cadreindia C a d r e i n d i a



A Study by
173 A, Khirki Village, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi - 110 017.
M.V.SRINIVASAN (Researcher)
J.JOHN (Project Director)
NASIR ATEEQ (Project Co-ordinator)
M. JAYANTHI (Research Assistant)
This study has been conducted in collaboration with CADRE-India,
Kurumathoor, Kuzhithurai-629 123,
Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu.

An Overview:

Right from the beginning, the Cashewnut-processing industry (hereafter Cashewnut industry) by and large has been export oriented one. The crowing US market for the processed Cashewnut has contributed to the sport of the entrepreneurs in India. Over a period of time the production process has changed from manual or cottage based to semi-mechanized. However, the modernization process has not changed the labour-intensive nature of the industry to a great extent because manual labour in the core processes still remains indispensable.

As the core processes are simple and can be carried out with a rudimentary skill and for low wages, as usual, are left for women. More than two-third of the women workforce in Kanyakumari district has chosen Cashewnut-processing as their full time employment. This reveals the fact about the feminization of the industry in this district.

The recent trends in the industry revealed that it is shifting its traditional centers to new locations. However, this shift has not benefited the new locations significantly. On the one hand, while states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have increased their production of raw Cashew, they could not increase their employment in the industry. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu has increased its employment without increasing area under Cashew. Thus, the Cashewnut industry is importing the raw Cashew from some states and processing it in other states. The trends in earnings revealed the after effects reflected in the earnings of Cashewnut workers. Besides increase in earnings in all centers, the growth of earnings in the traditional centers and increased it in places where it can pay low wages, Say Tamil Nadu.

In the post reform period, its contribution to the total exports is also not very significant. The overall growth of Cashewnut production in India has increased only by 60% during 1987-95. The dependence of Cashewnut industry on imports has increased dramatically from 14% to 34%. Nevertheless, it has lot of growth potential if the production of cashew increases or availability of raw nuts from African countries is tapped.

Cashewnut and its Nature

Cashew is believed to be a native of south Eastern America Brazil, brought to India in the 16th century and made popular in the Malabar Coast of India by the Portuguese. In Kerala where it is being grown in large tracts, it is known as parangi andi or 'foreign nut'. The first scientific description of the cashew is found in Hortus Malabaricus, a classic on the plants of Malabar (Kerala) written by the Van Rheede in 1678.

Recent Trends in Cashewnut Industry : Production of Cashew in India

Cashew occupies 0.3% of the total cropped area in the country. The total area under Cashew cultivation in 1993-94 was about 5.65 lakh hectares. Cashew production in India has increased from 2.86 lakh tones to 4.17 lakh tones. Though all the states have increased their production in absolute quantity terms, their contribution to total production has varied from state to state. Among other states, Kerala produced nearly half of the total Cashew produced in the country in 1989 and its contribution has reduced to one third (33.5%) in 1995-96. Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have improved their positions from 6.19% to 12.75% and 4% to 9%, respectively. The annual average growth rate revealed that Kerala had the lowest growth of 0.36% and AP the highest growth by 5.80% during the years 1982-94. Similarly in production also AP has increased its share from 12.82% to 17% and Maharashtra from 9.54% to 16.7%. Orissa stagnated with 10% over the yeas. Tamil Nadu increased only marginally from 4% to 7% and Karnataka stagnated with 7%.

The Difference between Domestic Production and Imports

One of the reasons for slow growth of Cashewnut processing industry is shortage of raw materials. Besides the efforts made domestically to raise area under Cashew, domestic production is declining over the last 10 years. The imports, which accounted for 14% of the total supply in 1987-88, suddenly increased to 35.5% in 1994-95. There is an absolute increase of imports from 42,300 tons to 2.24 lakh tons in the same period. In this period, domestic production increased by 60.5% only whereas imports increased seven times i.e., by 430%.

In 1961, Kerala accounted for 92 percent of the total number of factories established and running in India and it had steeply declined to 42.01 percent by 1984-85 and increased moderately by 1989-90 (47.35%) and again declined to 40 percent in 1993-94. Among the other states, Tamil Nadu, which had only one factory in 1961, had increased its unites to 62 in 1973-74 and further to 177 in 1984-85 and 252 in 1993-94. In relative terms, its proportion increased from 0.6 percent in 1961 to 30.37 percent in 1978-79 and further to 34.5 percent in 1984-85. However, its proportion had declined to 30 percent in 1989-90, again picked up to 33.5 percent of the total factories in 1993-94. Andhra Pradesh has shown modest increase over the years 1961-94. It has increased from 0.35 percent in 1971 to 12.4 percent in 1993-94. It has never declined both in absolute and relative terms (1.6).

One would expect that as the number of factories increases, the employment also would increase accordingly. However in the case of the Cashewnut industry the trend appers to be quite different. Employment has not grown as rapidly as the number of factories. The index of the number of factories (for all India) increased (with base year 1961) from 100 to 453 in 1993-94, whereas in case of employment it was just 186. This could be due to many reasons. The first reason could be casualisation of employment in the industry. This could be due to many reasons. The first reason could be casualisation of employment in the industry. This has happened particularly in Kerala where more than 70% of the total Cashewnut workers are employed. Several studies found that in Kerala, due to increasing cost of production particularly the labour and in order to evade labour legislation, employers adopted an alternative method of production, such as kudivarappu by which they can pay low wages and evade social security benefits. The second reason could be the increasing import of the raw materials. Thirdly, absolute monopoly of a handful of trader-cum-processors. Fourthly, a huge difference between demand and supply of the raw materials.

Export ' Import trends

In terms of its contribution to export scenario, the Cashewnut industry has shown a declining trend. During the post reform period, the difference between import and export earnings have been stagnant at around 53%. The major buyers of Indian Cashewnut are USA and Netherlands. These two countries account for about 62% of our total Cashewnut exports (USA ' 38.4% and Netherlands 23.8%) in 1977-98. In 1995-96, exceptionally, Russia purchased 21.26% of total exports of 1,235 crores. However, afterwards it has dipped to less than 1%.

In quantity terms, Cashewnut exports grew from 58,599 tons in 1992-93 to 76,897 tones in 1994-95, declined from then onwards for the next three years, 1994-97 and increased moderately again to 76,232 tones in 1997-98. In value terms, it increased continuously from Rs. 745 crores in 1992-93 to Rs.1,383 crores in 1997-98. There was a moderate decline by 0.72% in 1995-96 but started picking up with slow increase in exports. Among other agricultural exportable, Cashewnut stands next to spices and fresh fruits in terms of moderate fluctuations and growth. In fact, these commodities recorded positive growth in the post reform period.

Limitations of Data on Employment and Workers

It is difficult to estimate the exact number of workers engaged in this industry. Different data sources provide data differently. According to the ASI, only 1.6l lakh workers were engaged in this industry in 1994-95. G.K. Nair in an article (Business Line, 8.5.98) estimated that Kerala itself employed 4-5 lakh workers. Census provides us with different and highly underestimated data that in 1990-91, only 96,763 main workers were employed in this industry. Since the data is only on main workers, similar data on marginal workers is not available. Moreover, the bias of the census investigator in entering the workforce also raises suspicions.


