Labour

The Life of Labour: Compensation For Odisha’s “Village of Widows”, The Politics of Migration

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Finally, compensation for Odisha’s ‘village of widows’

The Hindu reports that “A labour court in Odisha’s Keonjhar district has awarded a compensation of Rs. 46 lakh to the families of those whose bread-winning male members died of silicosis, a preventable occupational lung disease.” As mentioned in an EPW editorial, “The 16 men, from Madarangajodi village in Keonjhar district, who died had worked in a unit that ground pyrophyllite into powder. In the process, they were inhaling silica dust without being aware of the consequences. Over time, their lungs collapsed and the men died, as silicosis is incurable. They left behind what was called, a ‘village of widows’.”

The issue came out into the open after an Angul-based NGO moved the National Human Rights Commission which then launched an investigation into the matter. Both The Hindu and EPW state that the fatalities could’ve been avoided had basic safety equipment been provided.

In Rajasthan, miners perish as they wait for silicosis compensation

Mine workers who contract silicosis should be compensated with Rs 1 lakh for treatment and their families should receive Rs 3 lakh when they die. These are NHRC recommendations, upheld by the Supreme Court in numerous cases. Even as documented cases of silicosis are on the rise, many mine workers and their families have received no compensation for lack of proper documents or because they are illiterate and find it difficult to negotiate the bureaucracy. In a recent article, Hindustan Times exposes state apathy, the laxity of mine owners and the red tape that forces many families that have suffered the loss of their bread winner to the mines, send their children back to the ‘killing fields’. The HT article documents the situation and leaves us with many pressing questions.

Is the construction sector risking workers’ lives in the interest of profit? 

Workers in the construction industry also suffer grave occupational hazards in-spite of legislations to protect workers. An NDTV report records this systemic failure by investigating the construction sector in Mumbai. The report hints that the lack of inspection by labour inspectors is the principal reason why construction companies and contractors often neglect basic safety procedures. This exposes the workers to unnecessary risks in the interest of maximising profit.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation seeks 3-month delay to implement SC order directing permanent jobs for long serving conservancy workers

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has sought a 3-month extension to implement a Supreme Court order on providing permanent jobs for conservancy workers who have served for over 240 days. Putting the onus on the workers, BMC has claimed that only 200 of the 1600 workers who had filed the initial petition have valid documents, making it difficult to verify. Given that muster rolls and attendance records have to be maintained properly, it is not clear why BMC cannot easily verify who it employed over 240 days. Milind Ranade, general secretary of the Kachra Vahtuk Shramik Sangh (KVSS), said, “If the verification has already been conducted once and the High Court and the Supreme Court have recognised it, why does the BMC need to take up the process all over again? This goes against the Supreme Court order. The BMC is doing this only to deny the rights of the conservancy workers.”

Other News

  • Film technicians in Tamilnadu, represented by FEFSI, went on a three-day strike demanding that Tamilnadu Producers Council should not break the wage agreement signed a year ago. The strike was withdrawn after the labour department called for talks.
  • Central trade unions have called for a massive protest in New Delhi between 9th to 11th of November to put pressure on the central government to discuss the 12-point charter of demands. The joint statement issued by the CTUs stated that “the convention noted with utter dismay that the government has been continuing to arrogantly ignore the 12-point charter of demands on minimum wage, social security, workers’ status, and pay and facilities for the scheme workers against privatization and mass scale contractorisation, etc, being jointly pursued by the entire trade union movement of the country”.

Update: Workers of JK tyres in Chennai, who were on a strike since July 24, withdrew their strike after 17 days when the company agreed to their demands to reinstate 27 dismissed workers after August 21 and conduct elections to recognize the majority union. Read more at Thozhilalar Koodam.

International:

Gaza in Palestine, suffering from years of economic blockade by Israel, is reeling under severe crisis and extreme poverty. This is forcing many children to take to work at the cost of their education. This article on UNICEF’s website recounts their stories while appealing for help.

Weekend Reading:

  • Radhika Krishnan explores the link between labour politics and environmentalism and hones in on the ‘red and green’ of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha. Read the full paper here.
  • Which Indians migrate and why? An excerpt from the review of Politics of Migration: Indian Emigration in a Globalized World in EPW: The first chapter of the book is devoted to dispelling some myths about international migration that have their base in “migration theory.” The authors believe that too much emphasis has been laid on economic compulsions, that is, on the proposition that people migrate from poor regions lacking employment and good living conditions to rich regions that provide these conditions. They argue that data shows migrants do not always belong to poor countries or poorest communities within a country. It is not poverty but the structural changes that accompany development, and the creation of markets that motivate migration. They observe “[there is] a close empirical correspondence between the onset of industrialisation and the beginnings of international migration”. The fact that the poorest are unable to migrate is well accepted in the literature on migration, given the financial and psychological costs involved in the process. Read more here.