Exploitation, poverty push handicraft skills to extinction
BHUBANESWAR: The sheen is missing. The web of magic is nearly gone. And the creativity of the handicrafts industry, once known for their excellence in silver filigree, applique work, bell metal goods, horn carving and patta painting, just down.
Despite all efforts of the State Government to promote handicraft business and better the economic condition of artisans, it has hardly been able to do something significant.
Not only the business has been severely affected, there has also been deterioration of skills among the artistes.
Besides, the middlemen, taking advantage of the Government’s attitude towards the artisans, have started exploiting their skills with low payments or non-payments.
Exploitation by middlemen and private entrepreneurs is rampant in major handicrafts producing centres like Puri, Pipili, Cuttack, Konark, Jeypore and Bhubaneswar. In the absence of any Government agency for proper marketing, they collect handicraft products directly from the artisans at a very low price and make huge profits by exporting those items. The Government has become a mute spectator to this as it lacks necessary machinery to curb such illegal practices.
Official sources said, the Labour and Employment Department has fixed minimum wages for different categories of workers working in different handicraft trades like wood work and furniture, shops and commercial establishments, ceramic and pottery industry, Khadi and Village Industries, clay pottery, carpet weaving, brass and bell metal work, gold and silver ornaments, coir industry, handloom, hosiery and toys manufacturing.
For the unskilled workers, sources said, the minimum wage is Rs 40, while the same is Rs 48, Rs 56 and Rs 64 for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled workers respectively.
‘‘The wages are quite insufficient considering the rare skills of the artisans,’’ feels Dr HK Swain, an industrial relations expert, who has made an in-depth study into the problems of handicraft workers in Orissa. In the absence of full-time employment, he says, the artisans are often forced to accept much less than the wage fixed by the Government.
Concerned over the sorry state of the artisans, many other labour law and industrial relations experts suggest a new law, like the Beedi Cigar Workers Conditions Act, 1966, for the handicraft workers which would ensure a better working atmosphere to them and also provide many other facilities.
At the same time, the Government should arrange frequent training for the artisans for upgradation of their skills and provide them loans at a low interest rate to keep up their business. The experts feel such initiatives of the Government would be a major boost for the artisans who till date has been producing major handicraft goods in the State.