ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maharashtra's Mathadi Workers

Mathadi workers in Maharashtra are covered by the Mathadi Hamal and Other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, 1969. The boards constituted under it have helped immensely in their struggle to regulate employment terms, welfare facilities and health and safety measures for unprotected manual workers. While this model is considered ideal for replication for other workers in the unorganised sector, there are moves afoot by a number of industries to demand exemption from the Act.

I am grateful to Gulabrao Jagtap, executive president of the Maharashtra Rajya Mathadi Transport and General Kamgar Union and chairman of the Annasaheb Patil Mathadi Workers Credit Cooperative Society, Mumbai, the administration of the Mathadi Hospital at Kopar Khairane in Navi Mumbai and the mathadi workers (especially Badshah) for sharing their experiences and information with me.

According to Section 2(9) of the Maharashtra Mathadi Hamal and Other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, 1969 (henceforth, the Mathadi Act), mathadi work is broadly defined as employment in loading, unloading, staking, weighing, measuring, filing, stitching, sorting, cleaning, and employment in the box making, timbre markets, salt pans and the fishing industries. These workers carry loads or materials physically either on their heads (matha) or on their backs to stack them at specified places. Their skill lies in carrying the loads without mishaps or damage and stacking them in a way that does not waste precious space. There are 34 boards in the state formed under the Act covering approximately two lakh mathadi workers. However, the actual number is much higher since large numbers of workers are not covered by any union or board.

Most of the workers are migrants from the drought-prone areas of Maharashtra and their lack of education and skill meant that this kind of work was familiar territory given the agricultural work they had been doing in the villages.

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