note demonetisation

The cashless wage ordinance has brought more distress than relief for industrial workers

Factory workers in Delhi complain of an inordinate delay in receiving their wages, and no payment for overtime.

In the immediate aftermath of the demonetisation announcement, several factories in Delhi’s industrial areas continued to pay their workers in old high-value denominations that had been outlawed. The push by the government in subsequent weeks to ensure that factories go cashless – it passed an ordinance in December that permitted factories to pay workers via cheque or electronic funds transfer – meant that employers then paid workers via cheque or bank transfer. But this brought a set of new problems for industrial workers who are already dealing with a shortfall in available work because of a demonetisation-induced slowdown.

Employers are not only delaying handing out cheques, they are directing workers to delay depositing them. But most importantly, trade union members allege that employers are now cheating their workers of their dues for putting in overtime. Helpless in an employers’ market, the workers have no option but to acquiesce.

Delayed wages

Ramakant Yadav, 45, works in the engineering department of a factory that produces spare parts for power transmission equipment at Mayapuri industrial area in West Delhi. He received a cheque for his work in December on January 25.

Under the provisions of the Payment of Wages Act, which provides employers with a seven-day grace period to pay their workers wages for the previous month, workers are supposed to receive their pay by the seventh of each month.

“I received my cheque 18 days late,” said Yadav. “It came with a condition – the management has asked us not to drop it in the bank before the coming Monday without taking permission. Life becomes tough due to such a delay in receiving our wages. We need cash for at least essentials like bread and milk. But what can we do? There are hardly any jobs in industrial areas these days.”

After industrial workers across the country complained that their employers were still paying them in old currency following demonetisation, on December 21, the government passed an ordinance to amend the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, to allow employers in certain industries to pay their workers via cheque or electronic transfers.

Several trade unions across the country criticised the ordinance. They said that it took away workers’ right to receive wages through means other than cash only after consenting to it in writing.

Unpaid overtime

Trade union officials said that the ordinance has not eased the troubles of workers.

“Following the ordinance, nearly 90% industrial units in Delhi are paying employees through cheque but this has brought a new set of problems,” said Chhotelal Tiwari, general secretary, South West Delhi, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which had vehemently criticised the ordinance. “There is an inordinate delay in payment of salary through cheques. Many units are yet to issue cheques and this is giving workers a hard time. Some workers have also been issued with post-dated cheques, and some employers have put conditions that the workers should not deposit the cheques in banks without seeking permission from the management.”

Tiwari added that payments through cheques or electronic mode meant that employers had to pay their workers the legal minimum wage, which is higher than what workers were drawing earlier. As a result of this, employers were forcing their staff to put in overtime, and not paying them for it. According to the law, the pay for overtime is double the hourly rate.

“Employers now have to pay the minimum wages as the payment is made through cheque,” said Tiwari. “So the employers exploit them by making them work for 12 hours instead of eight and do not show the four overtime hours on record.”

Ramakant Yadav and the other workers in his factory – those who remain after mass termination of factory workers in the weeks following the demonetisation announcement – said that they had not been paid for overtime during the last three months. The story repeats itself in factories across Mayapuri industrial area.

“There has been no overtime payment since the management has started paying through cheque,” said Abdul Kareem Sheikh, a native of West Bengal’s Burdman district who works at a garment factory in Mayapuri.

But he said that he had a bigger problem.

“I am among the very few ones who are still receiving my salary through cash and we have been asked to open bank accounts at the earliest,” said Sheikh. “But I am unable to do so as I do not have any address proof pertaining to Delhi. I live in a rented room and my landlord has refused to provide anything in writing.”

Take it, or leave it

The drop in employment opportunities following demonetisation means that factory workers are not in a good position to negotiate with factory managements either, and they have to accept whatever they are paid, said Rajesh Kumar, general secretary, Delhi, of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions

In the past two months, workers have seen factories shutting down, closing certain departments or reducing their operational capacity, thus leading to mass sacking of workers, said Kumar. He added that around 75% of those sacked are yet to find work again as the factories haven’t yet recovered from the blow of demonetisation.

“Presently, there is no voice to protest,” he said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

Play

The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

Play

Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.