Kanyakumari district once Known as the granary of Travancore lies at the southwestern part of India peninsular. It was in Travancore for a long time and then merged with TamilNadu in 1956 under the State Linguistic Reorganization Act. It is famous for its vast green stretches of paddy fields, rich forests, coconut groves and mineral sands. Kanyakumari district with Nagercoil as district headquarters has two revenue divisions with four Taluks: Padmanabhapuram has Vilavancode and Kalkulam Taluks and Nagercoil has Agasteeswaram and Thovalai Taluks.

Industrialization in Kanyakumari District

The industrial development started in TamilNadu over the last few decades has not made any significant impact on Kanyakumari. It remains to be one of the industrially backward districts in the state.

According to the information provided by the Assistant Director, Statistics, Nagercoil, in the unorganized sector, fisheries sector employ 49,000 workers; tea, rubber and cardamom plantations provide full employment to 3,900 workers. Fishnet industry, one of the newly established industries with 57 factories is providing employment to 3,550 workforces. Interestingly the wages of agricultural labourers are higher than the wages for non-agricultural labourers. In 1993-94, it was Rs. 61.30 and it increased to 91.80 in 1995-96, whereas in the non-agricultural sector, it ranged between Rs. 44 and Rs. 59 in 1993-94,which increased to Rs. 65 and Rs. 85 per day.

More than 90% of the Cashewnut industries in the state are located in Kanyakumari, a border district of Tamil Nadu. Villupuram district also produces Cashew kernels but the production process is manual and its contribution to total state production is minimal. Thus, the trends of the industry in Kanyakumari could be generalized as the trend of Cashewnut industries in Tamil Nadu.

Many studies pointed out that there was a major shifting of industries from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. It was also found that the Cashewnut industrialists shifted their firms to evade labour legislation and denying the worker's legitimate share of wages in Kerala. However, it is imperative to find out the exact reasons for such a shift, and its implications for both the states. Yet, another question that needs to be probed and how the factories sustained over the years and their organizational strategies.

Agriculture :

 Nearly 63% of the workforce depends on agriculture as their mainstay. The major crops cultivated in the district are coconut (19.9%), rice (38.42%), tapioca (10.95%) and banana (7%) and rubber (15.08%). These five crops account for more than 85% of the total cropped area of 1.04 lakh hectares in 1997-98. Area under Cashew accounted for 2.4% of the gross cropped area. Though there appear to be more potential to increase area under Cashew in the region, the state is not showing much interest in doing so.

Work Participation Rate and Literacy in Kanyakumari

Among the districts, Kanyakumari has some interesting features. According to Census, 1991, Kanyakumari had second (to Madras) highest rates of literacy (72%), higher than the state average of 63%. It has the lowest work participation rate of 11.03%. The proportion of women who participate in the non-agricultural activities is also second highest (next below to Kamarajar district where Sivakasi is located) in the state. Nearly 40% of the total female main workers are engaged in non-agricultural activities. The nature of work appeared to be nothing but employment of women in Cashewnut industry.

Ownership and Organization Patterns

Cashewnut industry, due to its highly speculative nature of business fluctuations in the international market for raw nuts and kernels and severe competition among industrialists had resulted in concentration of the industry in a few hands. In a study conducted in Kerala, it was found that out of 156 factories, six employers owned 85 and only one employer was holding 17% of the total factories.

Since Kanyakumari is an offshoot of Kollam Cashewnut industry, the same ownership pattern prevails in this district too. There is no uniformity in the organization of Cashewnut factories in Tamil Nadu. In majority of the firms, one person or one family is the sole proprietor of a number of factories located at different places and is functioning as combines. In recent times, VLC, KPP, RMC, Prashanti, Mark, Mohan's International are the major processors in Tamil Nadu.

By functioning as combines, they get many advantages :

(a) they are able to get loans from the same credit institutions in different names;

(b) derive all the advantages of industrial units in the small-scale sector,

(c) possibility of evading labour laws;

(d) establishing monopolistic control over the markets for Cashew kernels and

(e) changing their administrative staff from one factory to another factory quite often, so that they do not get any opportunity to get into contact with local producers.

The Cashewnut factories are running with five types of organization

(1) Factories owned and processed by same company / proprietor : This is simple and self-explanatory. An individual or company will have its own factory premises and process the Cashewnut and market it;

(2) Factories owned by a single person/family but they do not own raw Cashew. They will process Cashewnut for others and charge on the basis of bag. They will incur the entire expenses and process Cashewnut for others.

(3) Direct Leasing. Some factories, when the y incur heavy losses, and are at the verge of closure will be leased out to some other companies. The company, which leased-in the factory will pay a monthly rent monthly, and it will incur all other expenses including wages and maintenance, etc.

(4) Indirect Leasing: Some companies, when they exhausted all their stocks, will invite other companies to process the cashewnut. They will get a fixed rent for the machinery on the basis of the bags processed. In this case, the lessee has to pay wages.

(5) Commission processors: Some employers who are not able to run the factory and if on company is ready to lease-in their firm or if they do not want to lease-out, they many given it to individuals who in turn process cashewnut and will get processing charges. They are also known as commission processors. They will incur all the cost of labour, electricity, maintenance and pay rent to factory owner. They may process Cashewnut for one or more companies.

The Cashewnut-processing industry plays a crucial role within the factory sector employment. It accounts for 24% of the total number of factories but gives employment to 77% of the total organized sector employment. Among small-scale industries and agro-based industries also, the role of Cashewnut industry is a critical one.

In the beginning, the Cashewnut industry entered Kanyakumari as a temporary arrangement to evade from enforcement of labour legislation in Kerala. When the processors were able to pay very low wages and got their Cashew processed, they permanently established their units. Moreover, the nodding acceptance by the state officials and not enforcing the labour legislation in the name of 'rural industrialization' has also played a major role. Though this has generated employment to unskilled women, for many years the Cashewnut processors were very careful in not raising the workers' wages. The ownership patterns they followed were quite sufficient in discouraging the local entrepreneurs to enter the industry. However, the implications of such strategies are adverse to the interests of the labourers.


Centre for Education and Communication and Cadre-India, early 1999, jointly undertook this study to assess the implications for the overall labour market in the changing industrial scenario of Kanyakumari district focusing on the Cashewnut-processing industry.

Aims and Objective of the study

1. More than 90% of the Cashewnut industries in Tamil Nadu are located in this district and about 95% of the workforce in women. The main objective of this study was to investigate the impact of Cashewnut industry, a traditional agro-processing industry on the labour markets of Kanyakumari district and its feminized production process in the era of globalization.

2. To recommend the policy measures for improving the working conditions in the industry and labour organization strategies.


The criteria for choosing a location among numerous Cashew factories and their workers need to be enumerated first. Among four Taluks in the district, Vilavancode has more than two-thirds of the Cashew factories. So we chose Vilavancode to conduct the study. Apart from the primary survey, investigations were carried out in other industries also.

Vilavancode consists of two the Panchayath union's viz., namely Melpuram and Medugummal. Due to limited time and unavoidable reasons, we restricted our sample of women workers' families to 100. We selected 50 households from each Panchayath union. Since male workers constitute 4-5 percent of the total workers in the industry, we interviewed only six male workers. The households were randomly selected from one corner of the Panchayath to the other. The data was collected from workers of 31 factories from both the Panchayath unions. In each factory, on an average, five workers were interviewed. The survey was conducted from 8th February to 24th March 1999. The selection of workers was based on availability or random basis without adhering to any statistical methods.

