The Life of Labour: Defence Employees Protest Privatisation, Kochi Port Workers on 'Satyagraha'

Latest labour news updates from across the world.

Workers at ordnance factories across India protest creeping privatisation

Workers of 41 ordnance factories, naval docks and other defence production facilities have decided to protest the government’s policy to open defence production to private companies. Recently, the defence ministry put forward an open tender for 143 items being produced by state-run ordnance factories. All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF) which represent most of the over 4 lakh workers in these factories have opposed the move citing this to be a danger to our sovereignty and security. They contend that inclusion of private players in basic defence weaponry might risk danger at critical moments. They have decided to go on protest against this move. On May 23, Wednesday, workers reported to work an hour late and demonstrations were held across all the production facilities against privatisation.

Kochi port workers went on a two day ‘Satyagraha’ against the repeal of Major Port Trusts Act 1963

With port workers across India opposing the recently introduced Major Port Authorities Act 2016, workers of Kochi Port Authority went on a 48 hour protest at Willingdon Island, Cochin denouncing the repeal of the earlier law. The new bill, sponsored by the NDA government, intends to deregulate port authorities, increasing the power of the individual boards to take loans, allocate land for private commercial use and enter into PPP agreements. It also stifles the voice of the workers on the boards by reducing representation from 2 directors in the existing law, to just one director. The labour unions fear that this is a step towards privatising major ports and allowing the land and assets held by the port authorities to be used for private commercial gain. They have also voiced their concerns regarding degrading labour conditions if this trend continues. With the government going ahead with the repeal of the previous act and preparing to pass the new bill in the coming session of the parliament, workers, who are represented by five major unions, are planning to go on strikes. The protest by Kochi workers was an awareness raising campaign towards this strategy.

Troubles at Tata: Sanand and beyond

The Caravan did some extensive reporting into the labour problems at the Nano plant in Sanand that we had covered previously in this newsletter. They document how Tata suspended workers immediately after they formed a union, how this changed the tone of the labour movement there, how unfair labour practices abound in Gujarat and what happens to farmers when a huge factory opens up next door.

In other news, even as the layoffs in the IT sector is sending ripples through the employment market, Tata Motors has announced that it is reducing its employee strength by about 10%-12% as part of a major restructuring exercise. Elaborating on this, the company said that it is offering voluntary retirement packages to senior managerial staff, some have resigned while others are being moved to subsidiaries working on contractual basis. The company also clarified that the move will not affect blue collar or shop floor workers.

India’s female workforce participation pattern remains a concern: World Bank report

A recently released working paper by the World Bank Group reveals a disturbing trend in work participation among women. The female labour force participation has consistently fallen over the past two decades, from 42% to 31% between 1993-94 and 2011-12. Even more disturbing is the finding that over 53% rural women have dropped out of work in this period. The report attributes the entrenched gender norms, family roles and ‘marriage market’ as possible reasons for this drop in labour participation. The Ladies Fingers’ article rightly points out that there might be problem with the data itself. The report heavily depends on NSSO data on employment. But NSSO surveys do not account for many types of ‘part time’ work that women do at home. That said, the article does acknowledge the need to interrogate the reasons behind this phenomena. The world bank report too suggests that active measures, apart from education and skilling, need to be incorporated to encourage more women to enter the labour force.

International: Repression against labour unions and leadership

Labour unions and leadership have been systematically repressed by many governments across the world. We have covered many such cases, in Korea, India, Kazhakastan, Turkey and other countries. On April 30, an Iranian teacher, Esmail Abdi, began a hunger strike against his imprisonment in an Iranian prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment in October 2016. It is widely believed that he was imprisoned for his trade union activities and demands for free public education. He has been on hunger strike for the past 26 days, demanding an end to the unlawful repression of teachers. A petition for his immediate release has gathered over 15,000 signatures.

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), a UN human rights monitoring agency, has demanded the immediate release of South Korean Union Leader Han Sang-guyn, maintaining that his detention violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). On July 4, 2016, Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 500,000 Won (approximately 400 Euros) in connection to a demonstration organised by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) against proposed labor reforms in Seoul on November 14, 2015. During the rally, police used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. There has been a campaign to demand his acquittal in this case. The WGAD declaration might help when the case comes for appeal at the Supreme Court on May 31.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has taken the case of jailed union leaders Amin Yeleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev in Kazakhstan to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) demanding that they be immediately released. The two had been sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and heavy fine to be paid to a private company on charges that they had instigated a strike.

Other News:

Thozhilalar Koodam has published a manual on registering unions for workers intending to form unions at workplace.

With more IT employees under threat of losing jobs, Economic Times reports that workers are seeking union help to fight forced resignations

A little late, but last month’s cover story in the Caravan was a dive into the function of the Swachh Bharat Mission. The story looks at manual scavenging and caste but also goes into the broad policy and structural issues that seem to affect the Prime Minister’s pet scheme.

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