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India rejects move to include labour and environmental standards in trade negotiations
India has sternly rejected any inclusion of labour, environment or gender-based standards in ‘trade’ negotiations calling them ‘non-trade’ issues. These issues came up at a meeting organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and European Parliament at the ongoing eleventh ministerial conference of the WTO in Brussels. “Developed countries keep coming up with such issues to keep developing countries on tenterhooks, divert their time and resources and slyly try to creep in these issues in main negotiations sometime later,” said an anonymous source quoted by ET. It may be true that developed countries have tried to raise these issues of standards to curb exports from developing countries, but the absence of generalised standards for labour, environment or gender allows for industries in developing countries to exploit workers and communities in order to gain a competitive advantage over others. The repeated accidents in the garment sector in Bangladesh are a clear testament to this problem.
North East migrant workers flee Bangalore after government decrees against ‘undocumented’ workers
Migrant workers from North East India are leaving Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka en masse after a recent government order seeking the police to profile and identify ‘illegal’ migrants. With increasing rhetoric from right-wing groups about the infiltration of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, the government had ordered hotels, plantations and quarries to stop employing undocumented workers. It has also asked the district police to identify them. This process seems to have scared even ‘documented’ workers. The Times of India report claims that more than 60000 workers of an estimated 1.5 lakh have returned following this move. This has left the plantation owners in a dire situation as the harvest season is looming ahead. These workers had also suffered racial abuse and threat a few years ago causing a similar exodus.
BSNL employees go on two-day strike against ‘deceptive privatisation’
Employees associated with all major and minor unions in Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, the telecom PSU, went on a two-day strike on December 12 and 13. Their demands were two-fold. They were seeking a fair wage revision through the 3rd Pay Revision Committee that has been delayed by over a year after BSNL cited a poor revenue position. They are also demanding that BSNL not divest and lease its towers to private operators. They view this measure proposed by the company and the government as a step towards privatising BSNL by weakening its expansion capacity and revenue from core operations. BSNL employees said that the government has been systematically stymying the performance of BSNL through adverse policies in order to privatise the PSU. “There are not enough people to handle regular maintenance tasks. We don’t have enough qualified staff to repair faults in time. We don’t have the funds to buy materials and undertake repairs. If we take a week to rectify a fault, the customer shifts their service provider. We lose business. But how much can a technician do? Now they are also selling away our assets in the name of setting a new company for the towers. This is a plan to destroy the PSU and say it’s going in a loss,” an employee of the company told Thozhilalar Koodam. The strike has been reported to be widely successful in terms of workers’ participation. But it’s not clear if the government will change its policies.
Hurry in commissioning led to the fatal accident at Unchahar power plant
A three-person team form ‘Delhi Solidarity Group’ has released an interim report on the recent accident at the Unchahar power plant in UP that led to the death of over 40 workers. After their investigative visit and interviews with survivors, the team has concluded that attempts to commission unit 6 of the power plant ahead of schedule led to a relaxation of critical safety measures causing the accident. It has also faulted the UP government for relaxing inspection norms. The report titled ‘How Many Deaths it Will Take’ also claims that many more migrants workers are still missing, raising the concern that NTPC is under-reporting the deaths. The report recommends a comprehensive audit of all power plants to prevent such accidents in the near future.
200 employees forced to resign at Verizon, escorted out by security
According to various reports, 500-1000 employees have been laid off by Verizon in Chennai and Hyderabad. While Verizon claimed that “many employees chose to exit the company to avail of the severance package”, unions are arguing otherwise. The News Minute spoke to one of the employees who complained that when he tried to ask for more time to think, bouncers were brought to force him to sign the resignation documents. “The bouncers pushed me back into my chair and held me by my shoulders till I signed the document. It was an awful experience and I can’t begin to tell how demeaning it was,” Anand told TNM, adding, “It was not like I was on the bench, I was performing and they treated me in this terrible manner.” After signing, the employees were asked to retrieve their possessions and then taken straight out into the parking lot and told to leave. The employees were given no notice. The Labour Commissioner is reportedly looking into the matter.
10 tea workers injured as estate owners open fire on a protest in Assam
The Tribune reports that “At least 10 tea garden workers were injured, two of them seriously, when two owners opened indiscriminate fire on a protesting group of tea workers at a tea estate in Golaghat district of Assam on Wednesday.” The workers were demanding payment of pending wages and annual bonus. The plantation owners have been arrested and an investigation is ongoing but the police have said that the workers had gotten violent first.
Update: 500 NHM workers sacked in Haryana
We had reported last week about the strike by National Health Workers in Haryana seeking regularisation of work. Rather than finding common ground to resolve the just grievances of the scheme-based contract workers, the Haryana government has terminated 500 workers in an attempt to force the nurses to go back to work.
German Pilots Prevent Deportation of Migrants: “The German government just informed the parliament that between January and September of this year, 222 deportations were prevented because airplane pilots refused to take off.” Read more.
China, not the North Pole, is Santa’s Workshop: The Guardian reports from Yiwu, “China’s Christmas Village”, where 600 factories produce 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations. “The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is. “Maybe it’s like [Chinese] New Year for foreigners,” says 19-year-old Wei, a worker who came to Yiwu from rural Guizhou province this year.” Read more.