Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Salt-Pan Workers of Tamil Nadu

On our way from Chennai to Pondicherry, we saw sea salt being manufactured. 

Sunny hot days like this are essential for salt production. There is no work in the rains. The majority of people work as wage earners in saltpans and do not have any influence within the salt value chain. 

Tamil Nadu is the largest producer of salt in India, next only to Gujarat. There are around 60,000 salt workers in Tamil Nadu, on which nearly 80% work directly in the salt pans. The remaining 20% work in loading, packing and transport.

The total annual income per household in the range of Rs.10000, with both husband and wife working on the saltpan. Women are paid lower wages than men for the same work. The work is mainly seasonal, with very little options for off-season alternate livelihoods. Usually salt pan workers are neck deep in debt. Interest rates on loans (from informal sources) is around 60% per annum.

The manufacturing processes is very labour intensive, in very hot and windy conditions for most part of the day. Most workers have problems related to eye sight due to reflections of sunlight from the salt crystals. Work begins early in the morning, and children are left behind at home. Most children of the community do not have access to schooling or healthcare.

The industry is also highly disaster-prone, experiencing frequent threats of cyclones and high tidal waves.

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