The Life of Labour: Uber, Ola Strike Called Off in Delhi, Cleaning Sewers Claims Three More Lives

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Manual cleaning of septic tank. Credit: Faecal Waste Management in Smaller Cities across South Asia: Getting Right the Policy and Practice

Manual cleaning of septic tank. Credit: Faecal Waste Management in Smaller Cities across South Asia: Getting Right the Policy and Practice


Cleaning sewers has claimed the lives of three more people in Mumbai. Hindustan Times reported that, “Navsarjan, a group campaigning for safer working conditions and compensation for such workers, estimates that there were six such deaths in Karnataka last year. Ahmedabad reported an average of 20 deaths every year. Many more cases go unreported.” Despite there being a law prescribing prison terms and harsh fines, criminal cases are usually never filed against those who force men into this kind of work.

The last month has seen numerous strikes and protests by sanitation and safai workers attached to municipal corporations all over the country. The corporation of Aurangabad delayed paying its workers for 21 days due to “non availability of funds”. In Surat, 2800 safai karamcharis were on strike to attain permanent status. Despite working for five years, the corporation keeps these workers on short-term contracts. They are paid Rs 154 for 4 hours of night work during the period of contract, according to Times of India.

Mining: Then and Now

The Asur Adivasis, India’s first metallurgists, now struggle for daily wages in Jharkhand’s mines

New rules at the mines force the workers to sign in biometrically four times a day or risk losing their daily wages. The management had installed the new surveillance system after 170 workers struck work to demand a wage increase from around Rs 250 per day to Rs 500, according to Scroll. They are now paid Rs 307. It was only a few generations ago that they were extracting metal from stone and smelting it to make tools, but now the knowledge remains only with a few people.

In other news, ET reports that “The Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation, on behalf of other central trade unions said the move of additional 10% stake divestment in Coal India will be opposed strongly and in unity by coal employees and its trade unions.”

Ola, Uber strike in Delhi mostly come to an end

“We have resumed duty not because we are convinced but we have no other option.” That’s a sentiment shared by most of the drivers who have gone back to work after 10 days. Apparently, the cab companies tried to convince drivers to get back to work. “Many drivers decided to return to work after receiving text messages from the companies in the past 10 days. Some of the messages the driver-partners shared with contained links to news articles or claims that over 90% of drivers had already resumed their duties. Others received reminders on their car loan instalments, media reports said.”

The strike has now been called off in Delhi until February 27 since the companies have negotiated for time until then to meet their demands. As The Hindu reports, Ola representatives have allegedly assured drivers that the Rs.500 penalty charged for ‘denying duty’ will be removed and current fares per km will be increased.

Uber and Ola seem to have no qualms in denying their drivers legally-mandated social security benefits. This has to be seen in the light of a recent admission that they would be viable even if they treated their drivers as regular employees, as covered in the next section.


Amazon, Uber admit they would be viable even if they paid employees as per the law

“Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber have admitted their businesses would remain viable if they were no longer allowed to rely on self-employed workers who do not receive sick pay, pensions or a guaranteed minimum wage”, reported The Guardian. The representation was made before a committee on work and pensions in the House of Commons. The British MPs raised the vital point that when private firms like Amazon and Uber don’t pay benefits or insurance, the cost ends up being borne by the public. “The more that people are in this pseudo-employment, the more we all feel that the state is picking up the bill”, said one MP.

A historic collective wage agreement signed on the West Bank

The West Bank, being outside Israel’s sovereign territory, isn’t covered by any kind of effective labour regulation. That’s why any kind of victory for Palestine workers is something to be cheered. Last week, one  of the largest repair garages in the West Bank signed a collective agreement which covers all 75 workers at the plant and compensates the Palestinians among them for the previous period, when their rights had been denied. The agreement, reached after three years of disputes, strikes, and legal suits, covers workers for the next four years.


Strike in Chile’s Escondida mine set to hit 30-day mark

Calculated moves by BHP Biliton. The company will not be exercising its right to bring in temporary workers – something that’s allowed by law after 15 days. Instead, it will wait till at least the 30 day mark with the intention of weakening the unions. After 30 days, workers can individually cross the picket line and sign agreements with the management. Already the strike has effectively prevented 40,000 tonnes of copper from entering the market, according to an estimate by Reuters.

Building collapse in Kanpur: SP’s Mehtab Alam ordered to pay 75 lakh as compensation: Ten construction workers had died when a building belonging to Alam collapsed. The Labour department issued notices, ordering Alam to appear before them and give response but the notices went unanswered.

Garment Workers:

Following an international campaign to free 35 Bangladeshi garment workers and unionists arrested in December after protests demanding higher wages, “a tripartite agreement was reached on 23 February between IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the Ministry of Labour and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, providing the release of the arrested trade unionists and garment workers. According to the agreement, those remaining will also be freed and cases against them disposed of.”

On Feb 10th, fixed-term employment extended from apparels alone to other kinds of textile work like bed sheets and towels. Fixed-term employment is contract employment where non-renewal of the contract won’t count as termination. The reason for implementation seems to be the ‘seasonal nature of employment’ but despite being called a win-win, how this helps employers or employees is unclear.


BusinessLine reports that “Over 51 per cent of work done by women in India is unpaid and not counted in national statistics, with some estimates even putting this proportion at 85-92 per cent, says a report by the high-level panel set up by the UN Secretary General.”


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