Labour

The Life of Labour: Nurses’ Strike Broken After HC Threat, 48,000 Workplace Fatalities In India Every Year

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Passionate strike by nurses in Chennai broken after HC threat

Government nurses in Tamil Nadu went on a strike from November 27, demanding regularisation of their employment and rationalising their pay scales with regular nurses rather than being retained on consolidated pay. While the government was willing to consider minor increases to their present wage of Rs 7,700 a month, it did not commit to any substantive change in the nature of tenure. For three days and two nights, over 3000 nurses sat on a dharna in front of the Directorate of Rural Health and Medicine in Chennai. They braved the weather and police threats to demand to be treated on par with the other government nurses. But in a depressingly usual turn of events, the High Court of Madras, hearing a PIL against the action by the nurses, declared the strike action illegal and threatened penal action if they did not re-join work by next day. The stern warning by the Chief Justice, who even taunted the nurses to quit the job if they felt the wage was low, forced the nurses to withdraw the strike and return to work by November 30.

Over 11,000 nurses had been recruited through the Medical Recruitment Board of Tamil Nadu in 2015. They were to serve in various Public Health Centers, even in remote areas of Tamil Nadu. They were inducted on a consolidated pay of Rs 7,000 per month. In response to a petition challenging the recruitment process, the government advocate had affirmed in the High Court that though they are being recruited to implement central government schemes, such workers could hope to be absorbed into the regular workforce in two to five years. Their repeated demands to begin regulating their jobs and increasing their pay scales met with little response from the government. This prompted them to go on an indefinite strike until their demands were met, but the intervention by the High Court and the increasing threat of administrative and police action forced the workers to withdraw the strike.

Indian BPO workers face racial abuse regularly

A recently released study by University of Kent, UK, reveals that BPO workers in India continue to suffer severe abuse from clients and customers from USA and UK because they are perceived as ‘job thieves’. The abuse also takes a decidedly racial character with the ascendancy of ‘nationalist’ politics. The study also points out that the abuse is exacerbated because of the ‘identity masking’ measures undertaken by the companies to project to their clients that service is being provided from their home country. This leads to more arguments between the employees and clients, increasing the scope for such abuse.

48,000 workplace fatalities in India every year: British Safety Council Study

The British Safety Council, a not for profit organisation providing training and other services to deal with occupational health and safety, has set up operations in India. Using ILO data, it has estimated that over 48000 fatalities are recorded every year in India that are caused by occupational hazards. This is over 20 times the number of incidents in Britain and is higher than many other developing nations. With over 38 deaths every day, the construction sector is the deadliest among all sectors of the economy. Highlighting the need to improve occupational health and safety, the council extends a range of services in collaboration with NIST, Chennai.

Kochi port workers against privatisation of DCI

The Union Government’s proposal to completely divest its 75% stake in Dredging Corporation of India (DCI), a Miniratna PSU, has come under sharp criticism of the Water Transport Workers Federation of India (WTWFI). They have highlighted the financial, technical and strategic value of keeping a critical maritime service provider such as the DCI in public hands. “The Indian Navy will have to depend on private players to dredge their dockyards if DCI is privatised,” said the president of WTWFI. He also emphasised the role DCI played in helping Cochin port improve its facilities and cut the cost of dredging by 25%. The All India Port and Dock Workers Federation also endorsed the views of the WTWFI.

In Chennai, workers of the Sanmina factory sit-in, sleep-in

About 280 Sanmina workers, including 30 workers who are at ‘compulsory rest’ and facing various suspensions, have been on strike since November 21. The workers demand a wage increase, union recognition through secret ballot, revocation of suspension and compulsory rest. They have also demanded that the company pay the 21-day wage, which was withheld for a 4-day strike. The strike has followed endless tripartite conciliation meetings between workers, management and the Labour Department, with no progress in the resolution of the long pending demands. Read the full report at Thozhilalar Koodam.

Labour ministry plans ESIC sub-regional office closure; chamber of commerce opposes move

The ESIC sub-regional office or SRO at Mangalore is slated to be closed. This would mean that about 2 lakh workers around Mangalore would have to travel to Bangalore to file and follow-up complaints with the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC). This applies to employers as well. The Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry has written to the Union Minister of Labour and Employment petitioning against the closure.