Primary Survey

One hundred and four Cashewnut workers were interviewed to collected details about their working and living conditions. Since entry into Cashewnut factories is restricted, it was not possible to contact the workers at the workplace; hence information was collected at their residences. Out of 104 workers, one worker gave insufficient information, so her schedule was discarded. It is very common to find families from which more than one member of working in the Cashewnut factories. However, information was collected from only one worker per household. In the survey, apart from 104 workers, 34 additional Cashewnut workers were also identified to collect some basic information. Out of 104, five are working in roasting. Shelling (37) and peeling (36) employ more or less same number of workers. No worker working in the bormah section could be contacted. Next to roasting and shelling, pass section also has a considerable number of workers. Ninety four percent of the workers are female. This trend was observed because the Cashewnut industry requires only a few male workers in roasting and Borma sections. If men engaged in other activities as watchers, supervisors, clerical assistants and other administrative staff are added, the proportion may go up.

Limitations of the Study

Though we have covered many issues relating to the industry, employment, and workers, the details of employers are not covered because of the difficulty in contacting them. Nevertheless the existing literature and meetings with some managers and employers helped us to understand the ownership patterns to some extend. Our analysis is in a way restricted to organized segments of the industry and particularly to those firms, which have submitted their returns.

The working hour pattern of the Cashewnut-processing industry is different from that in other industries. It starts at 7a.m. for female workers and 5.30 a.m. for male workers. So workers leave early in the morning and get back home only in the evening. In the evening, they were exhausted and it seemed a crime on our part to expect them to sit with answer questions and us. Some responded eagerly, others not so enthusiastically. On Sundays, however the response was uniformly good. There could be some bias due to this factor, though we took utmost care to avoid this. Some workers, as is usual in other areas of field investigation, were afraid of losing their jobs if they responded.

Production Processes

Basically it is a labour intensive industry. Besides a few subsidiary activities, this industry involves five main production processes viz., (a) Roasting (local term varappu), (b) Shelling (local term thallu), (c) bormah (d) peeling, (e) primary grading (local term pass) and (e) finally grading and packing. Subsidiary activities include oil extraction and manufacture of tins.

Roasting :

The raw nuts are roasted in order to make the shell brittle and loosen the kernel from the shell. Being a comparatively tough task, only men are employed for this operation. On an average, each factory employs a team of five of them and each of them carries out a specific task in the process.

In a day, one team can roast 20-50 bags of raw nuts. Since the roasted nuts cannot be kept for more than 12 hours, precautionary steps are taken to see to it that all the roasted nuts are shelled on that particular day itself. The workers in this section come at 5.30 in the morning and roast half the total bags to be roasted on that particular day. Thus they work from 5.30 to 10.30 in the morning. The rest of the raw nuts are roasted from 12 noons to 3 p.m.

The workers are employed from local areas. They are paid daily wages once a week. CITU recognized trade union in the region fixes daily wages. For loading and unloading, the workers themselves fix the rates per bag or per load and share equally.

Shelling :

In this process, only women are employed. Shell is manually cracked with the help of a wooden hammer. Only in one or two factories in the study area, machines were used to crack the shells. While cracking the shells, a thick liquid substance comes out and irritates the fingertips or burns the skin. Newly recruited women, if not careful, become victims of it. As payment is made on the basis of the kernels successfully recovered (i.e. without breakage or damage), maximum attention is paid to minimize the breakage and damage to the kernels. One male mesthiri (supervisor), either from Kerala or belonging to the same caste of the employer but staying in Kanyakumari, is employed by the owner. His responsibility is to see to it that workers do not eat the kernels in the process.

Drying :

The shelled kernels are heated to loosen the thin red layer. Again cold water is pressed on it to harden the kernel with loosened thin outer layer. One male / female worker is employed in the process who is paid daily wages.

Roasting :

The raw nuts are roasted in order to make the shell brittle and loosen the kernel from the shell. Being a comparatively tough task, only men are employed for this operation. On an average, each factory employs a team of five of them and each of them carries out a specific task in the process.

In a day, one team can roast 20-50 bags of raw nuts. Since the roasted nuts cannot be kept for more than 12 hours, precautionary steps are taken to see to it that all the roasted nuts are shelled on that particular day itself. The workers in this section come at 5.30 in the morning and roast half the total bags to be roasted on that particular day. Thus they work from 5.30 to 10.30 in the morning. The rest of the raw nuts are roasted from 12 noons to 3 p.m.

The workers are employed from local areas. They are paid daily wages once a week. CITU recognized trade union in the region fixes daily wages. For loading and unloading, the workers themselves fix the rates per bag or per load and share equally.

Shelling :

In this process, only women are employed. Shell is manually cracked with the help of a wooden hammer. Only in one or two factories in the study area, machines were used to crack the shells. While cracking the shells, a thick liquid substance comes out and irritates the fingertips or burns the skin. Newly recruited women, if not careful, become victims of it. As payment is made on the basis of the kernels successfully recovered (i.e. without breakage or damage), maximum attention is paid to minimize the breakage and damage to the kernels. One male mesthiri (supervisor), either from Kerala or belonging to the same caste of the employer but staying in Kanyakumari, is employed by the owner. His responsibility is to see to it that workers do not eat the kernels in the process.

Drying :

The shelled kernels are heated to loosen the thin red layer. Again cold water is pressed on it to harden the kernel with loosened thin outer layer. One male / female worker is employed in the process who is paid daily wages.

Peeling :

It is similar to shelling and in this workers are employed in large numbers. In this process, the thin layer is removed with the help of a small knife. A specific skill is required to remove the thin outer layer.

Thallu :

In this process, according to the international standard, peeled kernels are graded quality-wise. This section too requires a sizable number of workers. Before being packed in four-gallon tins, they are kept in humidifying chambers for 12-16 hours after grading so that breakage during storage or transit does not occur.

Packing :

Finally the kernels are packed in the vocalized tins, which are passed through carbon dioxide. This process is technically called the vita pack method.

General Attributes of Cashewnut Workers

Ninety five percent of the workforces in the study area are women. Majority of them can be divided into two groups unmarried (and teenaged) and married (but in the early thirties). These workers entered Cashewnut labour market when they were very young as child labourers. Their composition in the industry-specific labour market reflected the district level trends in caste; religion and literacy trends but majority of them studied upto middle level. They might have entered the Cashewnut labour market as dropouts.

Age Pattern of the Workers :

Majority of workers is in the age group of 19-25 and 36-45. Out of 103 workers, 34 belong to 19-25 and 31 are in 36-45 age group. Only one child worker was identified in the survey. Though the retirement age for a worker is 58, we found one worker at the age of 65 working in a factory. The age distribution of workers indicates a pattern in which women workers start working from the late childhood stage until marriage. After marriage, they discontinue for a few years, probably to look after kids or because of the unwillingness of the husband to allow the wife to go out for work. After a few years they rejoin the workforce in order to supplement the family income. Out of 103, 73 work in the shelling and peeling sections alone. Male workers are generally engaged in the roasting section. Only one male worker was found to be working as a tin-filling macaud a category of workers who were not exactly supervisors but assisted the management. All the male workers are above 25 years but below 55. There is no clear segregation of workers in certain sections.

Our study found children working in these industries. The data on age at work revealed that five women workers started working at the age of 7-10 started when they were below 15 and more than 61 workers (out of 103) entered the Cashewnut industry when they were below 19. There is significant difference between male and female workers in terms of the age they enter the factory. In the case of male workers, all of them joined only after 20 years.

