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Tamil Nadu transport workers: A successful strike yields mediocre results
Tamil Nadu witnessed an effective transport shutdown for two days on May 15 and 16 with the overwhelming majority of state transport workers staying away from work. They were demanding the long pending dues owed to pensioners as well as unpaid PF and dearness allowance. The workers are members of ten major trade unions across 8 state-owned transport corporations catering to urban inter-state passengers. It had a crippling effect on passenger and freight transport in the state. The strike was called off after an agreement was reached between the government and trade union representatives. In the agreement, the government promised to provide Rs 1250 crores to the corporations to pay back some of the dues and to come up with a comprehensive policy on social benefits including PF. The estimated total amount outstanding was to the tune of Rs 7000 crores.
The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, hearing a PIL on 16th May, had directed the Chief Secretary to invoke Essential Services Maintenance Act 1968 and take penal action against union leaders and workers if they did not return to work by the next day. ESMA allows the state police to arrest without warrant anyone suspected of striking work in a service deemed essential for the public. It also imposes severe fines on those advocating a strike or supporting striking workers. With state governments having the power to declare any service as being essential for public, ESMA nullifies the workers’ right to strike. The threat of judicial intervention to break the strike might explain why the strike was withdrawn without a clear road map from the government on clearing bulk of the money owed to workers.
The workers had shown complete support for the strike, reflected in the near total shutdown on the first day of the strike. The strike remained crippling even on the next day, with union estimates suggesting 75% shutdown. The state government roped in private bus operators, contract workers and adhoc drivers to run as many busses as possible in major cities. Police were also deployed in large numbers to thwart any attempt by workers to stop traffic. Some arrests were also made, yet the strike remained virulent. The agreement reached on the night of May 16 is an improvement over what was offered by the government before the strike. It enhances the financial commitment by the government from Rs 750 crores to Rs 1250 crores. It also provides relief to the worst affected pensioners by clearing their dues. But on other aspects, such as PF payments, it remains vague. It also falls far short of the total dues that amounts to nearly Rs 7000 crores. It is also unfortunate that that the strike demands and the agreement does not resolve the structural issues that plague these corporations leading to chronic loss. Thus the issue is only postponed to a later time. The negotiations for wage revision, which were put off by the unions in order to get a settlement on this issue, is set to begin on May 24.
Post-script: The invoking of ESMA also gives us an opportunity to ponder over what are a state’s responsibilities regarding something that it labels an ‘essential service’. It’s safe to assume that outside the elite classes, mostly everyone believes that the running of buses is an essential service. And the government agrees. But then how does the government justify its neglect of the bus transport system? And is the bus system essential in the same way that the automotive sector (in Tamil Nadu) is?
The draft labour code on social security – workers’ concerns
On the Kafila blog, Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan discusses the proposed labour code on social security. The new code, part of the government’s plan to simplify labour regulation in the country, seeks to replace 15 existing laws. Among the various concerns are the plans to scrap and subsequently replace the provident fund and state insurance schemes. There are also now numerous avenues for the state executive to direct aspects of the labour code. If you have little confidence (like many do) that the state can’t be trusted to uphold the rights of labour against big business, then the new code is a cornucopia of problems.
Underpaid, untrained workers deployed to fix India’s ailing health system:
A report in Hindustan Times says: Before the launch of the 108 ambulance service that reaches a patient within 20 minutes in urban and 40 minutes in rural area, Vaidya spent her own money to escort mothers to healthcare centres. “I have helped many women during their pregnancies with food, medicines and clothes for their kids for the first month.”
In 2015, tired of the low pay, she applied and was selected for the position of police patil (constable). “I now make Rs 3,000 a month and there isn’t much work. As an ASHA, I had to attend emergency calls at night, and do surveys for pulse polio and elephantiasis where I roamed the whole day to get just Rs 50,” Vaidya said.
Women workers slam German garment manufacturer for anti-worker activities:
Thozhilalar Koodam reports, “After tense negotiation between GAFWU (Garment And Fashion Workers Union) and management, the management has promised to increase the wage in one week, take action against supervisors for harassing workers and on non payment of wages to 38 workers and settlement for 29 dismissed workers.”
Another incident from the garment industry: The News Minute reported that, “Six young women working in a garment factory in Udumalpet in Tirupur district were allegedly beaten up as they tried to escape from a factory-run hostel. People living in the area beat up the guard and warden who were assaulting the women and rescued them.”
Delhi High Court feels AAP government’s recent hike in minimum wage Is ‘inadequate’: The Court was hearing a petition from industry bodies that claim to represent traders, petrol dealers and restaurant owners in the NCT. Despite industry representation on the committee that fixed the wages, the petitioners feel they have not been adequately represented. According to PTI, “the bench told the employers to “take a more proactive role” and decide what should be the minimum wages if they were aggrieved by the wages fixed by the government, saying “charity begins at home”. “Look at the workmen. They have to also take care of their families and you (employers) are challenging the minimum wages of Rs 13,000 to Rs 16,000,” the court said.”
French workers seize factory and threaten to blow it up in Protest Over Possible Closure: “We did not want it to get here, but we don’t have a choice: our average age is 49, what else will we do?” CGT union delegate Vincent Labrousse told Le Parisien. “Since they want to liquidate us, we are not going to leave the factory as it is. It’s sad to say, but here we are.”
Tesla factory workers reveal pain, injury and stress: ‘Everything feels like the future but us’: CEO Elon Musk states that worker health and safety is extremely important to him but “ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by The Guardian. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues.”
Bonus: How India Eats: The class structure of food consumption in India