The Life of Labour: TN Transport Workers Call Off Strike, Defence Employees Protest Privatisation

Latest news updates from the world of work.

After yet another ‘anti-worker’ judgement, Tamil Nadu’s transport workers call off strike

After the flash strike last week, Thozhilalar Koodam reports on how thousands of state transport workers stayed off work, trying to force the government to accept their demands on wage revision and outstanding dues. The last wage agreement between the state government and the unions had come to a close in October 2016 and despite several rounds of talks, no consensus emerged. The unions are demanding that “on principle, their pay be on par with other workers in the public sector but the government continues to say that it is not in a financial position to do so.”

The media coverage of the strike was harsh and focused exclusively on the hardships of the commuters. The Chief Justice made a seemingly misinformed statement on how workers had no right to strike for a mere 600 rupees, allowing the transport corporation to take action against the workers. This was eventually overturned, with the workers calling off the strike and settling for arbitration proceedings mediated by a retired justice. This comes soon after the Madras High Court warned the nurses of ‘stern action’ when they went on a strike demanding regularisation of service and better pay.

Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti ‘banned’ by Jharkhand government

On December 27, 2017, the BJP government in Jharkhand banned Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS) a 30-year-old union of unorganised sector workers under the Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLAA) and filed false cases under the same act on 10 office bearers of MSS. The grounds for banning and the cases were that MSS invited Varvara Rao, a renowned Telugu poet, to speak on the 100th year anniversary of the Russian revolution. Earlier this year, they had also organised an event to celebrate 50 years of Naxalbari. On the basis of these two charges, the organisation has been accused of being a front for the CPI (Maoist) party. The charges also accuse MSS of “illegally raising funds” for organising the program. The CLAA is a colonial-era law that allows the government to ban organisations whose objective as per its opinion is to break the law or disturb the public peace. MSS has been an extremely active and effective organiser of miners and other workers in the informal sector. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights released a statement strongly condemning the act.

Government proposes allowing all sectors to hire workers on fixed-term contracts

In their previous stint at the centre, the NDA had passed a notification allowing for fixed-term or contract workers to be employed in all sectors for direct production. This was scrapped under the UPA after agitation by trade unions. When they came back to power, they passed a notification allowing the practice for the garment and shoe sector and now propose to make it applicable to all sectors. This article in Business Standard only quotes the industrial associations about the ‘mutual benefits’ but fails to get even one quote from a union or worker organisation. The government is clear that this is being done to boost investment. An investment that comes directly at the cost of collective bargaining rights of the rank and file workers.

Manual scavenging: seven deaths in seven days, Kerala start-up proposes robotic solution

In The Wire: “On January 1, five workers in Mumbai were fixing a sewer line which ran 10 metres below ground level. While being lifted back by a crane, the cable broke, which is not surprising at all, and three of them died on the spot. One worker died the next day and the only surviving worker broke his legs and underwent surgery. In another case, three manual scavengers died on January 7 in Bangalore while cleaning a choked manhole at a residential apartment.” In all these instances, the deaths are happening in big cities where the municipal corporation cannot justifiably claim to not have the funds to provide proper safety equipment. Also, when looking at the track record for these cases, it’s highly unlikely that proper action will be taken by the police. The article notes that in one case the police found the surviving workers responsible and in another, the crane operator. The state, the contractors, anyone with any power whatsoever is let off.

In a bid to stop deaths like these, a company in Kerala has been developing a robot called Bandicoot that will be able to clean sewage lines. The Hindustan Times reports that the Kerala Water Authority has placed an order for 50 units.

Defence employees: privatisation not in national interest

On January 11, the All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), and the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) organised four lakh defence sector employees to boycott food while on duty. The organisations had made written submissions to the government which have not elicited any response. According to Newsclick, apart from the large-scale retrenchment that will surely follow, the unions argue that outsourcing has led to inadequate and poor quality supply.

In Pune, women workers go on strike as office in-charge of labour law lacks toilet

“Women workers of the Additional Labour Commissioner in Pune went on a flash strike on Tuesday due to the lack of proper toilet facilities at the office. Ironically, the office is in charge of ensuring that workplaces in the city have proper infrastructural facilities and abide by the labour law.”.

International news

  • German workers strike for the right to two-year, 28-hour working week: “We want employers to recognise that traditional gender roles in modern families are changing, and we want workers to have the chance to do work that is important to society,” a union spokesperson said. “In the past, demands for more flexibility has come at the cost of workers. We want to flick a switch so that flexible working also benefits workers.” More than 15000 metalworkers from over 80 companies took part in the strike.
  • Another Foxconn worker in China dies after jumping from a window: We’ve previously written about the deaths at Foxconn, the nets to catch the jumping workers, the painful poetry that has come out of the experience of workers there. Reports from China Labour Watch indicate that the suffering is still bad enough to lead workers to kill themselves.
  • Police unions protect bad cops: Reuters surveyed 82 different police union contracts and found that police unions help protect officers who have a history of complaints against them.

Weekend reading

  • Inside Alabama’s auto jobs boom | Low wages, little training, crushed limbs: “After several minutes, Elsea grabbed a tool—on the video, it looks like a screwdriver—and entered the screened-off area around the robot to clear the fault herself. Whatever she did to Robot 23, it surged back to life, crushing Elsea against a steel dashboard frame and impaling her upper body with a pair of welding tips. A co-worker hit the line’s emergency shut-off. Elsea was trapped in the machine—hunched over, eyes open, conscious but speechless.” Read more here.
  • In his compelling new book The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein “argues that inequality stems from deliberate housing policies on the part of the federal government and that these policies thus constitute a violation of Constitutional rights.” Read more here.
  • Watch: Life as a street-side barber in New Delhi

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