Caste :

: Nadars, a traditional toddy-tapping caste is predominant in the district as well as in our survey. In our survey they constituted more than 72% of total sample households.

A rigid caste-based segregation of work was not found in the surveyed factories of Kanyakumari. Workers from all castes work in the shelling section. In fact one worker, who happened to be a Panikker, a forward caste was working in the shelling section. Two other workers, Pillais, again a forward caste, were working in the shelling section. One Ezhava worker, considered as lower / backward caste in Kerala was working in the grading section. According to it, five workers belong to forward castes, 78 workers to the backward category. Another surprising finding is that there are no forward caste men working in the Cashewnut industry as workers.

Employers' caste :

: We tried to see whether any caste nexus exists among employers, who prefer workers from their own castes. We found that only two respondents who are 'Nair' by caste responded that their owners belong to their caste. In order to know whether any local-born entrepreneurs own factories, we asked the workers where their employers came from Ninety-two workers said that their owners were from Kerala.

Religion :

: In comparison to other districts, Kanyakumari has the largest proportion of Christians. This is also reflected in our survey. Forty-eight workers were Christians and the rest Hindus (53).

Marital Status :

We categorized the workers into five groups. More than half of them were married. We interviewed eight widows in our random sample. Out of 47 unmarried workers, 35 were in the roasting and shelling sections. In other sections such as pass, grading and packing too, more unmarried workers were working. It may be due to the fact employers prefer unmarried workers to married because they could work till late in the evening whereas married women had to rush back to do household chores and to look after children. Efficiency could also be another reason. But it was surprising to find that destitute widows were working in roasting, shelling and grading sections but not given any macaud jobs.

Literacy and Cashewnut Industry :

Kanyakumari stands second in literacy rates among other districts of Tamil Nadu. In our survey, out of 126 Cashewnut workers, nearly 80% of them were literate. Of these, 29% workers had studied up to primary level, 35% up to middle level and 14% up to secondary level. Almost all the male workers were literate. Among females, shelling workers are both literate and illiterate. It appears that there is no link between the section where the worker works and his / her literacy. All the macauds have studied upto middle this means that literacy appears to play a limited role in accessing jobs in Cashewnut industry particularly for women.

Occupation of other Household Members

In our study area, besides agriculture, toddy tapping was one of the major occupations in the olden days. Women were then making Palmyra products from palm leaves, palm sugar, etc. However, we found only one agricultural labourer and a toddy tapper. Construction industry appears to be giving more employment to male workers. Forty five percent of the total male workers were employed in it. Many workers said that they took up unspecified coolie work. This category gives employment to 26 percent of the male workers. Nearly 70 percent of working women were absorbed in Cashewnut industries, the alternative occupation being housework. Otherwise, Cashewnut-processing industry gives employment to 46 percent of workers in all the surveyed households. Nineteen percent of workers depended on construction work and unspecified coolie work amounted to 12 percent of total employment. Inclusion of housework as one of the service sector occupation led to a considerable proportion of women being shown as employed.

Land Holdings and Ownership of House :

Out of 97 households only 48 own arable land and a house each. The land owned range from two to 250 cents but only one household had 250 cents of land and rest of them two to 30 cents. If we exclude the 250 cents landholder, the average land holding comes to 10 cents only. Only 45 respondents have homestead land.

Migration :

At least one member out of 28 households had gone out of the district for work. Among them, 23 belonged to the Nadar caste. Within the Nadar caste, those who owned lands had greater probability of sending their family members outside. Among the migrants, more than 84 percent had gone to the neighboring state ' Kerala. Other places where employment was got were Bombay, Mysore and Madras. The jobs available to them mostly related to construction. This is particularly so in Kerala where the wages for local labourers were higher than that given to construction workers from Tamil Nadu. Due to this, migrant workers were preferred to local workers.

Working hours and holidays :

Despite the fact that almost all the Cashewnut factories are registered under the Factories Act, they are not complying with the eight-hour duty norm. Generally, women workers start working at 7 o'clock in the morning and continue till 7.30 p.m. in the evening. The lunch break is also very short, in most of the cases lasting for 15-50 minutes only. Those who get one-hour break go home for lunch. Otherwise workers bring Tiffin's to the factory. There is no retiring facility in the factory. The piece rate system of wages indirectly fources the workers to take very short lunch breaks, which is affecting their digestive system. On an average, a worker works 9.21 hours a day. In a week, if Sunday was excluded as a holiday, they work for 56 hours a week. This may very from section to section within a factory.

We found most of the factories working not only on Sundays, which is a weekly holiday in the survey area, but even on major festivals and national holidays.

Labour Market : Motivational issues

The factors behind the workers taking up jobs in these factories are too varied to standardize, however an attempt has been made to highlight the most significant ones. The first and foremost is poverty induced by insufficient income to the family. To quote Meena, who has been working in a Cashewnut factory for seven years, 'Prior to my marriage, my family was in utter poverty. Income was not sufficient to look after all the members. Since I was the eldest in my family, I started working at the age of eight.' Another worker, Kamala says: 'We were three sisters. Our parents said that if we worked, we could save for our marriages. Since we did not go school, we school, we started working. I started at the age of 10.'

From these responses, it is clear that poverty induced by insufficient income; need to save for marriage, illiteracy, or inability to attend school forced them to work in the Cashewnut factories. There is another factor that also emerges from the family but for a different reason. To quote Sulochana, 'Kashtam (difficulty) in house. Father cannot do any job. Mother was just staying at home. We have to marry off elder sister. So may elder sister and I started going'. So these girls took initiative and entered the labour market.

To quote Rosemary, 'Kashtam and pattini in house. Husband is not getting regular employment. Even if it were available, he would earn some money and get drunk and would bring no money home. Hence I started working in the factories. These responses clearly convey that this industry thrives on highly femenised nature of production and in order to contain the labour cost, the management does not give the jobs to men.

Employers use different strategies and control the labour market. If a man wished to enter the Cashewnut industry and get information about a vacancy or opening up of a new factory, he had to mobilise10women workers and meets the employer. Only then was he given a job in the roasting section. Sometimes he took his wife and daughters to get themrecruited. The response of poverty-induced entry even when the workers were in childhood was recorded in our scheduled more than 30 times.

Job Access: If a woman wants a job in a factory, she would first approach her neighbour who is already employed there. The neighbour would introduce her to the factory manager. Forty-five of the 94 women workers accessed the job in this way. If not neighbour, relatives player this role to a considerable extent. Fifteen workers got recruited on their own. Organized recruitment agencies both government and privet play no role in cashewnut-processing industry.

Skill Acquisition:

There is on concept of apprenticeship or specific training for the newly recruited workers in the industry. Generally the workers on the job acquire the required skill. The time taken to acquire it varies from operation. On an average it takes them five weeks to learn the skills.


As the cashewnut industry comes under the Minimum Wages Act 1948, the workers should be paid wages as per regular revisions. In the case of the Cashewnut industry in Kanyakumari, every year the trade unions recognized by the management negotiate and revise the wages, dearness allowance, workload and bonus. Our survey has found both the trade unionists and the concerned government official having utter ignorance about the Minimum Wages situation in the district.

