The striking midday meal workers of the Indian State of Bihar who were on strike for 39 days have won a hike in wages. this is two days after their postponed their indefinite strike keeping in mind the nearly 10 million school children who are dependent on them for nutrition. The chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, on Monday announced a monthly hike of Rs 250 (USD 3.57) for them. They are currently paid around Rs. 1,250 (USD 17.85) a month.
The midday meal scheme, which ensures meals for school children, has been a major factor in improving literary rates in the country and improving nutrition levels among children. However, the workers who cook the meals are paid meager salaries and are not recognized as government employees. Until now, the central government was paying the workers around US 14.28 and the State government was paying around USD 3.5 a month to the workers, most of whom toil for six-eight hours a day to cook fresh meals for children..
Vinod Kumar, president of Bihar Rajya Midday Meal Workers’ Union and a leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, expressed his happiness at the fact that the government was forced to announce a pay hike.
”We postponed the indefinite strike two days ago as it deprived hundreds of thousands of school children of midday meals but our strike and protest resulted in announcement of a pay hike to cooks, It is a small amount, but for us it is a victory because government had tried all means to suppress the indefinite strike and failed” Vinod told Newsclick.
Vinod said their protest would continue demanding a minimum wage and other benefits under social security schemes and labor laws. ”This pay hike for midday meal cooks is a good news for us but we will continue to protest”.
Around 248,000 midday meal workers began an indefinite strike on January 7. The angry workers, most of whom are women, said they had been fighting for their rights for a long time. Some of the demands include government employee status and a higher honorarium. Last year, too, the workers staged a protest in the State capital, Patna and other cities.
The indefinite strike began under the banner of Bihar Rajya Madhayan Bhojan Rasoiya Sanyukt Sangarsh Samiti. It is a joint struggle of different federations and associations of mid-day meal workers supported by four trade unions – Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), The All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU).
On February 8, midday meal workers from across the country organized protests in solidarity with the striking workers in Bihar.
According to government data, there are 71,000 primary and middle schools in Bihar, which are serving midday meals to over 10 million children.