A group of workers who went on strike in a brick kiln in Kheda district were reportedly warned that the owners would “kill them and rape their women” for refusing to work and complaining about wages to the authorities.
About 40 of them, all from Rajasthan, fled the brick kiln last week.
In complaints filed at Matar police station on March 30 and the district’s Assistant Government Labour Officer on April 3, the workers said the wages they were promised in writing at B K Brick Kiln were not honoured. The owners reportedly refused to pay Rs 70,000 to them, the complaints said.
When the workers went on strike, residents from a nearby village told them of the dire consequences, prompting them to flee. They are now working in brick kilns in Banaskantha.
One of the workers, Lakshman Pukhram, said, “We refused to work as the owner did not clear the wages he promised five days after Holi. Since we did not have money, we could not go to our village in Rajasthan. Some people from a village scared us by saying that because we were refusing to work and complaining to police and government, our women would be raped and we would be killed by the owners.”
Pukhram and 12 panthis (man-woman duo) are working in a brick kiln near Chaira village in Sabarkantha, trying to earn enough money to make it back to their village in Rajasthan.
“We will have to work for one and a half months more to recover what we lost. Some of us have gone to other brick kilns,” he said
The owners of B K Brick Kiln blamed a contractor, who is missing. Dinesh Prajapati, the manager of the brick kiln, said the contractor, who brought the labourers, took all the money. “Our owners are not at fault. It is the contractor who took the money,” Prajapati said.
The workers, however, rejected this explanation. The police complaint was against Bachu Odh and his son Mahesh, the kiln owners.
According to the complaints, the labourers came to work in the kiln on November 11, 2010. They signed an agreement with the kiln owner for a wage rate of Rs 410. The agreement also specified that the workers would stay till 10 days after Holi.
When the workers wanted to leave after Holi, the owner said he would settle wages at Rs 375 per 1,000 bricks – a loss of Rs 70,000 for the workers.
Two days after the complaint was filed, a labour officer went to investigate (the previous day was a government holiday) and found the workers had already fled. He found the owners had kept no records of the labourers, and slapped notices against them.
G N Dalwadi, assistant government labour officer for Kheda, said the owners had earlier been accused and were found guilty of the same misdemeanour.
A senior official from the Rural Labour Commissionerate in Gandhinagar said the district officer would not be able to take action or complete the investigation unless the workers testify, either in person or in writing.