Trade unions need to change the narrative, argues Economic and Political Weekly

In an editorial published November 21, the Economic and Political Weekly argues that the trade unions will have to take up the task of rephrasing the dominant narrative pushed by the Industry that labour laws in India tend to overprotect the workers. Writing against the backdrop of the massive mobilisation of workers in New Delhi against labour reforms, the article maintains that the trade unions face a ‘gargantuan’ task of winning favourable public opinion for the working class. Chronicling the strategies used by the state to push through labour reforms, it suggests that trade unions should work closely with democratic and progressive social movements to force the state to heed to their demands.

What has happened to ‘Labour Beat’ in mainstream media?

Why has the workers’ voices in the media space been vanishing over the decades? Why have most of the mainstream media done away with labour beat? Why is their little reporting about the peaceful struggles of the workers? The essay by Naren Singh Roa in The Wire raises these questions as it analyses the reasons behind the indifference of the media towards workers and their issues. Criticising the lack of balance in reporting labour news, he says, “A rare incidence of violence by workers, on the other hand, gets overwhelming media coverage. For instance, most newspapers, on their front page, extensively reported the violence that erupted at Maruti’s Manesar plant in July 2012.….there was hardly any systematic media reporting on the long agitation by Maruti workers at the Manesar plant demanding better work conditions. In the absence of such reportage, the incident of violence appeared to have taken place in a vacuum.”

He further argues that the present state of media reporting, especially on labour issues, is a symptom of a larger malaise of elite business capture of the media. “There is indeed merit in the argument that the increasing influence of business and politics on the media has eroded its integrity, affecting objective reportage and leading to a neglect of sustained and systematic coverage of workers’ and peasants’ issues,” he adds.

International

South African workers’ union condemn military coup in Zimbabwe

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) came out strongly against the military coup that deposed Robert Mugabe, the dictator of Zimbabwe. They said, “We have no doubt that millions of Zimbabwean workers and the rural poor, while not being sure where the unfolding military coup will take the country to, are maybe very relieved that Mugabe and his family are gone from the political scene in Zimbabwe. What we know though, from our own post-independent African political experience and history is that military coups, even when they have briefly ushered in progressive individuals and groups such as Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, have always ended in the blood, sweat and tears of the majority of the population who are the working class and the rural poor.”

Bangladesh Garment Worker Survey: Only 0.4% can save money

Bangladesh Textile and Garment Workers League President ZM Kamal Anam announced the results of an 800-person survey conducted in 2016 at a roundtable discussion organised by the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC). Anam declared that, “99.6% have no savings”.

Deadly mine strike highlights accusations NAFTA used to exploit Mexican workers

A powerful report in The Globe and Mail describes the murder of 2 brothers by unidentified gunmen during an attack on workers at a wildcat strike. This was at a mine controlled by Torex Gold in Guerrero, Mexico. “What exactly caused the violence is a matter of dispute. The protesters blame their trade union, the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM), which they accuse of being too close to Torex and dealing with the company behind their backs.” As reported earlier, Canada is opposing the provisions of NAFTA that allows for companies in Mexico to “engage” unions directly without dealing with the workers. These are often American or Canadian companies who then work with the union to exploit the workers.

Colombia bans labour strikes for pilots

Colombia’s Supreme Court has allowed Avianca, an airline company owned by Bolivian millionaire German Efromovich, “to fire 700 union-affiliated pilots who took part in a two-month strike after failed talks”. The pilots were demanding improved labour conditions but the company refused to negotiate with them. Now the Supreme Court has declared airlines an essential service and effectively banned any further strikes by pilots. The pilots’ union also complained against Avianca’s near monopoly status.

Weekend Reading

“Marchello began working in North Dakota’s oil field in 2010. She came out of desperation — she had gone through a difficult divorce with her husband of 28 years, lost her home to foreclosure along with thousands of other Americans, and declared bankruptcy. She lived in her car for nine months and slept on the couches of her adult children. Her first job was at Halliburton, but she later worked as a pump operator for an oil service company called C&J Energy Services, which primarily did “coil tubing”—a process that requires running bendable pipe down oil wells after they’re fracked to get the well to start producing oil.”

Or read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Limits of Environmentalism Without Class: Lessons from the Ancient Forest Crisis of the Pacific Northwest