The Life of Labour: Workers in The IT Age, Manual Scavenging as Culpable Homicide

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

The lives of the salt harvesters of Thoothukudi in a warming world

Kamala Thiagarajan, a journalist from Madurai, writes about the lives of salt pan workers in Thoothukudi and the occupational safety and health hazards they face in their daily lives.

“Meenakshi, 58, and Mariamma, 45, have been working in the salt pans in varying capacities for 15 years. Their responsibilities involve releasing the borewell brine into the pans and to reinforce the mud borders of the salt pans when required. It involves staying alert and monitoring the density of the brine throughout the day. Their lives have always revolved around the temporary nature of these jobs. Which is why, during the unseasonal rains last year, they found themselves out of employment, bewildered and confused. Usually, this is the time of year when salt harvesting is at its peak.

When the work stopped, they found that no one else was willing to hire them. “I would have starved if it weren’t for the rice I received through my ration card,” says Meenakshi. “No one would employ us because they knew we laboured in the salt fields and they were afraid of being left in the lurch once the rains stopped.” Mariamma adds, “The rains didn’t stop for several months. It was worrying. We couldn’t understand it and didn’t know what would become of us.”

Workers’ deaths in Qatar and a new law for its migrant domestic workers

Youth Ki Awaaz reports that “between 2004 and 2017, 3154 Indian workers died in Qatar, with more than 200 workers dying each year from 2007 onwards.” The Indian embassy in Doha, however, refused to provide data regarding the causes of death.

In the context of these disturbing figures, any worker-centric policies introduced by the Qatari government would be cause for celebration. The new law protecting migrant domestic workers is a baby step, but a historic one. “The new rules on foreign domestic staff mandate a maximum of 10 hours per working day with breaks for prayer, rest and eating, along with three weeks of severance pay at the end of their contracts. They limit the working age to between 18 and 60, stipulate three weeks of annual vacation, and order that employers provide proper food and medical care.”

Labour laws and workers rights in China

The Economist takes a long hard look at the state of labour rights in China and comes to the conclusion that they are of no use where they are needed the most. “Whether in the breathless years of double-digit economic growth or today’s more languid era, one constant in China has been the poor state of workers’ rights and the frequent outbreaks of labour unrest. From coal miners in the snowy north-east to factory staff in the steamy Pearl river delta, workers have agitated against low pay, wage arrears, unsafe conditions and job losses. A law on labour contracts that took effect in 2008 aimed to keep Chinese hard-hats happier, and on paper, it should have succeeded… In practice, however, the law has only helped a bit.”

Workers in the IT age

Eighty patient care coordinators at AIIMS went on strike after their employer, TCS, served them termination notices. TCS handles online appointments for AIIMS, among other services. The strikers say they have received no reason for their termination.

This comes at a time when unions are being formed by IT employees across the country, with the most recent being in Bangalore last week.

This has triggered a lot of discussion on whether IT employees or tech workers are technically workers. Either by their own opinion or the formal definition of political and economic theorists.

Siddharth Patel, in an article on Jacobin, analyses whether techies are friends or foes of the American labour movement. While it really only applies to the American context, it’s still an interesting read.

Other news:

Delhi government uses strong language, says manual scavenging is culpable homicide: “Delhi social welfare minister Rajendra Pal Gautam on Monday announced a blanket ban on manual cleaning of sewers and warned that anyone found violating the rule will be booked under culpable homicide.” Read more here.

How Rajasthan’s mine workers keep languishing without any identity: “Lack of monetary compensation is one of the biggest tragedies that the 33 lakh workers who work in mines face – because compensation hinges on proof of identity as mine labourers, which they don’t have.” Read more here.

Weekend Reading:

  • Forty-one years after ‘The Great Grunkwick Strike’, read about the movement led by Asian and African immigrant women here.
  • Read two interesting companion pieces on ‘Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism’ and how good social welfare policies can hinder pickup artists.
  • In Aeon, an essay on ‘How Work Changed To Make Us All Passionate Quitters’: “The CEO of Me, Inc is a job-quitter for a good reason – the business world has come to agree with Hayek that market value is the best measure of value. As a consequence, a career means a string of jobs at different companies. So workers respond in kind, thinking about how to shape their career in a world where you can expect so little from employers.”
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