“Sustainable Sugar and Sustainable Jobs” was the topic of a workshop organised by IUF India on August 2 & 3 in Pune, located in India’s largest sugar producing state of Maharashtra. The IUF Sugar Coordinator attended as the sugar work is resumed in the world’s second largest sugar producer.
The workshop highlighted two issues: a global perspective on the challenges that, as a result of changes in labour practices, sugar workers around the world face, and collective bargaining, which in India takes place at state level based on a tripartite approach, with the participation of employers, workers and government agencies. Sustainability of the sector was clearly linked to decent jobs. The meeting also proposed some future lines of work around Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and the need to maintain a network to exchange information and provide union solidarity.
Twenty delegates participated in the workshop representing close to 90 percent of country’s sugar production, including delegates from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, the three largest producers.
The workshop was part of a larger work agenda for IUF Sugar and IUF India, which was complemented by two other activities.
The first was a visit to Jawahar Sugar mill, where there was an opportunity to observe basics traits of OSH conditions, even when the factory was under maintenance. The visit was followed by a meeting with the local trade union leadership, who has been concerned with OSH issues and has run training programs at the mill during the OSH week every March. After the factory visit, Pravin from IUF India reported, the union leadership raised some OSH issues with management, and both parties agreed that the president of the union would lead the factory safety committee and that some personal protective equipment (PPE) would be distributed among the workers. In fact, the day after the visit, some 250 hard helmets were distributed to workers, with management committing themselves to acquire another batch of helmets and furnish them to all the workers in the factory. The union leadership also stressed the need for OSH training and awareness-raise programs among the workers; a topic that the IUF Sugar has been working with other unions, particularly with KUSPAW in Kenya.
The second issue was linked to environmental sustainability of some sugar production units in Maharashtra. Early this year, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board sent notices to 17 sugar factories, distilleries and a power generation plant to comply with environmental norms or risk losing their operation licences. Management of one of the sugar cooperatives met with IUF Sugar to exchange views on the sustainability of the sector, and on strategies to adhere sugar production to environmental norms. The issue had been already touched by the IUF Asia/Pacific regional organisation that stressed the link between sustainability, decent jobs and decent living conditions in the sugar-dependent communities. After all, the sugar workers and their families drink the water available in their area, which appears to be polluted by industrial activities.
After the Pune workshop, IUF Sugar also attended an agricultural and plantation workers workshop in Delhi, organised by IUF India, under the topic of “Ban on Paraquat and the Right to Food” sharing experiences in the use of chemical products in the cane growing operations and the role of the unions in protecting the health and safety of workers.
 The Jawahar Shetkari Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Limited, Hupari is a cooperative sugar mill in the Kolhapur district, Maharashtra. Current daily crushing capacity is 7,500 tonnes of cane. Employment is about 1,300 workers, with about 500 permanent employees, 750 seasonal-permanent workers and some 40 casual.