Mumbai: A two-member arbitration panel of Maharashtra Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde and and the NCP leader Jayant Patil today capped the wages of sugarcane workers at Rs 270 per tonne for a period of five years, while approving a hike of 20 per cent this year.
NCP leader and leader of opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde criticised their decision, which he said was tantamount to extortion of workers.
Maharashtra Cooperative Sugar Mill Federation had appointed the panel to resolve the dispute over wages between the sugarcane workers and the sugar mill owners.
Pankaja Munde represented the government while the former NCP minister Jayant Patil and former Congress Minister Harshvardhan Patil (who was consulted) represented the sugar mills. Nobody, however, represented the sugarcane workers.
NCP chief and former Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had met a delegation of workers here on October 18 and asked Dhananjay Munde to help find a solution to their issues.
But Munde alleged that the arbitrators did not call him.
Harshvardhan Patil said the panel approved 20 per cent increase in the wages of labourers, and 18.5 increase in that of supervisors (`mukadam’). The decision would put additional financial burden of Rs 600 crore on mill owners, he said.
The workers’ wages will this year will be Rs 228/tonne.
Pankaja Munde said she had met Sharad Pawar over the issue and had his “blessing”. “I met Pawar and asked for his guidance. After getting his blessings, I took the decision to sort out the pending issues of sugarcane workers,” she said.
But Dhananjay Munde — her estranged cousin — was scathing in his criticism. “If the government was serious about solving the problem, it could have increased the wages by more than 40 per cent. This is extortion of workers,” he said.