Majority of workers are paid on piece rate wages. In roasting locally known as varappu, workers are paid on daily basis. Apart from roasting, if they are engaged in loading and unloading of raw Cashew, they are paid separately and the workers themselves fix the rates separately. The payment is made once in a week. In thallu and shelling process, workers are paid on a kilo basis. They are also paid once a week. Apart from benefits common to all the workers in the industry, workers in this section are allowed to take one day the broken outer shell themselves. This gets them around Rs. 15 on that day. Broken kernels are not paid for. Since broken kernels are considered of low quality, the workers have to lose their earnings for them.

Workers in


section are daily wagers and are paid weekly. In


, the workers are paid a bit higher than in shelling because it requires some intricate skills and experience. They are also paid on a per kilo basis every week similar to workers in shelling. In

pass or grading and packing

, workers are paid on a daily basis. Apart from daily wages, similar to workers in other sections, they are entitled to dearness allowances.


of all the respective sections are paid wages as per their sections. In addition to their work-based wages, they are given extra payment equal to wages for two kilos of shelled / peeled kernels. Other employee's viz., supervisors or mesthiris, watchers, managers are paid monthly wages.

When we asked workers about their wages, only a few said that they were given as per the wage settlement of year. Since the wages revised by the unions are effective from Onam, the revised wage should also be paid from that month onwards. However, awareness about the new rates was very low among the workers. In most of the cases, it was sheer guess work on the part of the workers. Hence, the average piece rate calculated from all workers' responses (Rs 2.57 for shelling) and settlement rate (Rs. 2.60) did show some difference.

In roasting, the average wage is Rs.59.03 inclusive of dearness allowances whereas in wage settlement, the basic wage isRs.55 and Rs.5.37 is given as dearness allowances calculated on the basis of increase in district consumer price index. Adding both with will give Rs. 60.37, which is more than the prevailing wage by Rs. 1.34. Similarly in shelling, the actual wages paid per kilo are Rs. 2.58, settlement differs with this amount by to paise. In pecling there is no difference between settlement and actual wages. In grading, actual wages less than they settlement wage by Rs. 2. It is also possible that if the graders do that finish they workload, they are not given dearness allowance. This would suppress the average wage we estimated in survey.

So, even if we presume that all the employers are paying, as per the settlement, this does not allow us to conclude that the workers are better paid in the study area. There are a few other aspects, by which employers exploit the unemployment-induced low wages rates for women in the district. The wages for other non-agricultural employment is higher than the wage in this industry by more than two times.

For processes where men are involved, the Kanyakumari Cashewnut workers are earning just 50% of the earnings of male Cashewnut workers in Kerala and in the case of women, it is just 25%.

It is argued that the cost of living in Kerala, particularly in Kollam is very high and the wages in Kerala cannot be compared with Kanyakumari. We have collected the retail prices of some of the essential food prices for Kerala and Marthandam. The difference of rice price is less than 10% only. In case of Tapioca, it was around 25% in 1995. If this is the situation, the argument of price differences does not hold the ground.


At the time of Onam, a major annual festival in the region, workers can get some loan, as advance and it will be deducted from their salary in installments. In case of emergency, they get some advance but the amount does not exceed Rs.100. It appears that male workers are able to get higher amount of loans or advances from factories.

In firms managed by commission processors, the concept of higher advance to get women workers from other factories was prevalent. Office bearers of trade unions disapprovingly said that it was certainly true and increasing. By this (a) women workers lose their seniority and all the benefits a worker is supposed to get at the time of retirement (b) it is difficult to organize them under the trade union.

Mobility in Cashewnut Industry

In the case of our study area, the women workers in the industry have little chance to move to other sectors or industries because there is no other similar to the Cashewnut industry on a larger scale and that too locally accessible. As said earlier, they have only two options, either to become housewives or work in the cashewnut industry.

In the case of our study area, the women workers in the industry have little chance to move to other sectors or industries because there is no other similar to the Cashewnut industry on a larger scale and that too locally accessible. As said earlier, they have only two options, either to become housewives or work in the cashewnut industry.


In our study, out of 104 workers, 46 workers have said that they have changed their workplaces at least once in their working life. Fourteen workers said that they have changed their employers twice and two workers changed thrice. The main reason for changing their jobs was the long distance to the factory and also their marriages. From this one can presume that during the initial stages of employment, factories were located at distant places, so workers went to those factories and as more and more factories got established in the region, they stopped going to distant places and joined the nearest firm.

Besides these factors, strategies adopted by employers also play major role in increased turnover in the industry. By paying hefty advance, the new firms / commission processors get trained workers from other factories so that it can increase production and get a surplus out of it. The big companies, which are trendsetters due to huge operating surplus, will not lose as long as they get sufficient supply of docile labour. In recent times, they follow a strategy by which they withdraw themselves from the responsibility of providing social security to workers. They give raw nuts to independent entrepreneurs who are ready to process on commission basis. The commission processors are merely interested in the commission. They recruit workers who are skilled and working in some other factories by giving higher amount of advances. Only with optimal efficiency and unlawful means, are the commission processors able to run the firm. When workers come for higher advance, they are also ready to sacrifice certain provisions and benefits, which they were getting in the previous firm.


More than three-fourths of Cashewnut workers in Kanyakumari have subscribed to Employees Provident. Fund Scheme. Similar proportion of our sample workers also had subscribed to it. It is the only scheme widely popular with both employers as well as employees. However, due to misappropriation by some employers, some workers are averse to the scheme and trade unions, government officials and employers influence the operation of the scheme to suit their own interests. Some other schemes such as pension attached to EPF are yet to make progress. Though ESI hospitals have been sanctioned by the state, they got entangled in the state administrative procedure.

Besides revision of wage rates and work loads, bonus is another issue the local trade unions are taking up very seriously in order to attract workers. More than 75% of the workers have got less than or equal to Rs.2000 as bonus. The percentage of wages given as bonus has also increased over the years. Employers try to evade giving the benefits or reduce it by unlawful means, say by keeping different records and thereby vindictively targeting the anti-management workers.

Provident Fund :

According to our survey, nearly 77% of the workers are availing themselves of the provident fund scheme in their factories (see Table). It is compatible with the coverage of 76% of the 50,000 Cashewnut workers in the district. But are workers really satisfied with the way it is being organized? What are the problems with the Act? Why are the rest 23 percent of workers still not subscribing to EPF?

Table Subscribers to provident Fund in Cashewnut processing Industry

Date No. of
No. of
Growth in
30.7.1996 179 19583 -
30.9.1997 380 37709 92.56
30.9.1998 382 37986 0.73

Note :

The data pertinent to the region consists of Kanyakumari, Thirunelveli and Chidambaranar districts. Since Cashewnut industries are located only in Kanyakumari district, the data is also pertinent to Kanyakumari district.

Source :

Regional office of the Provident Fund, Thirunelveli.

In the course of a discussion, the Provident Fund inspector, the enforcing authority of the Act, said that the employers in Cashewnut industry show apathy towards introducing PF to their workers. He said : Though we are trying our best to cover all the registered factories, the ownership pattern and trade unions biases attitude is a hindrance in the enforcement of the Act.

Pension :

: Recently the Government of Tamil Nadu has announced pension schemes for workers in the unorganized sector. It plans to set up a separate Board to enhance social security benefits such as pension, insurance, and gratuity for the workers in the unorganized sector. Workers in Cashewnut industry are also covered under the scheme.

