Rajeshwar says Friday is the only when he does not feel like a slave. Rajeshwar, a labourer at Ashapura Minechem’s bauxite mine in Sakhari Velas village at Ratnagiri, has to toil the entire ‘season’, which lasts at least eight months, before he gets paid. Fridays is when he gets his weekly allowance.
To ensure that none of the labourers escape mid-season, the company pays them their wages at the end of the mining season, just before the rains. The weekly allowance takes care of essentials. “I get Rs 300 to 500 every week, for my family of four,” Rajeshwar said. “At the end of the season, these weekly allowances are deducted from our wages and we are paid the balance.”
A Nagpur-based mining expert, who accompanied the Hindustan Times to the site, said struck by the hard work they are made to put in at mines, labourers initially try and change jobs.
“To prevent such an exodus, mining companies often pay them only small weekly allowances to keep them going, preferring to pay their wages only at the end of the eight-month season. Many employees don’t return after the season break,” the expert says, choosing to remain anonymous because he is also a consultant to mining firms.
The company’s system of calculating daily wages has caused discontent among the labourers, mostly teenaged boys who uniformly claim they are 18. “For every tonne of ore we produce, I get paid Rs40, which is divided among the number of people, who have worked to produce it,” says Sharmila, 30, who has been working at the mine for nearly a year.
Sharmila usually works with three others, which means each of them earns Rs10 for every tonne of ore they produce.
These labourers live with their families in a cluster of shanties dangerously close to the mining site. The director of mines safety, Goa region, in his report had pointed out that the labourers’ hutments existed within 50metres of the working pit, where the earth is blasted using explosives.
Sharmila’s two-and-a-half-year-old son, Raju plays outside his blue shanty, while his parents are away at work. Lying nearby are gelatine sticks used for blasting. “We can’t keep taking care of him, because we work from 6am to 6pm,” Sukhdev says, aware of the dangers. (Names of labourers and their families have been changed because they did not want to speak against the company on record)