Labour

The Life of Labour: ‘Kisan Ki Loot’, Dehradun Municipal Workers Call Off Strike

The Life of Labour, a compilation of important labour developments from around the world, will be delivered to your inbox every Sunday at 10 am. Click here to subscribe.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

‘How Long Can India’s Farmers Subsidise the Nation?’

Tens of thousands of farmers converged at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from all over the country to convene a Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmers’ Freedom Parliament) on November 20 and 21. Kirankumar Vissa, a national working group member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and one of the founders of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a farmers’ organisation, writes in The Wire about how the government has abandoned farmers. Taking note of the large-scale protests across the country, Vissa discusses why so many farmers are taking to the streets to register their protest.

He writes, “What has been termed by the farmers’ movements as Kisan ki loot is happening at two levels. For many crops, the farmers are not even able to get the Minimum Support Price (MSP) announced by the government, which should really be the floor price. In just the current season, the loss due to the gap between MSP and actual price is estimated to be about Rs 36,000 crore for farmers across India. At another level, even when farmers get MSP, the income is too low to support the basic sustenance of their families”

He also tabulates the difference between the MSP or minimum support price and the cost of production of various crops like ragi, groundnut, paddy, etc. For many of the crops, the MSP is lower than the cost of production – almost 20% lower in the case of ragi. The highest positive margin that he records is about 20% for Urad Dal. But even this is below the NDA government’s initial statement that they would fix MSPs with a 50% margin. Remember these profits are meant to support whole families. He continues, “This second level of Kisan ki loot – the difference between the promised fair price and the actual price obtained by the farmer – represents the true extent of injustice faced by the farmers. A single season’s projections show that the income foregone by the farmers due to this difference is more than Rs 2 lakh crore.”

This means that farmers just accumulate debt. To get out of this trap will require multiple interventions by the government. The two basic demands are freedom from debt and genuinely remunerative prices. At the Kisan Mukti Sansad, the farmers passed two bills encompassing the two demands. Will the real parliament take similar action?

‘Illegal closure of Bengaluru factory leaves women employees jobless overnight’

In a familiar narrative to those who follow labour news, The News Minute reports how the employees of OEN India Limited arrived for work one morning only to find the gates shut. The factory was closed and they were out of jobs. While the company claims its business is “not viable”, the workers feel they are being penalised for taking the company to court to recover a decade’s worth of unpaid dearness allowance. No closure notice was given to the employees who are mostly middle-aged women. They took to the streets to put pressure on the labour department to take action. As one employee, Remya, put it, “There are pregnant women, there are those who have recently undergone deliveries, there are people who have worked for as long as 31 years in this factory and have only three to four years till retirement. They are all part of our agitation.”

Pregnant woman forced to do arduous work at Renault Nissan

Workers at the Renault Nissan factory in Oragadam went on a sit-in protest last week in support of a pregnant colleague, according to Thozhilalar Koodam. She was being employed in the body shop where the work is manual and arduous in nature. She had sought a transfer to a department with less physical labour. Not only was her request ignored, she was also abused by a senior manager for not working. This enraged the co-workers, who went on a sit-in protest. The company HR managers and production managers negotiated with the protesting workers and transferred her to the documentation department. But no action has been taken on the erring officials or the abusive manager, the TNLabour blog noted.

Dehradun municipal workers call off strike after Mayor’s assurance

Civic services in Dehradun including garbage disposal came to a standstill with the municipal workers going on strike since November 21. They were demanding implementation of the 7th pay commission recommendations on wages. The wage increase should have been announced by January 2016 but was still to be notified. The crisis forced the mayor to personally assure them that he would take up the issue with the state government and implement the pay hike. On this assurance, the union called off the strike. The effect of the strike was already showing in the city with piling up of garbage and civic maintenance taking a hit.