We have seen in our survey that many workers have been working for more than 20 years. Even after announcing the Employees Pension Scheme 1995, four years prior to our survey, not even a single worker is getting pension from Cashewnut industry of Kanyakumari. This clearly shows how the employers, by not keeping the workers with seniority, evade the major social security measures.

Employees State Insurance (ESI) / Medical allowances

In Kanyakumari, are proper ESI facilities for the Cashewnut workers are far from being materialized? When there are no ESI hospital facilities, the employer has to give medical allowances to workers. In our study only one worker who belongs to the caste of her employer said that she is getting her medical bills reimbursed. Otherwise, all the workers said that their employers were not giving any medical allowances. If a worker became sick in the factory premises, the manager gives her wage for that day. One worker said that she and another couple of her fellow workers were once got injured in an accident in the factory during the working hours. Consequently, they had to be treated in a hospital for a week. But the management, instead of reimbursing their medical bills and due compensation, gave her onlyRs.60 and the other two got only Rs.25 each and were sent home.

Bonus :

: Cashewnut workers through a persistent struggle in Kanyakumari during late 1970s and early 1980s were able to get a part of the employers profit as bonus which was materialized in fixation of bonus through negotiations. From then onwards, every year work stoppages take place prior to Onam to fix bonus percentage. Employers in consultation with local trade unions fix bonus as a percentage of each workers annual earnings.

In our study, 34 workers got Rs. 1500-2000, 27, Rs.1000-1500 and 13 got less than Rs.1000 starting with Rs.600. Two workers get bonus of Rs.4000 and above. One worker got more than Rs.5000. However, even in this case, employers apply various fraudulent means by which they reduce the bonus: (a) they do not provide employment-card to each worker. If it were given, it would reveal how much work the worker does everyday. Being branded as a seasonal industry, it evades the issue of employment card; (b) they keep different registers one for payment of wages, another for payment of bonus and third to report to factory inspectors and other officials. If one looks into those registers together, which are near impossible, one gets a very different picture. They use those registers to manipulate accounts of workers. If they want to punish some workers who behave / resist / talk against the managerial staff the employment registers are manipulated accordingly.

Workers health Problems

The nature of work in each process of Cashewnut industry is different and has its own health hazards. In the roasting process, workers have to breathe the smoke that comes out and get respiratory problems. In shelling, as pointed out earlier, the liquid, which comes out while cracking the nuts, gives a burning feeling to fingers and leaves the hands and face with black spots. For shelling and peeling, women have to squat for a long time, all most since morning till evening.

More than 70 workers in our survey reported one health problem or the other. Out of these, 48 were sure about the fact that working in Cashewnut industry was the reason for their ill health. Most of the workers said that they suffered from back pain, pain around the vertebrate, respiratory problems. Others complained of vaatham, a mild form of rheumatism. Nobody is given gloves for shelling. Those who work in shelling have to get accustomed to the foul smell and burns on the fingers and the face. Very few companies provide oil for protecting the coating of the hands. Otherwise women workers have to bring white limestone sand from outside the factory and use it to protect their fingers and facial skin. These occupational problems not afflict only workers in shelling and peeling but in other sections also. One worker, Malathi working in packing section says, I am suffering from vaatham and body pain. I carry heavy boxes, which causes my body a violent pain.

Since there is no ESI hospital for Cashewnut workers, either they go to government hospitals (where proper medicines are not available) or to the private hospitals, which are mushrooming in the district and which charge heavily. Some workers have said they do not bother about the pains and simply pray. Others have said that though they have many health problems, they have to continue with the job to eke out their livelihood

An office bearer of CITU affiliated trade union said that five ESI hospitals were sanctioned in 1996 for workers in Cashewnut industry in Kanyakumari. Even the locations and buildings were selected. After the new government came to power in the state, there were some contradictions in sanctioning the hospitals and doctors, so the issue was kept aside.

Dr. Jayalal, a medical officer in a government hospital says most of the Cashewnut workers who come to hospital have asthmatic troubles. He suggests that the workers should be given gloves to work. Dr. Beula, a medical officer in a private hospital says that the workers are highly malnourished and they do not take food properly. She also said that many women workers from Cashewnut industry come with uterus problems.

A Brief History of Organization Process in Cashewnut Industry

The study area has been a stronghold of CPI (M). Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), a trade union wing of CPI (M) leads all other trade unions in the study area.

Tamil Nadu Munthiri Paruppu Tholilalar Sangam (TNMPTS) (Tamil Nadu Cashewnut Workers Union), an affiliate of CITU, in the late 1960s was formed just after the shifting of Cashewnut factories from Kollam with a very humble beginning amidst great difficulties. I took it three to five years to become a registered union. As per the Trade Union Act 1926, seven workers can form a trade union but mobilizing seven workers in those days was very difficult. Cashewnut Industry employers, who have recognized TNMPTS to fix and revise the wages, workload, etc, tried everything to stop the formation of the union. Initially, the union was started in three factories in Palavila, Kootappuli and in Maruthancode. All of them owned by Vijayalakhmi Cashew (VLC). Many a time, employers even bribed government officials not to register TNMPTS. Whenever workers began to be organized they were weaned away by the employer to withdraw their memberships from the union on their own. This prolonged the delay in the unions registration and it could be registered only after five years.

Since women constitute more than 95% of the total workforce in Cashewnut industry, we tried to find out how the trade unions emerged in the industry and addressed the issues of industry where the labour process is predominantly feminized and casualised.

Workers showed mixed reaction to the role of trade unions. According to some, union leaders come in only after revision of wages and bonus to collect Rs. 10-15 as contribution from each worker for the union activities and vanish. This they do twice or thrice in a year. It is quite surprising to see that more than, 30,000 women are working in Vilavancode Taluk and there is no woman Cashewnut worker-cum-trade unionist.

The union office bearers hesitatingly accepted that out of 100 workers only five to six workers accept the relevance of trade unions and show some interest in union activities. In our study out of 104 workers, only 47, five men and 42 women have said that they are members of trade unions and only less than 10 have said that they participate in the union meetings. Except these workers, all those who have paid their membership said, We pay membership fee but dont attend any meetings. The stigma attached to the trade union and the reasons for workers indifference to the unions activities is in itself a research question.

Mr. Jestus, the vice-chairman of TNMPTS reflecting on the labour movement in the industry said : It was very difficult to organize women workers. Even if we try to train them for union activities, it all goes in vain because most of them get married and stop working. When compared with other economic activities in the area, wages are quire low in the Cashewnut industry. This is another reason for the inability to organize them effectively.

Unions inter-rivalry

Besides problems in organizing the workers, inter-union rivalry is another major problem the labour in the industry is faced with. According to Kuzhithurai Joint Secretary, CITU, trade union wings of other political parties, instead of mobilizing workers, are indulging in defaming CITU-affiliated union and anti-campaign. They frighten workers about losing their jobs, if continue to be with CITU. In fact it is true that other political parties and their trade unions are not playing a significant role in the Cashewnut industry. Very recently, Mr. Nanukuttan, supporter of Denis, the Ex-MP of Kanyakumari constituency, formed two unions under the umbrella of INTUC. One of them is a supervisory employees union and other is a workers union. In one of pamphlets issued by him accusing CITU of unnecessarily threatening some companies such as VLC, IRP and IFE, because they are paying for PF, gratuity, maternity benefit, medical allowance, oil, soap, etc. regularly. Such threats may prove to be harmful for the industry in the region. Other major criticisms include (a) despite being perennial in nature, CITU is not doing enough to get the Cashewnut industry a status non-seasonal one (b) it is soft on other companies in Kanyakumari district. Mr. Jestus agrees that over the last 10 years, workers are getting regular work in the whole region. But the union is not strong enough to fight their cause.

