The Life of Labour: Fishworkers From Over 50 Countries Meet in Delhi, Centre Delays MNREGA Payments

Latest news reports from the world of work.

West Bengal’s new ration scheme feeds the tea estate management

Subrata Nagchaudhary writes in about how the Trinamool Congress’ Khadya Sathi scheme under the National Food Security Act is saving crores for tea estate owners with little benefit for the workers. “Previously, according to wage agreements between tea gardens and workers, the estate management provided a portion of wages to their workers in kind – in the form of subsidised food grains.” But since the new act makes the tea estate management the ration dealers to their employees and provides them food grains at subsidised rates, they do not need to buy from the market anymore. “Thus, since February, each estate began to save Rs 660 per worker per month. This roughly works out to Rs 80 lakh a year for a tea garden with 1,000 workers.” This saving is not being passed down to the worker in the form of cash wages – and even their regular wages are delayed. “Instead of subsidising the poor plantation workers, the state government is actually subsidising the garden management,” Anuradha Talwar of the Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity told

Suzlon’s rotor blade unit is locked down overnight because of ‘unruly behaviour’

After three days of protests by workers from Suzlon Energy Ltd. in Nadsal, Udupi district in Karnataka, company officials have assured the Deputy Commissioner’s office that the unit will be reopened. According to The Hindu, around “500 workers, including 326 permanent workers, were protesting since Tuesday after the unit declared a lockout and suspended its operations. The company had said that the unruly action of certain workers had hindered the smooth operation of the unit and severely impacted production compelling it to suspend operations despite several attempts at resolving the matter peacefully.” Though it isn’t clear what caused the lockout, it does seem clear that the company “wanted to send a message to the workers”. The protest has been withdrawn after ‘talks’, but company officials have said that that the intention had never been the closure of the unit, only that a lesson had to be taught.

Central government delays wage payments of Rs 330 crores to MNREGA workers in Karnataka

Wage payments to the tune of a whopping Rs 330 crore under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) have been stuck in Karnataka since September 7 because of non-transfer of funds from the centre. Karnataka is among the 19 states where wage payments, worth a total of Rs 3,066 crore, have been delayed. The Karnataka state minister HK Patil has blamed the central government for a callous attitude towards MNREGA work. The central government has, in turn, blamed Karnataka for not submitting audited returns on time.

Since last year, the wages of workers are being paid directly by the central government. Earlier when similar delays were experienced, the state government had made arrangements for funds until the central government transferred the money. Karnataka claims that over Rs 1,200 crore is pending to the state government from the centre in this regard.

Coming at a time when informal workers in the rural areas are still reeling under the twin shock of demonetisation and GST, this would only contribute to greater distress and further suppression of rural consumption demand.

A sexual harassment complaint in the Madras HC reveals deep institutional bias

Six months ago, a law student filed a complaint of sexual harassment against a senior lawyer in the Chennai High Court. Six months later there has been no progress, with the police, the Bar Council and even the registrar of the High Court swinging into action against the lawyers supporting the complainant. The police have filed an FIR against two male lawyers supporting the victim on charges of assaulting the accused lawyer. The Bar Council has sent them a show cause notice based on the same allegation. These actions come after the complainant rejected an offer of mediation suggested by the internal committee.

Nurses protest against poor work conditions and contractualisation

More than a hundred nurses came out into the streets to register their protest regarding a number of issues. Apart from their regular care work, they’re deployed for health surveys, immunisation programmes, investigation of women who died at childbirth in faraway villages, filing forms on behalf of patients for government schemes, sometimes even sweeping the health centre. They even pay the electricity bill of the health centre and haven’t been reimbursed in ten years. And these nurses are contract workers, part of around 9,000 deployed across the state.

Anasuya Sarabhai, India’s pioneering union leader, honoured with a Google doodle

Google marks important events, people and dates by replacing its logo with an exclusive ‘doodle’. On November 11, Google commemorated the 132nd birth anniversary of Anasuya Sarabhai, a pioneering labour organiser who had organised the textile workers of Ahmedabad in 1914. In the same year, she helped Ahmedabad’s weavers successfully organise their first strike for higher wages. In the years that followed, she went on to become their most vocal supporter, negotiating with the mill owners. The doodle was created by Maria Qamar, a Pakistani-Canadian artist.

