‘May Day’ is celebrated on May 1 as a result of these struggles and people take to the streets on this day signifying the fight for the rights of the workers or labourers.
However, I this current era although labour issues are widely discussed and debated, it has become an issue without a viable solution in sight. However, today our focus is not on such issues affecting the labour force, instead we decided to focus this article on a group of people who although they are labourers, they never talk of their rights and they feed themselves if they earn and if not bear their hunger. Yes, there are many like this living in this country amidst the greatest of hardships, yet we at Lanka News Web decided to pay a visit to a group of labourers at 4th cross street in Fort. This set of labourers have no proper times of work, no time to eat and be it night or day, they are eternally busy.
Today we focus on the ‘Natami’ labourers of Colombo Fort. These Natami’s carry heavy sacks on their backs and the only thing protecting their back is either a folded sack or their t shirt folded and placed on their back for padding. Their lives are certainly not the most comfortable of lives and for most of them and they carry these heavy loads on their backs through their sheer determination and the strength of their mind rather than their physical strength. Through rain or sun these Natamis’ engage in carrying these heavy loads on their bare backs just to feed those who depend on them. For them if they don’t work and earn their daily wage their families have no way to survive. Hence no matter what, they must work to feed their loved ones.
Most of these labourers are in the habit of chewing beetle and after a hard days work, many of them indulge in consumption of alcohol as well. However, most of these labourers engage in this profession to feed their various addictions. Some are addicted to drugs while others are addicted to alcohol but justify their addictions by claiming that they only take these to get rid of their bodily aches and pains. Around 35 percent of these labourers are addicted to drugs while around 85 percent of them are addicted to alcohol. Due to the background they hail from these labourers are looked down upon by society. There are no organisations to look into their grievances, no NGO’s concerned for their wellbeing or no one to fight for their rights. In fact they have no rights other than to cart these heavy loads and depend on the shop owners to pay them for their services.
With May Day coming up we asked if they had plans to join the parade. “I went for these rallys when I was a young man. Yet now with my family responsibilities how can I go? If I don’t work a single day I don’t get paid and then I wont be able to feed my family. Hence for most of us labourers who work for a daily wage we do not skip work as then we have to starve on that day. “To us it makes no difference if it’s a holiday, new year, or any other celebration. We must work to earn our daily wage and put food on the table for our families. If not our whole family will be in hunger,” he said.
We may differ in the forms of work we engage in, but as a whole we all engage in some form of work to provide for our families and make a living. We are all interconnected in some manner and all cannot be doctors or lawyers and even the labourer is a vital link in our society and they play a vital role in our economy. Hence lets appreciate them all and their contribution to society and make this labour day a day that we truly appreciate the services of every worker in this country irrespective of their social status.
Pictures and text by AshWaru