The specter of sustained unemployment threatens the Indian economy
Though our Prime Minister presented a valiant defence of the Indian economy and his government’s policies, sectoral data continues to present a bleak picture of employment generation. Reports and studies indicate that job growth had slowed down even before the demonetisation shock or the GST transition. These two major reforms have only accentuated the crisis. An essay in The Indian Express details the job losses across various sectors from IT to small-scale industry, pointing out that the dismal employment scenario is primarily a result of structural issues that the Indian economy is facing and not a consequence of a global slowdown. The article says that “India’s apparel exports to the US from January-July 2017 were up just 0.21 percent at $2.33 billion as against an over 6 percent jump reported by Vietnam which exported garments worth nearly three times India’s exports at $6.52 billion during the period.” The article argues that the distress is caused by the fall in private investment, private consumption and exports apart from the shock caused by demonetisation and GST.
65% IT workers ‘not trainable’ says Cap Gemini CEO; Forecasts widespread job losses in the Industry
Adding to the fear of job losses, the CEO of Cap Gemini, a major IT service provider, said that most of the mid-level and senior level employees in the IT sector cannot be retrained for emerging technologies. Maintaining that he was not being pessimistic, he said, “A large number of them cannot be trained. Probably, India will witness the largest unemployment in the middle level to senior level.” He blamed the poor quality of education and assessment in most of the ‘low grade’ engineering colleges in India. He was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a leadership summit organized by NASSCOM. Incidentally, NASSCOM had stated that over 40% of IT workers will need to be reskilled in the near future.
Transition pain: GST revamp planned as MSME, export sector slowdowns threaten jobs and GDP
GST, which came into effect from July 2017 and overhauled the entire indirect tax system, has been suffering from birth pangs. There have been many complaints, at the execution level and the numerous glitches in the technological and bureaucratic ecosystem, causing severe disruption in the economy. Exports and SMEs have been adversely affected because of the delays in getting tax credit and increase working capital requirements leading to closures and job losses. To resolve some of the issues being faced by the industry, the GST council comprising of central and state government ministers is planning a slew of measures aimed at relieving pressure on small and medium enterprises and exporters. Some of the measures include reducing the paperwork by reducing the frequency of filing returns from monthly to quarterly, easier refund mechanism and minimum alternate tax for small business to reduce compliance cost.
Demonetisation disaster: First responders yet to be compensated for overtime work
Following the momentous announcement on November 8, 2016, the task of changing cash worth more than Rs. 15 lakh crore and keeping track of the deposits fell upon the unprepared bank employees. Many had to endure extremely long hours at work, agitated customers and supply-side bottlenecks. They were the valiant first responders and they saw us through the remonetisation process. But, nearing a year, they are yet to be fully compensated for their overtime work. Bank employees and their unions have said they will protest if they are not fully compensated soon. “We have brought this issue to the notice of the government… In case dues are not paid, we will take stringent action… we could even go on strike like we did earlier… we will also look at taking other legal action,” CH Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Banks’ Employees Association (AIBEA) told Hindustan Times.
EPFO plans to lure workers into high-risk investments through higher returns
According to ET, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) is planning to allow workers to choose plans that would allow for an increased exposure to stock market investments. Presently, the government has allowed an exposure to high-risk investments like exchange based bonds up to 15%. In order to increase the exposure, the EPFO plans to make it voluntary. EPFO is arguing that the return on debt instruments that are more secure is falling rapidly due to lower interest rates whereas the returns from the stock market are higher. This will allow workers to enjoy higher returns than term deposits. But such investments do not guarantee returns and might even lead to loss of principal. Unions have long opposed this trend.
India contests ILO report on ‘modern slavery’ that does not mention India
The Hindu reports that, in a letter to the PMO, the IB had warned that there was “evidence of rising interest of private and multilateral institutions in highlighting human trafficking and forced labour as modern-day slavery, with India being the largest hub of slaves.” Seemingly in response, the Labour Ministry sent a sternly worded letter to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), disapproving of their recent report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017’. Though the report does not actually mention India at all, officials believe the criticism is implicit and challenged the data collection and validation methods employed by the ILO.
Two workers killed in stone quarry accident
In Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, “Two quarry workers were killed and three others injured as a pile of rocks and granite stones fell on them when they were working in a stone quarry,” according to The Hindu. The drilling that precedes the planting of explosives for mining seems to have caused the rockslide. This comes as another example of the horrifically poor occupational safety and health standards in India in general and the mining sector in particular.
Jammu & Kashmir Estates Department employees protest
Protests were organized in Jammu and Srinagar by employees of the Estates Department of the state government. Organised by the J&K Coordination Committee of Estates Employees Jammu, the protesters had two main demands: re-organisation of the Estates Department and regularisation of daily rated workers. But at the same time, they also demanded “holding of DPC, conducting type test of eligible class-IV employees, provision of two and half days’ additional pay, construction of building for housing the Office of Deputy Director Estates, Jammu and additional rooms in favour of field staff working, release of tool and uniforms in favour of Class-IV employees, release of arrears of time bond promotion w.e.f.2006 to 2012 and release of pending salaries of need-based workers.”
Catalan workers on strike following state violence during referendum
Catalan workers have called for an indefinite strike in support of the thwarted referendum process even as the national leadership of their unions has not supported this action. Catalan, the north-eastern province of Spain, which is also the most prosperous region of Spain, held a referendum on separation early this week. The referendum was deemed illegal by the apex court of Spain. The government, in an attempt to prevent the referendum, unleashed police violence leading to scores of deaths and over four hundred people suffering injuries. This has galvanised the region leading to a mass strike. Catalonia has a long history of progressive and left tendency. It was the stronghold of the left-republican resistance to the conservative fascism of General Franco’s dictatorship as described in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Workers and unions played a central part in the civil war against Franco. After their defeat, the region suffered under Franco’s rule and has sought independence from the more conservative Spanish state ever since.
Death of a Japanese journalist due to overwork brings back debate on Japanese managerialism
Karoshi or ‘death by overwork’ raises its ugly head again In Japan. The latest victim, a 31-year-old journalist named Miwa Sado, died in 2013 after clocking in 159 overtime hours in a month. The company only made the announcement this week. The delay, according to the management, was “out of respect for her family” and to time “the release to coincide with planned workplace changes.” The apathy (or rather implicit support) regarding overwork in Japanese business culture is a deeply disturbing facet of a country that has been hailed at various points as an ‘economic miracle’.
Book review| ‘Nomadland’ by Jessica Bruder captures the precarity of growing old under neoliberalism
What happens if you are old but your social security cannot pay all your bills? You get on the road and hustle work as you go. Nomadland is a book about these workers, making a home out of a van and living from job to job. After toiling through their middle years, they still find themselves without enough savings and social security that could afford them the basic necessities of life without making further demands on their bodies. Due to the vagaries of finance capital or the sheer exploitation of the economic system, they can ill afford a house to rent or their food and power bill. Jessica Bruder spent three years working and traveling with them. The book, a chronicle of their stories, also raises very deep questions about the state, labour and the capitalist system. Here is a review of the book in the New York Times and an interview with the author in The Nation.