Hyundai Motor asks its manufacturing plants to stick to a 52-hour week

Hyundai has begun to aid the South Korean government’s attempts to keep the working week no more than 52 hours long by issuing instructions to its manufacturing plants to draw up plans that will ensure compliance with the initiative. “Experts point out that the company’s latest move will dramatically change working conditions in the industry as a whole. Lee Sang-hyuk, a certified labour attorney at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said, “When Hyundai Motor seeks its ways to reduce working hours, it can spread across the industry. The government’s “52 hours a week plan” as part of its efforts to shorten working hours can gather momentum.”

Issues haunting global fish workers being discussed at World Forum of Fisher People’s 7th General Assembly in New Delhi

With delegates from over 50 countries in attendance, the seventh General Assembly of the World Forum of Fisher People is being held in New Delhi this week. The assembly will culminate with a large-scale public rally on November 21 to commemorate World Fisheries Day. Just as it had twenty years ago when it was founded, “the forum is being hosted by India’s National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) – a federation of fishworkers’ unions and associations from all the coastal states. A central focus of the WFFP GA-7 will be the linked issues of ‘ocean-grabbing’ and food sovereignty.” The Hindu Businessline has a brief report from the first day.

BMS takes out massive rally against the central government’s ‘anti-labour’ policies

Following the large-scale mobilisation of workers by central trade unions last week, BMS, which is affiliated with the RSS, organised a massive rally in New Delhi on Friday against the new labour reforms. Their demands, which included most of the demands raised by the left and Congress-backed trade unions, sought an upward revision of floor minimum monthly wage to Rs. 24,000. BMS had boycotted the three-day protest organised by all other trade unions between November 9-11, calling it ‘politically motivated’. It had also withdrawn from the last two national strikes organised by the central trade unions in 2015 and 2016.

‘When Workers Die’

With the death toll now at 43, the NTPC boiler blast at Unchahar is a reminder that the lives of workers come cheap. An editorial in the EPW explains how the scene is being set for more Unchahars and Bhopal:

“Today, under the excuse of enhancing the “ease of doing business,” these laws are being deliberately diluted in many states under the prompting of the Narendra Modi government. Since 2014, there have been proposed amendments to the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Even the Indian Boiler Regulations, 1950 that required inspection and certification by the Central Boilers Board, have been changed to permit self-certification. The justification is that “inspector raj” must end. Instead, what is happening is that there is little by way of oversight to ensure that safety regulations are not compromised.

Weekend reading

In June this year, we included a section in this newsletter on poetry. This week here’s more about literature and labour.

  • ‘I am the picket’, written by an American union leader named Ralph Marlatt, is from ‘You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-41’, a collection of poems selected from various union newspapers in the 1930s.

I am the picket

Ralph H. Marlatt
(From United Automobile Worker, June 18, 1938)

I am the picket;
The army marched against me in ’77
I was beaten at Homestead in ’93,
I was shot at Pullman,
Arrested at Lawrence;
They burned my kids at Ludlow
To help pile up Rockefeller dimes.
They called me a Bolshevik in ’19
Because I asked for an eight-hour day,
They murdered me in Chicago in ’37,
Beat and slugged and gassed me in Detroit, Akron,
I am the picket,
In the midst of misery,
In the face of injustice.
With the dead past and the dying present
I march
All hell can’t beat me down,
I am the picket.

  • On June 15 this year, the revolutionary playwright Ajmer Singh Aulakh passed away. Chaman Lal writes in EPW about his life and death.


  • Frontier Poetry put together eight poems about work, including one by Kate Braid, who “began accidentally, writing poetry because there usually weren’t any women to talk to on the job. For 15 years, she worked as a carpenter, with a love of concrete buildings. Her poetry is all jobsite, all construction, all power tools and concrete bricks and fitting in.”



You Cannot Say It’s Beautiful
Hollie McNish

If the girl who made your skirt’s not paid
You cannot say it’s beautiful
If the pay is less than living wage
You cannot say it’s beautiful
If the coloured dyes now lie in rivers
Poisoned fish, polluted waters
If there’s no sick pay, no toilet breaks
If the factories are in decay
No matter what your mirror says
Or how stylish you might look today
You cannot claim it’s beautiful

[H/T to Radhika Jayaraman for pointing us to some of these poems!]

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