TN: Co-op workers at fair price store assured DA ride on par with state government employees

After three months of struggle, workers at Tamil Nadu Fair Price Shop Co-operatives have been promised High Cost Allowance (DA) in line with recent pay reviews for state government employees. R Sakkarapani, minister of the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection, gave the assurance to the leaders of the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Society Workers’ Association on April 8. The government decree has not yet been adopted.

The minister also announced that bonus increases that were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic would resume.

From 1 January 2022, the DA was increased from 17% to 31% for Tamil Nadu government employees and retirees as recommended by the 7th Salary Review Commission. This resulted in an increase of more than 82% for the benefit of 17,000 employees.

However, 23,000 workers in the state’s Public Distribution System (PDS) cooperatives were not included in the DA hike. Although workers from other large state-owned cooperative societies, such as the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Society and Marketing Societies, received the raise.

O Panneerselvam, deputy leader of the opposition in the state and All India Coordinator Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), had also urged Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s decision to increase the DA for people working in fair price stores.

SITUATION OF WORKERS AT PDS SALES POINTS

I Periyasamy, Minister of Cooperatives, had warned co-operative department staff and vendors at PDS outlets last week of strict departmental and disciplinary action if caught engaging in unethical practices.

The State Cooperative Societies Workers Union, an affiliate of the Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), however, said some workers were forced to engage in unethical practices because the state does not guarantee facilities. adequate wages, a decent salary and sufficient human resources.

Krishnamoorthy, the union’s state secretary, said

“There are around 20,000 vendors, but only 3,000 packers work in fair price stores across Tamil Nadu. Wherever there are no packers, the work of unloading and packing is supposed to be done by the seller. How is it possible? How can the seller simultaneously invoice and package? So the seller hires a person to do the task and has to pay out of pocket for the same,” said Krishnamoorthy, union secretary.

Fairline price stores usually have a long queue of customers waiting to purchase, and even if a salesperson can do both billing and packing, it would lengthen the waiting time.

Female workers in a fair price store. Image Courtesy: Theekkathir

Krishnamoorthy further stated that “many vendors are women and people with disabilities are also encouraged to take up work. How can they be expected to lift heavy objects? Moreover, they are not hired for this task”.

In addition to this, the government does not provide for the loss of grain during loading and unloading, it is borne by the workers, he added.

SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS

The main accusation leveled against fair-price store workers is that they manipulate the weights and reduce the quantity of rice, sugar and other products. Krishnamoorhty said, “People joke that ‘a ration shop clerk’s child is born underweight’.”

In response to this accusation, the Department of Civil Food and Supplies is considering introducing a “package system”, where all goods are weighed according to set measurements and packaged in advance.

The Union of Cooperative Societies also supports the package system as it would reduce the burden on workers in fair price shops.

Recently, the civil supply service also said that store supervisors were responsible for the poor quality of rice supplied at ration points. In response, workers required that the cooperative service must ensure the quality of the rice and must not make the supervisors responsible for it.

However, workers want more holistic solutions to the problems of the PDS. They urge the state government to incorporate cooperative societies into the public sector and also form a separate department for public distribution.

Incidentally, the formation of a separate department is also part of the election promise of the ruling DMK. Point 236 of the party manifesto reads: “Ration shops which are under the control of more than one department shall be attached to a single department.”

The cooperatives union is pushing for higher wages for workers, the introduction of a package system and the formation of a separate department for the PDS to ease the burden on workers. However, it ultimately requires the corporations to be incorporated into the public sector and makes existing workers employees of the state government.

There are a total of 35,169 civilian supply stores, 9,580 are part-time workshops and 25,589 are full-time. This is in addition to mobile ration stores in the state.

Virginia S. Braud