Varied Perceptions

One of the CITU office bearers claimed that TNMPTS has more than 10,000 workers as its members, which is more than 30% of the total workforce. The role of trade union is more of a conciliating body than of organizing the workers and training them to struggle for their rights. Every year, it is like a festival when employers invite TNMPTS for wage agreements. Other small trade unions accuse CITU of being hand in gloves with employers in a clandestine manner. After negotiations, the revised wage rates are submitted to the government of Tamil Nadu. Thereafter, the union office bearers go and collect funds from workers when they get their bonus in each factory. With this the role of the trade union for that year is over and it does get involved in any matter related to labour unless there is a problem such as a worker not being able to get her/his PF or some workers are sacked from the company etc.

CITU has appointed a lady called Ms. Mary as vice-president of TNMPTS. She is working as a librarian in a private library. According to her, it is very difficult to organize women workers in the Cashewnut industry. If a woman worker faces any problem in the factory, she approaches Mary. She communicates this to the union office and as per the direction by the union, they approach employers. She says that the main problem in organizing women is not the management but other political parties who operate in connivance with the management. It is they, who go to houses of workers and their neighbors and indulge in rum our mongering against the union, she complained.

Child Labour

Though during the survey we came across only 2-3 children working in the Cashewnut industry in the study area. However, earlier studies on the industry in Kanyakumari as well as Kollam proved enough evidence to prove the childrens employment in the industry. We found that several families were scared of revealing the real age of their working children. During the course of informal chats it was found that if a girl child is studying well and her families income is insufficient, she starts helping her mother or elder sister in their factories work. Her work is counted with that of her mother or elder sister. Consequently, when she fails in her exams or loses interest in her studies, or in case of any mishap that may impact on her familys economic condition, she discontinues her studies and becomes a full-time factory worker. This is how young girls below the age of 14 enter the labour market in this area and join the ranks of docile workforce in the Cashewnut industry.

However, it is not so easy for the children to get job in the Cashewnut factories as it appears. One has to plead with the manager explaining the poverty of the family and the need of a child to work. Then the manager agrees to employ them. In this way, management tries to impress on the workers that they are recruited out of magnanimity, not because of labour demand. This overtly paternalising and magnanimous response to the pleading of the workers is also a major obstacle in mobilizing women workers for the organizational purpose, which clearly reflected in the workers responses during the survey.

Dress Code that Conceals Child Labour

Another disquieting phenomenon is that employers have laid down certain dress codes according to which, all women workers should enter the workplace with either saree or half saree (local term thaavani). Hence, we found several young girls carrying a duppatta like cloth in their Tiffin bags although they came attired in the traditional pavadaichallai (full skirt which pre-adolescents wear in the study area). But while entering the factory they wore the dupallas and while in the evening leaving the factory they folded it and kept it back in their Tiffin bags. This phenomenon was observed invariably all over the study area. We were told that in case any government officials visit the factory, this often helps the owners to show children as adult women working.

According to Dr. Jayalal, a medical officer in Marthandam Government Primary Health Centre, the child labour in the Cashewnut factories in this area is on the rise. Often bogus age certificates are procured from medical officers to evade the law. The PF Inspector who is in charge of the Cashewnut industry also confirmed the employment of child labourers in the industry. Very recently, one or two factories were finding for employing child labourers and this news spread all over the region. Following this incidence, employers are wary of those who come to enquire about child workers in the study area.

Moreover, we have been told that missionaries and school authorities have complained to the state government that dropouts are increasing suddenly due to employment of child labourers in the district. This had resulted in some unexpected inspections in factories and that was how two factories were fined.

Under weighing of kernels

On the one hand owners of the factory deny the workers their legitimate social security, on the other employ various tactics to exploit and misappropriate their labour. One of the ways they directly do this is under weighing of shelled out nuts. After shelling and peeling, all the workers have to carry the nuts to weigh the kernel. The kernels have to be weighed and no wages are paid for the broken ones. Our survey reveals that the practice of underweighing is quite rampant.

Nearly one third of the workers in shelling and peeling sections said that their kernels are under weighed. Some of them said that it happened in every factory and they couldnt do anything about it. Even if they raise their voice, it is of no use. It also depends on who weighs the kernels. There are more changes of underweighing, if men do it. If women do the job, the chances of underweighing are much less. One worker said that on an inspection, the weighing machine was found highly tampered with.

Conditions at workplace

The lack of very basic facilities at the workplace can be best summed up by a women workers own remark: If a woman worker wants to use the toilet, another woman has to accompany her. In most of the cases the toilets are without any door. The accompanying women should stand in front of the open toilet indicating that it is being used.

As mentioned earlier, while cracking the nut an irritating liquid substance comes out which affects the hand and facial skin of the workers adversely. As per the 1989 agreement, employers were supposed to provide cloths, soap, oil and gloves to workers. But all surveyed workers invariably confirmed the complete breach of the agreement by the employers. A few factories do provide oil once a week. However, if a worker fails to turn up on that day, she will not get it the following day and consequently she will have to buy it on her own.

Conditions at Residence

The survey found 45 houses of the workers were kutcha with thatched roofs and 53 were tiled. Eighty workers own a house and some land each. Thirty-eight workers houses had two rooms while 22 had only one room. It is quite surprising that more than 59 households depend on neighborhood wells for drinking water. Only 29 workers depend on public water facilities. Eleven households have separate bathroom facilities and 41 have toilet facilities. The reason for not having private bathrooms in most of the cases is the availability of water from common resources. There are many small/medium size tanks built in the pre-independence period and many streams flow in this area. So people prefer to use them rather than having bathrooms in their houses. Eighty-four houses had separate space to cook. Seventy-three houses did not have electricity connections and only five had televisions. Two worker-families had refrigerator and motorbikes.


Impact of the Industry

Qualitative Change in Workers Life

In most of the cases the survey found the workers to have an uncritical view of the industry so far as its impact on the quality of their life is concerned. Most of the workers feel it has had positive impact ob their socio-economic Life. Hence, probing them about their legitimate rights at the workplace does not make much sense. This can only be understood by first hand experience of their living and working conditions and which was done during the field survey. It is perhaps because of the lack of an uncritical approach of the workers towards the industry they give a lukewarm response to any call given by trade unions. However, our survey revealed several pockets where workers are highly critical of the industry viz a viz its impact on their lives. As a matter of fact a few young girls have got a sense of freedom after getting employment in the study. This is which one girl has to say in this regard : From my earnings, I can spend the way I wish, moreover it is a good time-pass, too, isnt it?

However, to others the industry has done more harm than good. It is adversely affecting not only the health of the individual workers but also the social fabric in the area. Here are a couple of remarks by the workers to illustrate this point : What change? Getting disease is the only improvement in my life after joining the factory. The factory I used to work earlier gave Provident Fund. I switched over to Cashewnut factory expecting higher wages. Let alone the higher wages I have become sick in the bargaining. Another worker said : There is no improvement in my life even after working in the factory for so many years. I am so fed up with this work that I feel like stopping it and staying back at home. But what is the alternative? Yet another women said : Since I have to be away working for long hours in the factory to eke out bread for my family, my family is neglected. There is no one to look after my children at home; as a result my sons are keeping away from home for day together. Most probably they have already picked up a company, which could spoil them. My family is also showing certain symptoms of disintegration. It is all because of my factory work. On the other hand even after 28 years of experience, I am not given macaud job.

