The Life of Labour: SC Dubs Government Affidavit on Welfare Boards as 'Absolutely False'

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The vicious cycle of bonded labour

Many legislations have been passed and schemes formulated to rescue bonded labourers and offer them an opportunity to start afresh. Yet, many are forced into very similar conditions as the government fails to lay the foundations upon which they can credibly rebuild their lives. Sushmita Ramakrishnan details this process by tracing a decade-long history of the Irula community near Chennai, which had been rescued in 2005. The article exposes the process of impoverishment that has forced them back into similar bonded labour with new masters. It also reveals how the present condition of the labourers affects the future of the next generation, effectively perpetuating the spiral of poverty.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Government announces a steep increase in minimum support price for agricultural crops

The union cabinet announced steep increases in minimum support prices of 14 Kharif crops as part of its strategy to double farm incomes. The latest MSP represents 50% more than the basic production cost of the crops (input cost + implied labour cost). This is in tune with the promise made by the government in this regard. The steep increase follows three years of subdued increase to MSP, just like the previous governments that raised MSP significantly before an election year to gain the support of farmers. However, from farmers to bankers, many have expressed their reservations and disappointment to this hike.

Here is an article from Scroll that explains MSP and this particular revision, also answering some of the queries raised about MSP since the announcement.

One of the principal reasons for the disappointment among the farming community is because of the formula adopted to arrive at the cost of production. As explained in the Scroll article, the cost of production excludes the rent on land and equipment that have been used in production. If these were to be included in the cost, the MSP is about 12% -15% higher than the cost, keeping margins low. As these are costs that are borne primarily by small and medium farmers, it has come at a grave disadvantage for them as they lose around Rs. 600 a quintal on paddy and much more on cotton and other cash crops. However, the government has come out very clearly against the higher valuation that was recommended by the Swaminathan commission. Niti Aayog vice chairman had even said that the recommendation of the commission was ‘impossible’ to implement.

Even as the farmers seek a higher MSP, bankers and other financial experts have started raising alarm bells stating that such a steep increase in MSP will increase inflation, interest rates and fiscal deficits.

‘Our fingers bleed’: India’s female miners toil over sandstone for the UK

A report in the The Guardian about the women (many of whom are Dalit) who work in sandstone quarries in Bhilwara in Rajasthan – “Kailashi has worked in mining for 30 years. She started out as a hamal, loading stones when she first came to Bhilwara as a child bride. She earns 200 rupees a day, a third less than men are paid for the same work.” Read more here.

Updates and other stories

Supreme Court warns Centre over the lack of action on welfare boards

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reprimanded the Centre for not uploading the draft of welfare scheme for construction workers on the labour ministry website. A bench headed by Justice MB Lokur dubbed the government’s affidavit as “absolutely false”. The affidavit claimed that the model scheme for the welfare of construction workers had been uploaded on the ministry’s website. “I’ve checked it. There is nothing on the website,” Lokur told the lawyer. Over Rs. 30,000 crores of cess collected for the welfare of construction workers has been languishing in banks even as claims have gone without disbursal for various reasons. The supreme court had ordered that the government frame a scheme that benefits the workers.

Tunes of toil: Kerala worker takes the cyber world by storm with his music

A Kerala worker’s singing prowess has taken the cyber world by storm, bringing accolades from accomplished musicians like Shankar Mahadevan. A manual worker in Kochi’s rubber plantation, Rakesh Nooranadu, is the most recent social media phenomenon after a video of his rendition of a song from Vishwaroopam went viral. While Shankar Mahadevan tweeted the video, Nooranadu has also met Kamal Hassan, who directed the movie.

Why India’s Gulf dream is getting smaller and smaller

The number of emigration clearances to Gulf countries has halved between 2015 and 2017. The total number has fallen to 3.7 lakhs in 2017 from 7.6 lakh in 2015. Saudi Arabia specifically has seen a drop of almost 75% in emigrations – from 3.06 lakh in 2015 to 76,000 in 2017. Times of India reports that, “In contrast, countries like Oman have tightened the screws on immigration by extending their hiring freeze for another 6 months, till December-end, while Saudi Arabia lost its charm due to the imposition of the family tax, wherein an expat worker has to pay a levy of Saudi Arabian Riyal 100 per month per dependent, which will double every year.” They also write that 56% of India’s global remittances are received from Gulf countries.

Chandigarh teachers protest suspension orders, show-cause notices

Chandigarh saw protests by teachers and the UT Cadre Educational Employees’ Union against suspensions and show cause notices sent by the state education department after poor results for Class X. Tribune India reports that, “The department on Wednesday suspended a principal and four heads of government schools and shifted three in-charges. Earlier, 56 show-cause notices were given to teachers and four were suspended.”

International news

The end of fishing in Greece

Greek fishermen are giving up their boats and licenses in exchange for cash from the EU and the Greek government. Reports of stock depletion from environmental agencies in the region, as well as from fishermen themselves who claim that their catch has decreased by 50% because of “overfishing, lack of regulation, and pollution”, have led to this incentivisation. Here are some scenes from Greece’s shores.

Samsung under investigation for union busting attempts

Union busting is not new among major corporations. However, it is not often that they are taken to task for the same as it is difficult to prove such actions. Samsung, a Korean MNC, was pulled up the Korean Supreme Court for illegally terminating a worker in its amusement park, forcing it to reinstate him. Since then more information has come to surface about its attempts to bust unions in its electronics vertical. Jo, who had won the case against Samsung in South Korea, shared the manner in which the company had tried to intimidate and also bribe workers who attempted to form a union. Reuters, which gained access to Jo’s legal documents and also conducted interviews with former employees, offers a glimpse into the conglomerate’s activities in this regard. South Korea is already notorious for clamping down on workers’ rights to unionisation, with a mere 10% of workers in unions. Samsung does worse, with employees stating that a mere 300 of its 2 lakh-strong workforce in South Korea, are organised in unions.

Riders unite: a wave of struggles in the gig economy has videos and an overview of the new global struggle against the gig economy led by drivers of Deliveroo and similar companies. There has been a slew of judgements across Europe in favour of the workers and they are looking to consolidate their gains by taking the fight to a more coordinated global platform. In Denmark, a cleaning company Hilfr signed a collective agreement with its “self-employed contractors” that turned them into workers with full benefits. This is probably the first time that such an agreement has been signed.

Weekend reading

Why it’s time to take a stand for the right to sit

“Back in 2013, five female salespersons at Kalyan Sarees in Thrissur had gone on strike demanding better working conditions. It took the management three months to accept their demands and revoke their suspension. One of their demands was the right to sit.” While white-collar workers get standing desks, many blue collar jobs don’t give workers the option of sitting at all, writes Sanghamitra Baruah.

The tiny union beating the gig economy giants

Another profile in The Guardian on the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), a new, small, diverse union that is leading the fight against precarious employment. The problem is a major one, and it’s not just about the gig economy. “Unpaid wages in 2016 amounted to a staggering £3.1bn; incredibly there is no regulator to ensure holiday pay is given, so “wages theft” of £4.5bn – 15% of the industry – is misappropriated from agency workers annually.” The article speaks to the workers who run the union and their past and current campaigns.

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