Kerala bans ‘gawking’ charges in loading and unloading sector

South India

KOCHI: Kerala’s Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has banned a much-dreaded practice of extorting money by headload workers without doing any work.

The practice called ‘nokkukooli’ (gawking wages) was abolished and declared illegal based on an amendment to the Kerala Headload Workers Act. The amendment that has come into effect from May Day allows people to engage workers of their choice in loading and unloading items exempted from the purview of the Act.

The exempted items include household articles and agriculture-related materials. In other sectors, the labourers registered under the Act can claim the work but they will be able to levy only the rates fixed by district labour officers for various tasks.

The labour department has notified the rates for loading and unloading of various items. At present, the rates vary from district to district. The department has launched an initiative to introduce uniform rates across the state.

The rates notified for Ernakulam district is available in the labour department website,

Investors have welcomed the decision saying it would help the state to transform into an investor-friendly destination. Nokkukooli was cited by investors at various investor meets organized by the government as one of the major reasons for the reluctance on their part to set up industrial units in the state.

However, a section of the investors is sceptic whether the practice can be ended by law alone since it has been going on for a long time. People seldom resist nokkukooli because the workers often threaten and intimidate owner/contractor for extorting these illegal charges. Moreover, the practice had thrived with the support of the political parties.

The previous Congress-led United Democratic Front government had also taken several measures to end the practice but nothing succeeded. Though several districts including Ernakulam was declared nokkukooli-free, headload workers continued to follow the practice.

Even several courts had reprimanded the labourers for extorting money several times in the past. The Kerala high court had once termed the practice as hooliganism and directed the police to take action to curb it. The police seldom intervene whenever a dispute arise. Even when they intervene they try to go for an amicable settlement, which mostly weighs in favour of the head load workers.

The high court has termed the head load workers as a belligerent and quarrelsome group that always charge exorbitant wages even for carrying petty loads. In a 2001 judgment, the court observed that the head load work had become a lucrative job, prompting many to attempt to enter the field under the leadership of rival unions.

The present government has introduced the ban following extensive talks with leaders of all major trade unions. Although the leaders did not express any disagreement over the measure, it has to be waited and seen how the labourers would respond to the government action.

Image Credits: Express Kerala


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