Savings :

Most of the workers earn just above or equal to poverty line earnings of Rs.6,400. Seventy-nine of 99 respondents said that they save their earnings for various purposes. Besides spending their income for family expenses, educating the children, meeting day-to-day expenses, they buy jewellery, utensils and clothes. To meet these needs, chit funds, savings scheme organized by NGOs, Church based organizations, in some cases post offices, and banks and LIC are the institutions of saving for the Cashewnut workers in the study area.


CADRE-India, a voluntary organization has been working for social welfare of the Cashewnut workers in the area since 1993. Educating the workers is its main objective in this direction. In the beginning it was given a project by National Literacy Mission to educate Cashewnut workers in the region. With the support of the government, they went to factories and spent 30-45 minutes in a week and taught illiterate women workers how to read and write. Permission was denied in the beginning but with the support of the district collector, they were able to enter the factory premises. For a few months, Cadre-India found it very difficult to interact with the workers and get their reaction as the classes/meetings were always under the surveillance of the management. Besides this, the employers refused to allow all the workers to attend the classes at a time. Workers were not able to express their problems at the workplace. Once a company was fined Rs.5000 for employing a child labourer and the management suspected Cadre India for it. As a result the management banned Cadre Indias entry into the factorys premises.

Later it decided to conduct classes in the residential areas of the workers. During the holidays or once in a week, classes and meetings were held. In the mean time, many women mandram (self help groups) were formed and one animator was chosen from each locality to conduct meetings and classes. In the meetings, problems at workplace are discussed. Some workers withdrew themselves fearing the loss of their job in the factories but others continue to participate.

Cadre India also engaged in inculcating savings habit among the worker households in Kuzhithurai area. These animators go to workers houses once a week, collect the money and deposit it with a nationalized bank. Later when Mandram members seek loan to buy cattle, cadre India lends to them at moderate interest rates. So far it has accounts of 500 Cashew workers under its saving scheme. Cadre India is also assisting a nursery school meant for the children of the workers.


Within a span of 35 years, the industry grew rapidly. So much so that more than one fourth of the total facilities in the district are Cashewnut processing units and the industry resides employment t nearly three-fourth of the total factory workers in the district. It has made a tremendous impact on the employment market in the district particularly in Vilavancode, where most of the Cashewnut processing industries are established. More than two-thirds of the women workforce has chosen Cashewnut-processing industry as their option. The next option available to women is to be housewives. Owing to meager earnings and that too by women, the role of women workers of Cashewnut industry labour market in the overall labour market is completely neglected.

In spite of the failure of Cashew crop in Kerala for the last two consecutive years 1997 and 1998, this industry continued to running throughout the year. As per the payment of Gratuity Act 1972, establishments in Cashewnut industry are given the status of seasonal ones and the workers in these establishments can get gratuity for seven days of every year of service. Since the workers stop working after marriage, they are not entitled to maternity benefits.

Looking at the industry from a broader perspective, the liberalization and globalization process has, as is its wont, triggered an international division of labour with adverse consequences for the Third World labour market. The capitalists of this agro-based industry, operating as combines, move their capital to take the best advantage of market flections and competition. The import raw materials from other Third World countries and process it in India, by paying abysmally low wages, exploiting labour in the bargain. The demand potential of the industry serves as a smokescreen. Consequently, neither the workers nor the state is bothered about the stability of neither the industry nor the havoc it is wreaking on the health of the workers. The workers are paid on a piece rate basis either on a weekly or daily basis. Women earn only two-fifths of what men earn, in spite of working longer hours and handling greater workloads.

The wages of women workers are less than the poverty line earnings. When compared with other industries in the region, this is the lowest paid occupation. However, the availability of alternative opportunities is very limited. Generally they work 9-10 hours a day, including Sundays in most of the cases. Poverty in the region forces the workers to accept the difficult working conditions.

Though the industry in Kanyakumari continues to be dominated by producer-owned firms, a new phenomenon of subcontracting through commission agents is also emerging fast. The changed ownership is making the workers highly vulnerable. The workers find their social security benefits denied to them in such a situation.

Prolonged trade union struggles have led to some improvement in the wages and other benefits. Hence in spite of problems with the functioning of trade unions, their role in getting better wages cannot be neglected. In fact it would be quite true to say that in this region workers have not been able to recognize the importance of trade unions. Their role appears to be restricted to mere mediation between employees and employer once a year. However, their task of educating the workers about their rights, training them as the vanguard of the labour movement and bringing home to them the fact of their exploitation remains undone. The lack of alternative employment opportunities, the prevalence of strong patriarchal tendencies coupled with social evils like dowry force women workers to subjugate themselves to the Cashewnut industry as slaves.


(1) In the study area about 95% of the workforce in the Cashewnut industry consists of women, their participation in the union activities is negligible. The immediate task is to mobilise them for organizational activities and build up a leadership out of them, which at the moment is non-existent.

(2) In Cashewnut industry, the basic prerequisite is solidarity among the Cashewnut workers of different states/regions. Trade unions and other mass organizations working in these areas have to come together, constitute a forum for all Cashewnut workers. The forum should create awareness among the organizations at the broader level about the industry and workers. This forum can also function as pressure group at the policy level, at the state as well as at the national level.

(3) To start with, in every factory the forum has to mobilise the women workers, educate them about the need for mass mobilization to prepare strategies to counter the tactics employed by their employer in order to evade their legitimate wages and social security provisions.

(4) As most of the women workers are young and unmarried, probably owing to their docility due to certain socio-cultural ethos are non-assertive and fear losing their jobs, it is possible that to begin with the elderly women lead the young ones. These elderly leaders can meet the workers regularly; discuss their work-related and other problems. It is necessary to expand their thinking process beyond factory and house.

(5) There is need to change the general attitude towards the workingwomen in the industry. It can best begin at the family level. Besides mass mobilization, changing the outlook of the family, particularly male folks is a must to encourage the women workers to demand their legitimate rights. This should be initiated by the mass organization e.g. trade unions.

(6) The workers, particularly women everyday work for more than the time stipulated throughout the year with no holidays. Working hours and weekly and other holidays should immediately be fixed. Trade unions should meet the workers more frequently than meeting them just once a year. They need to prepare education material about the workers rights and distribute the same among them. This will again be possible if women lead the strategies. The plant level leaders should also be encouraged to negotiate on bonus, wage revision, welfare and other matters with the management.

(7) With the changing nature of the production organization in the industry through commission agents who exploit the workers by advance payment. The mass organizations should work as a watchdog to prevent this kind of exploitation and they should bring them in the notice of the concerned authorities.

(8) In the changing social, economic and political scenario, the mass organizations should be more innovative to response to the new challenges to protect the rights of the workers in the industry. With regard to shortage of raw Cashew, here we have tried to furnish evidences, which go to prove that Tamil Nadu has enough potential to expand the area under Cashew crop. The state has to take appropriate measures to utilize the funds allocated for this purpose. This will increase the income of the dry land farmers and at the same time reduce the import bill of the nation.