Workers on hunger strike hospitalised even as strike continues at BHEP, Kashmir

Five workers who are part of a group of protesting daily wage workers at the Baglihar Hydro Electric Power plant in Kashmir have fallen ill and been hospitalised this week. The workers have been on hunger strike from November 14 demanding that JKSPDC regularise their jobs. Their strike was covered in the previous edition of this newsletter. With winter setting in, the condition of the workers on relay hunger fast is precipitous. But the workers have decided to carry on the hunger fast until the Jammu and Kashmir government intervenes to resolve the issue in favour of the workers.

Maharashtra backtracks from labour reforms after pushback from TUs

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the reforms would be introduced “after seeking consensus”. These reforms primarily involve changes to the Industrial Disputes Act which allows factories with more than 300 workers to shut down and retrench workers without government permission if they give 60 days’ notice and pay compensation. Fadnavis told TOI that he would show that these reforms were actually “pro-labour”. But trade unions and the Shiv Sena have opposed the move. This is despite the Industries Minister, who is a member of the Shiv Sena, initially approving the reforms.

Bangalore prisoners protest the non-payment of their wages for six months

50 inmates of Central Prison in Bangalore demanded that the authorities release their wages for six months. These prisoners are skilled or unskilled workers who work at the prison and earn wages of Rs 30-50 a day that they send to their families. When contacted, the prison management stated that there was a computer glitch that prevented them from crediting the wages to the prisoners’ accounts but refused to give any other details.

9 labourers die after elevator carrying them collapses at tunnel construction site

Nine workers died while working on a river linking project in Pune district. They were working in an underground tunnel. Their elevator cable snapped and it crashed, killing them. The latest death toll isn’t clear and so far it seems that no one has been booked neither has any case been filed.

International:

South Korean workers stage massive rally for the 47th anniversary of labour activist Jeon Tae-il’s suicide

On November 12, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions organised a rally which saw the participation of over 50,000 people. Their demands included “higher wages, better conditions and an end to union repression. One of the main demands by workers both in South Korea and around the world (see here and here), is for the release of imprisoned KCTU leader Han Sang gyun.”

Amazon workers on strike in Italy and Germany

In Piacenza in Italy, more than 500 workers have gone on their first strike against Amazon. Piacenza is Amazon’s main hub in Italy, employing more than 5000 people. The BBC reported that “The Verdi trade union said people are also striking at six warehouses in Germany over pay and working conditions.” Their complaints revolve around the working conditions at the warehouses like relentless pressure, exhausting shifts, constant monitoring, etc.

High school students found working at Foxconn

A report in Forbes says, “A recent investigation by the Financial Times has uncovered evidence of high school students working long hours assembling the iPhone X in Chinese factories. The students are interning at Hon Hai Precision Industry, more commonly known as Foxconn, Apple’s largest contract manufacturer.”

Weekend reading/listening

“Domestic workers are another especially vulnerable group. They are often immigrant women of colour, sometimes without legal immigration status, sometimes living in their employers’ homes. This combination makes them uniquely subject to intimate harassment and intimidation. A majority of female farmworkers, who often toil in isolation in the field, have experienced sexual harassment or assault.

For these women, shaming their bosses on Twitter or going to a newspaper is, unfortunately, rarely an option — if the predator doesn’t have a big public profile, few will notice the complaint except, perhaps, the guy with the power to fire the person complaining. That’s why women in these fields often take another route: collective action.”

  • Belabored Podcast: Ariane Hegewisch of the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research talks about “the ramifications of sexual violence in the workplace for labour policy and the labour movement as a whole, and how workers and their unions can go beyond the “whisper network” to mobilize against sexual abuse at work.” Episode 137: Sex, Power, and Labour Rights.

Another episode is dedicated to “a conversation with Coalition of Immokalee Workers member Oscar Otzoy, who tells us about the group’s organising to fight sexual violence in the fields and economic violence throughout their member’s lives.” Episode 139: Fighting Harassment on the Farm.