Nokku kooli is an euphemism for extortion by organized labour unions in Kerala under which wages are paid to trade union activists for allowing common householders/ investors/builders to unload belongings/materials using machines or their own labour. This happens with the tacit support of political parties including those in government. In Malayalam, 'nokku kooli', translates into 'gawking wages' or 'wages for (just) looking on'. It had gained widespread notoriety all over Kerala, but the practice has been considerably curtailed in recent times.
Nokku kooli often enjoys a quasi-statutory status. The wages list finalized by the Head-load Workers Welfare Fund Board in an industrial zone in Kochi shows Rs. 200 per load of ready-mix concrete. This, when the entire process is machine-driven. Similarly, one tipper load (lorry which can mechanically tip the load) fetches Rs. 15 for the union. At least 1,000 tipper lorries are at work in the Vallarpadom container trans-shipment terminal site in Kochi. Yet another example was in Idukki. Recently, the state Power minister A.K. Balan publicly censured head-load workers who took Rs 3,000 each as nokku kooli while cranes installed some 14 turbines, each weighing 80 tonnes, atop 120-ft towers, for a windmill farm.
The modus operandi is usually as follows: At almost every industrial zone and residential area in the state, worker's unions posts "lookouts" whose task is to spot vehicles carrying goods. Once a quarry is spotted the news is quickly conveyed to all available union members, who then descend en masse to the place where the goods are to be offloaded. Heated negotiations then commence. The leaders often demand extortionist rates for doing the work. Their demand for a "right to work" is often not matched by an obligation to be efficient. So the usual compromise is for pay the union workers a certain amount for just watching - or gawking - while the work is done mechanically or using in-house workers. The employer, of course, loses both ways while making a double payment for the same work - he pays one group of "workers" for not working and another for actually getting it done.
A Malayalam Writer, Paul Zakaria, illustrates Nokku Kooli with the following example:
- You are, say, moving house. The worker comrades demand a prodigious sum to load/unload; so you decide to do it yourself with help from friends. The comrades look on from a distance; when you’re done, they ask to be paid the demanded wages. If you don’t pay up, there is a bit of violence and you get hurt. The revolution in Kerala says the worker must be paid even if he doesn’t work. That is a kind of workers’ paradise even Marx did not anticipate.
Widely recognized as an unethical labour practice, it is cited as one of the reasons for poor industrial development in Kerala. Following a recent change of government in the state, the new Labour Minister Shibu Baby John has said attempts to end the menace of ‘nokku kooli' will commence as part of the department's agenda for the 100-day development program of the State government declared by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. This move by the government has been substantial success and various cities and districts have been declared Nokku Kooli-free.. On 2018 May 1, an official release from the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan office said that trade unions had offered full support to the state government's move to end 'nokku kooli' in the state and 'Nokku kooli' to become history.
The Labour Department of the state government of Kerala has taken steps to end this illegal practice; including depriving the workers involved, of their jobs. There were interventions from Kerala High Court stating that case would be filed against those demanding ‘nokku kooli’.
The state government unified the loading and unloading charges in the state after reviewing and revising the prevailing charges. A scheme was launched allowing the advance remittance of loading/unloading charges through State Bank of Travancore branches. This fare would be claimed by the workers from the bank through "Headload Workers Welfare Fund Board" offices.
This scheme is launched in the capital city Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum), which is declared as the first ‘Nokkukooli-free’ city in the state. Government is in the process of launching this scheme all over the state starting with the five municipal corporations in the state. Kochi and Kozhikode was declared ‘Nokkukooli-free’ subsequently.
- Hartal (strike used in Indian subcontinent for civil disobedience)
- "'When elections come, Congress party gets suicidal tendencies' - Interview with Paul Zacharia". India Abroad. 15 April 2011.
- "Men (Not) At Work". Outlook. 12 May 2008.
- (Special Correspondent of THE HINDU) (28 April 2010). "News: States: Kerala". CITU opposes ‘nokku kooli’. The Hindu. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
- "Self Destruct". The Indian Express. 25 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
- "Campaign to end 'nokkukooli'". The Hindu. 4 June 2011.
- "'Nokku kooli' to become history in Kerala on May Day: CM Pinarayi". OnManorama. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
- "Labour Department cracks down on nokku kooli". The Hindu. 16 February 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
- Implement goonda-act against nokku kooli: HC
- Thiruvananthapuram-The First ‘Nokkukooli-free’ City
- Ernakulam is now Nokku kooli free
- kozhikode to be third nokku kooli free city