February 25th, 2003
Gas-affected women workers attack MP government’s ‘inhumane discrimination’
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
The labour court’s verdict, which resulted from legal action spread over 12 years moving through two courts and one tribunal[i], had directed the State government to pay the 73 gas-affected women working at the Stationary Production Centre on a par with other government workers of similar skills and experience. The judgment applied retrospectively, appointing the women survivors employed at the center to the permanent posts of Junior Binder with effect from April 29, 1998, and included the payment of arrears due them. Today’s hearing at the labour court will decide if the MP government’s appeal of the verdict will move the case back to the State High Court, where it sat between 1997-99.
The women stationary workers were originally trained under the MP government’s scheme for the economic rehabilitation of gas survivors[ii]. Ironically, though most of them suffer serious long-term medical effects from the poison gases released by Union Carbide's pesticide factory in 1984, the women are denied medical leave, and have no benefits such as maternity leave or earned leave. Even after 16 years productivity, the women continue to be treated as unskilled temporary workers, earning less than Rs. 2000 per month, while regular workers in Government Printing Presses doing similar work get around Rs. 5000 per month.
If successful, the government’s appeal is likely to delay the labour rights case for several years. “The MP government projects itself as a progressive state keen on protecting the interests of women and minorities”, said Champa Devi, secretary of the trade union, “but it is actively trying to prevent impoverished, gas-affected women from receiving a livable wage. As some of us are the sole breadwinners in families devastated by illness,” she added, “the government’s callous actions are an issue of human rights as well as worker rights. We’ll not let up our fight until we see justice done for our members and their right to a dignified, disease free life restored.”
Mrs. Rashida Bi, President
[i] On 27th November1990, the women's trade union initiated legal action against their employer, the Government Press and other agencies of the state government in the Administrative Tribunal, Jabalpur. Seven years later, in September 1997, the Adminsitrative Tribunal directed them to the State High Court without giving a decision on the issues raised in the petition. The State High Court deliberated over the issues for two years, gave no decision, and directed the petitioners to go to the Labour Court. The recent decision in the Bhopal Labour Court is in response to a petition filed on March 13, 2000.
[ii] Though the government has shut down all other similar rehabilitation initiatives, the Stationary Production Centre has survived till date due to the remarkable efforts of the women’s independent trade union. Aside from the legal action leading to the labour court’s verdict, the women stationary workers have undertaken innumerable protests against the MP government’s intransigence concerning their appeals for regularization and equality, including an epic padayatra in 1989 when 100 women and children walked 700 kilometres to Delhi in order to get their case heard. The Padayatra began on 1st June 1989, and lasted 33 days: http://www.bhopal.net/longwalktodelhi.html
They have also played a central role in the national
and international campaign for justice in Bhopal: Earlier this year they
pressured the Central Government to drop plans of distributing the balance
of compensation funds among residents of unaffected municipal wards and
to resume efforts to extradite Warren Anderson, former Chairman of Union
Carbide. They have handed over brooms to officials of Dow Chemicals in
five different countries, and also samples of contaminated soil and water
to Dow India.
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