Labour

The Life of Labour: Government Abandons ‘Skill India’ Goal, Working Women Within ‘Modern’ Patriarchy

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Women working on an NREGA site building a pond in Gopalpura, Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Credit: UN Woman/Gaganjit Singh/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Women working on an NREGA site building a pond in Gopalpura, Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Credit: UN Woman/Gaganjit Singh/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Working women within ‘modern’ patriarchy

Women have contributed more than their fair share of labour to the sustenance and reproduction of human communities. Be it in the forests, farms, factories or within families, they have always been called upon to take a wider range of economic activities than men. Yet, patriarchy has often devalued and de-recognised their labour. Neither the claims to freedom and equality of European liberalism, nor the magic of free market promised under neo-liberalism seems to have been able to unshackle our society from the grip of patriarchy. Over the past week, a range of articles and news reports expose this tragic irony of our times.

In an article in Thozhilallar Koodum, Madhumita Dutta, critiquing the recent World Bank report on female work participation in India, observes that we continue to use a patriarchal lens when we imagine, enumerate and theorise about ‘work’. This de-recognises the extent of work women undertake ‘at home’ and ‘from home’, which plays an essential part in social reproduction of labour. The World Bank report uses NSSO data on female work that, unfortunately, classifies most of domestic work as ‘non work’. Thus, much of women’s work is rendered invisible in the equations of planners, economists and policy makers. She concludes with a demand to radically shift our notions of work and its valuation. (You can take a look at P. Sainath’s photographs titled ‘Visible Work, Invisible Women’ on PARI.

Even when women move into paid work, often over and above their domestic contribution, the lens of patriarchy follows them. Scroll has published excerpts of ‘Maid in India’ – a book by Tripti Lahiri in which she documents conversations that occur in private Facebook chat rooms designed to share background information on domestic helps. She documents the heightened sense of suspicion, objectification and even sexism that dominates the discussion in such groups. Sharply bringing to focus the class angle, it also reveals how a worker loses all privacy while employers dissect the life of their workers in the privacy of Facebook chatrooms.

A more sophisticated form of patriarchy reveals itself when women are asked to aspire for and adorn the role of men, in all their masculinity, in the name of breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. The announcement by Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, that women will be enlisted in combat roles in the Indian Army, has brought this debate to the fore. While the media has hailed this as a transformational move by the Indian army, some have raised concerns. In a FirstPost article, Deya Bhattacharya cautions us that women might become victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence in war. But, she fails to recognise that it is the insertion of women into spaces monopolised by men, that loosens the grip of patriarchy and male chauvinism. Taking a different vantage, Sharanya Gopinath writes in The Ladies Finger that while women have a right to seek employment within every branch of the army, one has to understand that war is incompatible with feminist values. She maintains “feminism is supposed to be inherently suspicious of things that bring on violence — patriarchy, jingoism, power hierarchies, militarisation” and wants us to be more circumspect about this move as violence and feminism are “inherently incompatible”.

Add to this the continuing discrimination in wage, de-legitimisation of domestic work and numerous cases of sexual violence at places of work, it is clear that patriarchy continues to dominate our notions of ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ in ways that devalue women and their critical role in our economies.

Worksite accidents and safety raids in Kerala

Four construction workers were killed and one injured after a cave-in at a construction site in Pangappara in Kerala. The 19-storey apartment building was being constructed by excavating a hillock. Due to poor safety provisioning, a section of the hillock slid over the construction site, burying the workers. Reports claimed that the excavation of earth for the construction was done ‘indiscriminately’ without concern for the safety of workers and nearby residents. The collector has ordered an enquiry. Following this accident, the Kerala labour department has conducted a series of raids on construction sites. It has revealed major safety lapses, labour law violations and even human rights violations, prompting the department to issue half a dozen ‘stop’ memos.

Textile worker commits suicide, co-workers allege abuse by company officials

The suicide of a young textile mill worker in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu has evoked strong protest from mill workers in the region. The News Minute reports that 24 year-old Sebastian Inbaraj, who committed suicide on May 15, had championed the cause of women workers, supporting them in their fight for better wages and working conditions. His co-workers allege that the company management abused him in public on false charges of theft because of his support for unionising women. The public humiliation was a central reason for his death. The company has denied it, though questions remain as to why instead of filing a police complaint, the company resorted to abusive methods.

Universal minimum wage part of the proposed labour wage code

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that a base minimum wage, applicable across the country and across sectors, will be enacted as part of the labour wage code that will replace labour laws related to payment of wages, bonus and minimum wage.

Skill India: Government abandons goal to train 50 Cr people by 2022, no new target set

The government has dropped another labour related poll promise with the ministry of skill development abandoning the ambitious target of training 500 million workers in new skills by 2022. The ambitious target had prompted the setting up of the National Skill Development Corporation and a Skill Development Fund with a mandate to turn this into a ‘for profit’ sector. But after failing to achieve even modest targets for the past four years, the ministry has concluded that they would be ‘demand driven rather than supply driven’. This statement, in effect, is an admission that there are not many opportunities opening up for newly skilled workers. The minister did not spell out any new targets or goals.

Minimum wages for sanitation workers in Navi Mumbai

The City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. (CIDCO) has decided to enhance the wages of sanitation workers in tune with the revised minimum wages in areas administered by it in Navi Mumbai. The wages on average will increase by about Rs 4000 with most of the increase going into social welfare deductions. While workers, who have been demanding a wage increase for many years, welcomed this development, they felt that the wage (which is presently revised to Rs 18400) should have been increased further to about 20000. The in-hand increase after the revision is only about Rs 1000, which remains an issue of contention.

Tata Motors and workers reach wage agreement in Sanand plant

After a prolonged negotiation, Tata Motors and Tata Motors Sanand Union signed a 5 year wage agreement that increases wages by Rs 3200 every year over the next five years, and introduced performance linked salary scheme. The variable pay will be 10% of total wage and will be linked to performance indicators such as productivity, quality and safety. A similar wage agreement had been signed with Pune union recently by Tata Motors. The wage agreement seems skewed in favour of the management as the wage increase is minimal. The agreement, unlike the usual 3 years, is valid for 5 years and it also includes a discretionary component in the wage allowing supervisory and managerial employees tools to penalise workers in the name of performance.

International news

Protests in Brazil as new legislation aims to roll back labour rights: Brazil is currently operating under one of the most conservative governments that it has ever seen. Last year, the government decided to freeze government spending for 20 years. This year has seen numerous attempts to remove labour protections including overturning the 8 hour work day, facilitating outsourcing, weakening unions and collective bargaining rights, and more.

2000 striking miners fired in Indonesia’s copper and gold mine: “PT Freeport Indonesia has terminated 2,018 workers taking strike action at the massive Grasberg copper and gold mine in the Indonesian province of West Papua.” The workers had commenced strike action on May 1 against the company’s furlough policy that saw thousands of workers put on ‘long term leave’ to cut costs. After the union announced the continuation of the strike on May 24, the company terminated the contracts of 2,018 striking permanent workers.

Why Corbyn won: Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of Jacobin Magazine, writes about why the performance of Jeremy Corbyn in the recent elections (in the face of unrelenting opposition by every entrenched institution) is a victory, despite him not winning.