Life changing outcomes from Tamil Nadu project
Over the last three years our project partner in India, the Tamil Nadu Labour Union, has worked tirelessly to help lift hundreds of Dalit and Tribal working people out of poverty. Thanks to their hard work and the courage of the Dalit and Tribal men and women themselves, some life changing outcomes have been achieved.
Starting in 2014 the project planned to develop five new cooperatives for ragpickers, women home tailors, fish vendors, forest produce collectors and street vendors, as well as a union for domestic workers. Each of these groups of workers were supported by the TNLU to develop their own constitution, elected leaders, learnt about labour rights and, in the case of the cooperatives, developed and implemented a plan to grow their business collectively. They were also provided with skills training, established credit unions and assisted to lobby local government for formal recognition and access to social security schemes.
Before and after the three year project each member was surveyed about their personal income, household debt and savings. The survey results below show that almost every member has experiences a noticeable improvement in their livelihood.
However, these livelihood changes are not the only outcome. Equally important for many of the workers is the sense of pride and confidence that comes from being part of a collective group. Together they have the power to stand up to the business owners, middle men, money lenders and police who have exploited and harassed them in the past. As Guruvammal, a member of the Domestic Workers Union said:
“I have been doing this work for a long time. Before the union I would borrow money to survive. Now I am able to speak freely and get a wage to survive.
After joining the union I am proud to say I can protect my rights and get the rights I deserve. I feel protected in the hours I work and I’m not being exploited.”
Prior to the project most of the workers earned Rs. 50-100 per day (NZ$1-$2) with only one worker reporting s/he earned more. After 3 years all of the workers surveyed stated their income was more than Rs.100 per day, and nearly 300 workers were earning more than Rs.200 per day, a significant income improvement.
The increase in income was most pronounced for members of the Fish Vendors Cooperative and Women Tailors Cooperative. Over half of the fish vendors more than doubled their incomes over the course of the 3 years. All of the women tailors now earn more than Rs. 150 per day, whereas none did prior to the project.
Able to save for the first time
It appears that, after joining one of the cooperatives or the Domestic Workers Union all, or almost all, of the project participants increased their monthly rate of savings. This change is exemplified by the women in the Domestic Workers Union, three quarters of whom are now saving money for the first time in their lives.
This is a result of the workers increased incomes and advice about saving from the TNLU. In addition the workers established their own credit unions into which they put their savings for future use.
Free from debt
At the outset of the project many of the workers were in debt to money lenders. In some circumstances this left them in a weak bargaining position and many faced crippling interest repayments. Through the project the participants developed ideas to reduce costs, to increase incomes and thereby to pay down debt. Furthermore they formed their own credit unions so they are less reliant on money lenders.
The survey data shows a very significant decline in household debt amongst the project participants with the majority seeing their indebtedness more than halved over the project period. This change was particularly pronounced for the Tribal men and women who formed the Forest Produce Collectors Cooperative in the hills around Kodiakanal.