulated working hours, etc. prevalent in the private sector, amount to a serious breach of social justice, which is why the bind workers have been approaching the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. More importantly, the workers realize that the failure of successive governments to provide adequate employment to the blind community is the main reason why blind workers are dependent on the highly exploitative private sector. Hence, their struggle is based on the fundamental right to a livelihood—a right the Government is to protect and uphold. The three specific demands that the workers sought to discuss with the Minister were:
(i) Inclusion of a special section in the long pending Bill on the Rights of Persons With Disability (2011), which would safeguard the economic rights of blind workers employed in the private sector. For example, the Bill should include provisions to the effect that bodies violating basic labour rights will be penalized to the effect that NGOs indulging in such violation will face the cancellation of their registration.
(ii) That the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment tables a concrete plan of greater job creation for blind persons in the public sector. It is only with the provision of more government jobs that the dependence of blind workers on exploitative private companies and corrupt NGOs can be overcome.
(i) That because the Ministry has failed to curb the blatant violation of labour rights by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), it should ensure that all the disabled workers employed by NFB be provided alternative employment by the Government.
As the situation stands, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has conceded the third demand of the blind workers. With respect to the first and second demand, the Ministry has asked the Blind Workers Union (BWU) to provide a concrete plan which can be subsequently discussed and implemented.
Alok Kumar, Ramnath
(On Behalf of Blind Workers Union)