Labour

The Life of Labour: Why Trade Unions Oppose the New Wage Code Bill

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Why trade unions oppose the new Wage Code Bill

The NDA government has been pushing for changes in the labour law ecosystem by replacing all the labour laws with just four labour codes. The first of which is the Wage Code, that intends to amalgamate four labour laws – the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965; and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. Indian trade unions have come out in opposition to this process as they claim these reforms dilute whatever protections are still left to workers within the law. Newsclick explains the rationale behind this opposition while pointing to the unfulfilled promises such as ‘National Minimum Wage’.

Five contract workers killed inhaling poisonous fumes

Five casual workers were killed and two remain in critical condition after inhaling toxic fumes when they were asked to clean an effluent treatment plant for Advance Dyestuff Industries, Ahmedabad. The work had been subcontracted by the contractor engaged by the company to clean the effluent tank. The workers were not provided with any safety gear and no precaution was taken to remove the fumes from the tank before the workers entered it. The police have filed FIRs against the company owner, supervisor and contractors for culpable homicide. The Director of Industrial Safety could not recall whether the inspection of the factory had been conducted on time. He has assured that necessary action would be taken on the basis of the investigation. The ease of bypassing the law has made it profitable for employers to disregard the safety of the workers. This leads to workers being unnecessarily exposed to hazards that come to light only in the event of loss of life.

Two workers crushed to death in Lafargeholcim Ambuja plant in Chhattisgarh

On September 17, two contract workers were killed in an accident at the Ambuja cement plant of the LafargeHolcim group at Bhatapara in the state of Chhattisgarh. Two workers succumbed to critical injuries when the raw mill crusher they were inspecting began to operate without notice. Three workers had a narrow escape. IndustriAll, an international forum of trade unions, has taken up the issue with LafargeHolcim and a company-led investigation is underway. They have also sought greater involvement of workers, including contract workers, in improving ‘Health and Safety’ conditions at the plant to prevent such recurrence. This accident isn’t the only one in recent times. In 2013, five workers were killed at the same plant when a building collapsed.

No wage cuts to teachers and government employees for the strike period: Madras High Court

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has passed an interim order restricting the government from cutting wages of the workers for the period of the strike. The unions, through their advocate, have agreed to work on Saturdays to compensate for lost days. The high court has also asked the government to refrain from any disciplinary action until further orders.

On the issue of reverting to the old pension scheme, which was the demand of the striking employees, the court has sought a decision from the government on the recommendations of the 7th pay commission before October 13. It has also said it will pass interim relief to workers if the government fails to post its counter affidavit by October 13.

Security staff at Mumbai Metro strike work demanding regularisation

The Hindu reported that over 650 security guards of the Maharashtra Security Force went on a flash strike demanding regularisation of their jobs. Currently, they are placed on 11-month contracts without a guarantee of renewal. “After working for nearly four years, I am not sure about my job. At the time of renewal, I start looking for options, thinking that I will be left unemployed if the authorities don’t consider me fit,” said Girish Chauhan, one of the guards. The Director General of Police, who is also the director of MSF, said that the guards who did not report to duty will be dismissed. He further said that no one had a right to protest in the uniformed services.

Other news

Maharashtra Anganwadi workers reject partial wage hike

Over 2 lakh women Anganwadi workers continued their strike unwilling to accept guarantees from the government that they would raise wages by Rs. 1,500 for staff and Rs. 1,000 for helpers. The rejected the announcement stating that they wanted their wages pegged to service years and a minimum wage of Rs. 7,000. Meanwhile, the government has directed district officials to find replacement workers from self-help groups to break the strike. The government is also claiming that it has no resources or credit line after it announced the farm loan waiver.

Nurses in private hospitals demand enforcement of Supreme Court order on wage hike

Over 100 nurses serving in private hospitals protested near Valluvar Kottam on Sunday demanding an increase in pay as per a Supreme Court order. Representatives from various nurses’ associations from Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Karur, Salem, Coimbatore and Madurai joined the protest. They threatened an indefinite strike if private hospitals refused to abide by the SC verdict.

NLC ordered to employ workers from families whose lands were acquired

The Madras High Court has directed the Neyveli Lignite Corporation to employ at least 50% of unskilled workers from the families of those whose lands were acquired by NLC for mining and other operations. This was an order passed on a petition from the NLC contract workers union, which had sought the quashing of a tender for supplying contract workers that was published in July this year.

International news:

Protests spread across France even as Macron signs sweeping labour reforms

As we’ve reported before, the French President Emmanuel Macron has legislated sweeping labour reforms that will make it easier to hire and fire workers, reduce benefits and collective bargaining ability in an attempt to boost investment and business. Unions and workers have been opposing this move and protests against these sweeping dilution of labour laws has spread across France. But there are concerns that the protest is losing momentum, as turnouts at these rallies have been steadily dropping since earlier this month when it peaked at over 2 lakhs, according to police estimates.

British union withdraws honour to Aung San Suu Kyi in response to Rohingya genocide

Unison, one of Britain’s largest trade unions, has suspended an award presented to Aung San Suu Kyi during her time as a political prisoner, in the face of international criticism that has been building up over her tepid response to Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis. Unison made the move as a number of British institutions say they are reviewing or suspending awards presented to Suu Kyi during her campaign for democracy under Myanmar’s oppressive military junta. “The situation facing the Rohingya of Myanmar is appalling,” Margaret McKee, Unison’s president, told the The Guardian. “Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary membership of Unison has been suspended, and we hope that she responds to international pressure.”

Weekend reading:

Slaving to produce the iPhone: “I look back at the first ten years of the iPhone and see a bloody decade of labour abuse, especially in Chinese factories such as those run by Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. At one point Foxconn had more employees in China than the US armed forces combined. Foxconn makes most of its money from assembling iPhones, iPads, iMacs and iPods. Its notorious “military management” was blamed for causing a string of 17 worker suicides in 2010. The company tried so hard to stop the suicides, not by digging out the roots of exploitation, but by erecting “anti-jumping nets” atop its buildings. Never before has a modern factory hidden behind such suicide-prevention netting, which last appeared on transatlantic slave ships centuries ago.” Read more here.

Lessons from the Chicago Teachers Union Struggle: 5 years ago, more than ten thousand teachers, members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), went on strike and won an important fight against the city government. This essay explores how a small radical faction within the CTU fought and won elections, how supporting Democrat candidates didn’t pay off, how integrating their movement within other movements and struggles helped their cause, and other lessons.