Work at Marakkanam

Project to promote the rights and development of salt pan workers in Marakkanam, Villupuram.

Tamil Nadu is one of the few states that produce salt in India. In Tamil Nadu, salt is produced primarily in the three districts of Nagapattinam, Tuticorin and Marakkanam in Villupuram.

The salt pan workers work under extremely hazardous conditions. They work with the harsh sun beating down upon them under the open sky and have employment only for about six months in a year. Their daily wages vary between 35 rupees to 85 rupees (US$ 0.78 to 1.9). Women generally get paid lower than men. In Marakknam, most of the workers belong to the Schedule Caste communities. It is estimated that about 3000 workers exist in Marakkanam area.

While poverty, indebtedness and deprivation are common to all the salt pan workers, the women, as in many other poor communities, become greater victims of poverty. Generally, they suffer from serious gynaecological problems and. malnutrition and anaemia are also very common. They also do not have support systems to take care of their children. They hardly have access to any quality medical care. Since usually both the parents go to work in the salt pans, it is not clear as to who takes care of their children.

The Foundation launched a project in 2006 to work for the rights and development of these workers. The project has been supported by the CSR wing of the Orchid Pharmaceuticals.

The major initiatives in this project and the achievements are listed below:

Advocacy: Due to the work of the Foundation, the dismal plight of salt pan workers has become widely recognized in Tamil Nadu now. The district officials have been sensitised to the issues involved and the relevant authorities are taking necessary action to help the salt pan workers in their own capacities as well as in collaboration with the Foundation.

Livelihood: A small beginning in providing decent livelihood options has been initiated by campaigning for admission of seven young female salt pan workers from the Dalit community into the field of nursing and related training programmes. In addition, about 150 youth from the salt pan workersí families have been provided with the Pre-Industrial Employment training organised with support from the Confederation of Indian Industries, South India Office.

Registration of the salt pan workers with the Welfare Board for the Manual Workers, Government of Tamil Nadu: This is one of the most significant achievements of the Foundationís work in Marakkanam. As workers in the unorganised sector, the salt pan workers have no legal or administrative protection or benefits. However, the Government of Tamil Nadu constituted a special Board for the benefit of several thousands of such workers. The Foundation used this opportunity fully and has until mid-2007 registered about 600 workers, both men and women, with this Board. This registration entitles the workers to several monetary and social security schemes. It is a matter of great satisfaction that this registration was done in situ, thus saving the workers several trips to the concerned government office situated in an entirely different town, that would have forced them to incur loss of daily wages.

Entitlement at work place: The Foundation is working strongly for the provision of basic amenities that the workers are entitled to, like drinking water, rest shed and toilets in the work place.

Organising the workers: The Foundation is also actively engaged in organising the workers into potential groups like a Trade Union. This year (2008), the Labour Day on May 1 was celebrated by a small union of the workers which was supported by the Foundation. As this is a long-term task, the Foundation is working slowly but systematically on this.

Field Training for students: This project has become a training centre for students from different academic disciplines. So far, the Foundation has had the opportunity of having women students from the Stella Maris College and the MOP Vaishanav College for Women spend one month each for their own training, and in the process offer some support to the Foundationís work. In addition, the project has been used for sensitising the students from the Vivekananda College to the rural realities. It is a matter of deep gratification to the Foundation that consequent to their association with this project, a few students have opted to pursue their Masterís programme in Social Work.

For more details about the project, please contact