Need for programme
Beedi rolling is one of the major informal sector activities in India, which employs a large number of women. The Government of India estimates that there are about 4.4 million workers in this industry. Of these, the majority are home-based women workers who live under the poverty line. There thus is a need to improve the living and working conditions, as well as to promote decent employment and income opportunities for women beedi rollers. This programme has been undertaken by the ILO Area Office for India, together with the Gender Promotion Programme in ILO Geneva, to promote decent work opportunities for women workers in the beedi industry. Three areas - Mangalore (Karnataka), Vellore (Tamil Nadu) and Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) have been selected, in consultation with the Labor Ministry, for implementation of pilot demonstration programmes.
To assist the social partners in their efforts to improve the conditions of work of the home-based women beedi workers, and to promote alternatives for these women who are facing declining work opportunities. The programme is faced with major challenges:
- The beedi sub-contractors often exploit the women who work for them, taking advantage of their illiteracy and lack of awareness of their rights. Labour laws are difficult to implement in these situations;
- Many beedi women workers are denied identity cards by their employers. This has led to the denial of benefits (by the Beedi Workers Welfare Fund) to a large number of home-based beedi women workers;
- Arbitrary rejection of finished beedis on the grounds of quality leads to the shortchanging of the home-based women workers;
- Poor quality and inadequate quantities of raw material by the contractors adversely affect workers' earnings;
- The health and welfare of the beedi workers as well as their families is adversely affected by the inhalation of tobacco dust;
- Minimum wage revisions are often delayed, and significant differences exist in minimum wage rates across states, which results in shifting of the industry to the low wage areas. This shifting of beedi production leaves many women jobless, without alternative employment;
- Lack of education and training programmes result in beedi women workers being ignorant of their options;
- Lack of credit facilities for beedi workers to take up self-employment ventures; and
- Levying of cess on all beedi manufacturers irrespective of the number of beedis produced.
There is thus a need to change the excise duty structure as well as amend the law for cooperatives so that beedi workers can form multi-purpose cooperatives, as well as have more control over the functioning and management of their cooperatives.
- Encouraging social dialogue and cooperation between employers, beedi workers organizations and the government;
- Promoting the concept of work sheds for home-based workers;
- Assisting the process whereby home-based beedi women workers can have access to the Beedi Workers Welfare Fund for social security and health benefits;
- Helping the formation of self-help groups of beedi workers for collective income generation activities.
- Providing education and training for capacity building of SHGs of beedi women;
- Improving the working conditions of the beedi workers; and
- Finding ways to promote and supplement alternative employment opportunities for women beedi workers.
The demonstration projects can be replicated in other beedi-rolling areas of India to:
- Improve overall working conditions in the industry; and
- Decent alternative employment opportunities for women beedi workers in the face of declining work.
The programme is being implemented in cooperation with beedi workers' organizations such as trade unions, community groups and NGOs, and involves the Labour Department and the Beedi Workers Welfare Fund authorities.