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Labour law amendments fast-tracked in spite of opposition
The string of amendments proposed by the union government to various legislations regulating employment, wage payments and trade unions has met with stiff opposition from central trade unions during a consultation organised by the labour ministry. The government has zestfully prepared itself for the present budget session to deliver on its promise to vastly improve India’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. But the proposed amendments go about this task by decreasing regulatory mechanisms that protect workers’ rights, safety and health. For instance, the proposed changes to the Factories Act 1948 doubles the threshold of workers for an establishment to come under the regulatory purview of the Act – at a time when outsourcing and automation is reducing the size of factories. The trade unions have also opposed the clause that enables states to set their own thresholds by changing the rules. This would only lead to a competitive easing of norms to facilitate investment leading to further erosion of labour rights. Niti Aayog has said that it will work with state governments to fast track labour reforms after the upcoming elections are concluded. One of the state laws in line to be amended is the Shops and Establishments Act. Among the amendments will be proposals to allow shops to employ women in night shifts and increase overtime.
Trade unions have been raising these issues since the BJP government took charge in 2014 and organised national general strikes in 2015 and 2016 to draw attention to the reforms agenda. The bank unions have called for a nation-wide strike on Feb 28th, 2017, for demands that include a roll back to labour law amendments. There are also protests against Maharashtra government’s amendments to contract labour law that doubles the threshold limit for establishments to come under the act, allowing a large number of factories and other establishments to avoid regulation.
Children rescued from labour in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Another instance of child labour in Jaipur comes to light – this time 60 children were rescued, according to The Hindu. Just last month, 108 children were taken back to Bihar by the state government – many of whom were sent to work by their parents. According to a 2013 government report, the state of Rajasthan was responsible for nearly 10% of the total incidence of child labour in the country. The city of Jaipur alone had more than 50,000 child labourers in the age group of 5-14 years. According to Livemint, child labour is rampant even in NREGA. The sandstone industry, which exports all over the globe including the UK, employs 40% of children in certain areas according to a survey in 2015.
Technology isn’t always the solution: Notes on MGNREGA
Ankita Aggarwal, a social activist and consultant with the National Institute of Rural Development based in Ranchi, has done extensive work studying the role of technology in the administration of MGNREGA in Jharkhand. Digitising and automating practices using software might generally be a good idea but the increased oversight, labour saving and efficiency hasn’t materialised in the way you might expect. Poor internet at gram panchayats means that panchayat presidents and secretaries leave their digital signatures at the block office – which means that they “sign” documents and authorise transactions without even knowing about it. The electronic muster rolls don’t reach the worksites on times so records are first maintained in a rough form in a notebook or on loose paper and then copied onto the muster roll when it arrives. Errors creep in during the copying process and workers lose money. Electronic payments are rejected and not reprocessed. Payments go into Jan Dhan accounts that workers don’t even know they have so they don’t even know they’ve received their wages. The list is long.
Saudi Arabia deports 40,000 Pakistani workers allegedly on the fear of terror attacks
While much concern and outcry was raised around President Trump’s entry ban on citizens from seven Muslim countries as well as his plans to deport undocumented workers from Latin America, Saudi Arabia has continued its deportation of migrant workers on fear of terror attacks and criminal activity. According to a report in The Independent, over 40,000 Pakistani workers have been deported since October 2016 by the Saudi regime on fear of terror attacks. Citing official data, the report claims that over 2 lakh Pakistanis have been deported since 2012 for fear of links to ISIS and other terror outfits. But this comes at a time when migrant workers have been agitating against the poor conditions of work and non-payment of wages, a trend that has become acute due to falling oil revenues. Such deportations, according to Human Rights Watch, are usually preceded by detentions and illegal beatings acting as a severe deterrent against workers unrest against violation of their rights.
Nepali Workers languishing in Indian jails for protesting against employer
A Nepali news organisation reported that 43 workers from Nepal have been languishing in a jail in Himachal Pradesh after being detained for protesting for salaries, leave and overtime pay. The strike had been organised by CITU against an engineering company working on a hydropower plant.
Demonetisation and migrant labourers in India: Unorganised sector still reels from demonetisation effects in Noida.
Uber and Ola strikes: Delhi government to hold talks with striking drivers.
Women and labour: Horror stories of sexual harassment, miscarriages and unsafe working conditions at SEZ in Chennai.