The Life of Labour: BMS Wants Haryana Reforms Rolled Back, Tea Garden Workers in Crisis


A round-up of news and issues from the world of work

Construction workers in Jharkhand. Credit: Wasim Raja/Flickr CC 2.0

Construction workers in Jharkhand. Credit: Wasim Raja/Flickr CC 2.0


RSS-affiliated trade union protests against BJP’s meddling with labour laws in Haryana

In BJP-ruled Haryana, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has demanded a rollback of labour law amendments passed by the Haryana assembly last Wednesday. Business Standard reported that many workers under the banner of various trade unions “gathered near the main gate of the mini-secretariat in Gurgaon and burnt copies of the amendment bills”. The four bills moved by Labour and Employment Minister Abhimanyu for amendment were:

  • Industrial Disputes (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2016
  • Factories Act, 1948
  • Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
  • Payment of Wages Act, 1936

The workers say that the new amendments will give factory owners more power to exploit workers. Maruti Suzuki Kamgar Union general secretary Kuldeep Janghu termed the amendments a “Black Day” for the labour community. BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay told the Times of India that the BMS would be forced to hold protests across the state if the new laws are not taken back. He cited the example of Rajasthan to make his case, saying that the government there had earlier initiated labour reforms but these failed to bring industrial growth, rather “industrial unrest” had started in the state.

Bengal tea garden workers in crisis

The Western Indian Tea Dealers’ Association (WITDA) expressed concern over the closure of tea gardens in Bengal and called for more political will to address this crisis. India currently produces around 1,250 million kg of tea, of which around 200 million kg is exported. WITDA president Piyush Desai cautioned that we may see a shortfall of 50 million kg by next year, which might lead to surge in tea prices and cause labour unrest. Lower realisation from tea prices and increasing labour costs have led to a leading tea player, Duncan Industries, closing seven tea gardens. Around 26,000 workers, mostly women, have been rendered unemployed and wages have increased by Rs 20 per day from Rs 112.50 in April 2014 to Rs 132.50 likely by now, added Desai, various news reports confirm. Labour cost constitutes 60% of the total cost of tea production.

The tea industry on the whole employs 1.1 million people, a large share of it from Bengal, and thus cannot be ignored in poll-bound Bengal.

Jewellers resign from BJP in protest, say ‘kamal ka phool, hamari bhul’

Jewellers across the country complete a month of protest against the proposed 1% excise duty and making PAN details of customers on purchase over Rs 2 lakh mandatory. The move to demand PAN details was intended to ensure checks and balances in the jewelry industry and curb tax evasion and funnelling of black money through large purchases. The protesting jewelers, most of whom have been supporters of BJP, have shut shop and are using creative ways to protest like selling “pakoras” and vegetables, “excise tea”, and asking customers for PAN details in such mock sales, the Hindustan Times reported. They also raised slogans like ‘kamal ka phool, hamari bhul’ (voting for the lotus was our mistake) to express their discontent.

Hundreds of jewellers gathered at BJP’s office in Rajkot and submitted the resignation of 2000 people associated with the jewelry industry in protest. Rajkot accounts for 85% of the total jewelry production in India, an Indian Express report says.

In 2012, the Union government had imposed a one per cent excise duty that it was forced to rollback after jewelers protested. The IE report further adds that “the protests have hit the artisans the worst, most of whom are from Bengal and are returning home without any earnings”.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the government would not roll back the proposal. However, the government has constituted a panel under former chief economic advisor Ashok Lahiri to look into the issue and submit a report in 60 days, the HT report adds.

Gokak Mill management summoned by labour department

As 2500 workers of the Gokak textile mills in Karnataka entered the 22nd day of their ongoing strike on March 31, deputy labour commissioner and reconciliation officer Girish Patil issued summons to all members of the board of management to be present for a reconciliation meeting, the Times of India reported. Gokak Mills Limited is a 100-year-old old textile mill where workers have been on a strike since March 8 alleging harassment from the management and the continuous laying off of workers. The number is now a mere 2500 as compared to the once 12,000-strong workforce. Local MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi from the INC is the head of the workers’ union, but hasn’t visited the agitating workers even once. The summon was served after both Jarkiholi and the mill management failed to show up for the last four reconciliation meetings. In a letter to the BSE on March 10, company chairman, Ashok Barat said the strike was “illegal” and started by a “handful of misguided persons”. Barat added that production activities had been affected due to this and that the management was “making all efforts to counsel the workmen and restore normalcy as soon as possible”. The company had also enforced a lockout on the mills on March 17. Sensing a political opportunity, BJP leader Ashok Pujari has joined the workers and urged the state government to take “immediate steps” to address their demands.

Do you know of any other development we should highlight in this column? Write to me at [email protected]