The Life of Labour: India Inc. Clamours For Labour Law Reforms, Kollywood Cine Workers Strike

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

India inc.’s clamour for labour reforms grow as GDP growth slows down

As the GDP growth rate slipped to 5.7% p.a. for the April-June quarter from 7.9% p.a. last year, the clamour for relaxing labour laws grew among India inc.. This was also reflected in the statements of the outgoing vice chairman of Niti Aayog, Dr. Arvind Panagriya, who brought up the need to move forward on labour reforms to kick start growth that has slumped since the demonetisation shock. The proposed legislative amendments to labour laws include ‘fixed term’ employment that reduces the burden of permanent workers on companies and increases ease of lay offs. It also proposes to curtail trade unions by increasing the minimum membership requirements for recognition. These changes, along with rule changes such as self-certification and a relaxed inspection regime, reflect the long standing demands of industrialists towards deregulation. While it is uncertain whether these measures will spur job growth at a time of automation, it will make it even harder for workers to demand better working conditions and the state’s ability to protect labour rights.

NDA government goes back on National Floor Level Minimum Wage

While the initial reports on the new labour code on wages (or the Code on Wages Bill 2017 as it is officially known) stated that the centre would fix a national minimum wage, that does not seem to be the case. Senior labour department officials have clarified that there will be different wages for different geographic areas. “India is a vast country with the cost of living varying across states. We cannot have a single national level minimum wage. The Centre will fix different wages through a notification after consulting the Central Advisory Board,” a senior Labour Ministry official told The Hindu.

This means that the real change that the code will bring is that the centre’s mandated minimum wage (which will vary for different states) will now be a statutory rate rather than a non-statutory one. States will not be allowed to lower their minimum wages or go below the centre’s rate.

Cine workers’ struggle: As Bollywood strike ends, Kollywood on strike again

Cine workers represented by 16 unions led by the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) called off their strike on August 30, fifteen days after they began an indefinite strike demanding better wages, work schedules and basic facilities on production sets. The President of FWICE cited the flood condition and the invitation from labour minister to initiate tripartite negotiation with producers as reasons for withdrawing the strike. Over 5000 workers had camped outside the heavily guarded film city demanding that their working conditions be improved. Their demands included 8 hour work day, increase in wages and safer working conditions.

Even as the strike in Bollywood came to a close, FEFSI, representing cine workers in Kollywood, resumed their strike that they had withdrawn earlier last month. FEFSI has been at loggerheads with the Tamilnadu Film Producers’ Council (TNPC), which has been insisting that it will employ non-union workers in their production. Even as conciliation talks mediated by the Tamil Nadu labour department was pending, TNPC came up with a unilateral ‘General Conditions’ list and claimed that it will employ any person who agreed to the general conditions even if they were non-members. FEFSI considers this as an attempt to break the unions that have stood guarantee for wage payments to workers in an industry that is notorious for defaults. With little other options, FEFSI has yet again announced an indefinite strike.

Other news

The teachers strike in Orissa reached its 13th day with thousands of teachers braving the harsh weather to make their disapproval of the government’s block grant system clear. Their demand is equal pay for equal work – the demand of contract workers across the globe. But with rising costs and falling budgets, the government doesn’t seem keen to change any aspect of the current unequal system.

The World Forum for Fishworkers, a conference to be held in New Delhi in November, is being crowd funded by fish workers across the country. According to the National Forum for Fishworkers, they’ve managed to raise Rs. 5 lakhs.

International news

Macron government launches an overhaul of France’s labour laws: The new French government under Emmanuel Macron has announced a massive overhaul of the existing labour code in the country. Faced with a high unemployment rate and years of inadequate growth, the reforms are meant to help the country adapt to a ‘changing world’. The Guardian reports, “The priority was to ease constraints on small and medium-sized companies, which employ half of the French workforce, by granting them more flexibility to hire and fire.” Unions are unhappy because the reforms are expressly meant to reduce their influence. “We are disappointed and we have made that disappointment known to the prime minister … Our one aim is to improve the situation of workers … a company is not a proprietorial but a collective entity in which the voice of the worker must be heard,” a union leader told The Guardian.

How striking McDonald’s workers could take on the fast food giant: “Workers in two McDonald’s restaurants will make history on September 4 when they become the company’s first ever workers in Britain to go on strike,” writes Gregor Gall in The Conversation.

Weekend reading:

  • The dark side of ‘Make in India’: “’Made in India’ can overtake ‘Made in China’ in [the] near future for one big reason: China has to pay far more to its workers which raises output costs and makes goods expensive. According to market research firm Euromonitor, average hourly wages is China were $3.60 last year, 64 per cent more than in 2011. In India, the hourly wages are five times less than in China. The hourly wage difference is nearly Rs 184.” Read more here.


  • Dirty laundry: “There are more than fifty industrial laundries in and around New York that employ thousands of workers, most of whom are recent immigrants, mainly women. These workers typically operate in noisy, dirty, stressful conditions, and are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals.” Annie Hylton investigates for Dissent.


  • How Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has raised the barriers to a Black-Brown coalition: “The bigger picture, says Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago, is that the United States criminalises undocumented immigrants who provide low-wage labor but often does not penalize the employers who exploit that work—whether it is plucking birds at a chicken processing plant or pouring water at a restaurant. “We have an upper-class economy built on low-wage labor,” she says. “It’s unfortunate that a sector in the African-American community is now saying, ‘These people are taking our jobs.’ ” Read more here.

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