The Life of Labour: 80,000 Bihar Health Workers Sacked, Fisherpeople Affected By Cyclone Ockhi

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Cyclone Ockhi: Fisher people across four states and union territory of Lakshadweep severely affected

Cyclone Ockhi, after leaving the weather forecasters befuddled, left a wake of destruction as it hurtled through the southern and western coasts of India. The union territory of Lakshadweep, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala suffered heavily as the deep depression intensified rapidly leaving little time for warnings. The southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala bore the brunt of the human cost, with scores of fisher people perishing at sea and hundreds still missing. Reports of dead and missing fishermen have varied widely but according to government sources; 36 fishermen have been confirmed dead till Saturday. Villagers have reported that hundreds of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Kerala are still missing. The protests by villagers have pressured the state and central governments to extend the search for missing fishermen up to a 200-mile radius, well into the international waters. Many fishermen have also been forced to take shelter in Lakshadweep islands, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. As per Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, over 2800 fishermen from Tamil Nadu have been identified along the western coast and efforts are on to bring them home. But the fishing community is frustrated as there are variations and discrepancies in the information being released by different officials.

The government of Tamil Nadu has announced Rs. 10 lakhs for the next of kin of the deceased and also financial support to those injured, and compensation for damage to boats and fishing equipment. Calling on the central government to declare this as a national disaster, Kerala CM announced an enhanced relief package for the affected communities. The kin of the deceased would receive up to 20 lakh rupees, while 5 lakh rupees would be given to injured fishermen who are unable to return to fishing. This has led to demands in Tamil Nadu for a similar package. Manasi Karthik, a researcher, also points out, “Government policies set out under section 108 of the Indian Evidence Act (1872) require fishermen to be missing for seven years before they can be declared dead. The upshot of this is that the families that survive these fishermen cannot receive compensation for their deaths.”

Protests have erupted across Tamil Nadu against the government for a perceived ineptitude in dealing with the disaster. The lack of early warning, the slow pace of rescue efforts, poor and contradictory information and the issue of compensation have led to a string of protests. On December 6, a huge rally was held in Kanyakumari by the affected families. On December 7, people from the fishing community took out a rally and picketed at the railway station forcing the shutdown of rail services. In Kerala too, fishermen have protested against the government even blocking state ministers on visits to affected areas. Earlier, frustrated by the poor rescue efforts, the Kerala fishing community launched an independent effort for search and rescue, with over 55 boats from the hamlets going out to sea.

Severe criticisms have been raised against the administration for failing to forewarn fishermen about the impending cyclone. But the discussion has often been caught in a bureaucratic blame game. It is apparent that the disaster management system is not staffed and networked to be able to react at short notice. Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman, writing in The Wire, argues that the crisis is deeper. The cause for the series of natural events wreaking havoc on our lives lies at the misplaced priorities of our security and development model. The article highlights that many more fishermen could have been warned earlier and saved, had they been allowed to use satellite phones. But this had been prohibited by the central government in the name of national and maritime security. Similarly, our infrastructure development often fails to understand natural land use, leading to catastrophic floods.

Natural disasters, rather than being rare events, have become regular affairs. Every disaster leaves behind thousands of affected families. Yet we as a collective seem to have lost the humility to learn or the will to respond to these occurrences. Would Ockhi be yet another of these calamities for us to ignore?

Bihar government orders to terminate services of 80,000 striking health workers

More than 80,000 health managers, pharmacists, OT assistants, technicians, data operators, paramedics counsellors and nurses have been on strike in Bihar since December 4. These contract workers are demanding regularisation and equal work for equal pay. The massive protest, much larger than the nurses’ strike in Chennai that happened just last week, has brought the public health system to its knees. News18 reports that the workers began agitating, “buoyed by the recent Patna High Court judgment of giving equal pay to contractual teachers similar to that of the regularised teaching staff.”

But this time, the government has acted swiftly. Principal Health Secretary R.K. Mahajan has ordered, in a letter to all district magistrates and civil surgeons, that hiring for these positions has begun as the government health services have been affected. He said that the striking workers will have their employment terminated as they have violated the terms of their contract.

News18 reported that Lalan Kumar, President of the Health Workers Association, has threatened “mass self-immolation” if the terminations go through.

Haryana National Health Mission workers also on strike

In Haryana, doctors also joined the contractual NHM workers for a two-day state-wide strike. Newsclick reports that there are more than 12,500 employees under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) as well as National Urban Health Mission (NUHM). These workers have been negotiating with the government about regularisation since 2015. They were promised equal pay in September 2016 and again in October 2017, but the government’s promises have not been kept.

Migrant worker from West Bengal Hacked and Immolated in Rajasthan

A migrant worker from West Bengal, Afrajul Khan, was hacked to death with an axe and then set ablaze by a local man who said he was sending a message to all those who were ‘love-jihadis’. Afrajul Khan lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood and shared his room in Rajsamand district, Rajasthan, with two brothers-in-law and one nephew. When speaking in his defence, most co-workers and family members insisted that there was no way a relationship with a Hindu woman would have gone unnoticed and that if such a thing were discovered, they would ensure that the relationship is broken because otherwise, he would be “jeopardising the security of hundreds”.

Unorganised workers to get enhanced pension and other perks in West Bengal

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has announced Rs. 2 lakh post-retirement benefits for all contractual workers, even those in the informal sector. The Left Front government pointed towards a similar older scheme of theirs and claimed that it was just a repackaging of existing benefits with an eye on the upcoming panchayat elections in 2018.

IndiaToday also reported that “In a bid to make them uniform, the government is bringing all social welfare schemes – for construction, transport, beedi industry and other workers – under a single umbrella. But while this has benefitted some, it has also hurt the interests of others like transport workers whose benefits were derived from the lucrative annual cess on licence renewal.”

What has definitely hurt trade unions was the government’s move to withdraw the right of trade unions “to verify or attest the eligibility of workers for retirement benefits.” While this will wreck the fake unions which operated as brokers to help workers access their benefits, genuine trade unions will also be affected.

PUDR report shows the pain of forming a union in Manesar

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) have released a report documenting the difficulties of the workers of an auto components manufacturer in Manesar. The company, SPM Autocomp Systems, is a supplier to a number of car manufacturers including Maruti, according to The Hindu. “Minor accidents are a routine matter… It is claimed by the workers that small accidents like fingers being cut off happen almost on a fortnightly or monthly basis. There were accidents in July 2017 and October 2017. In the first case, a worker’s finger was cut off and in the second, a worker’s arm got entangled in the conveyor belt. In such cases, the company pays for one-time treatment but no compensation is paid,” the report says.

Their wages are lower as well, especially compared to factories where a union is present and can negotiate with the employers. The company is openly hostile and actively harassing the workers and preventing them from forming a union. Those perceived to be involved in union activity were allegedly attacked in “multiple ways” including “goons and bouncers” being sent to the workers’ homes for three days in a row.

Other news

A bank for and by sex workers

Sex workers are often unable to save money because of “madams”, pimps, relatives and policemen. Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society was formed to counter this trend. The Guardian reports, “It began with 13 women pooling their savings – 30,000 rupees – in 1995. Today, the bank’s turnover is 300 m rupees a year and it has a membership of 31,000 sex workers from across West Bengal.” The bank’s passbook also gives them an identity proof which allows them to apply and get official documentation like a voter’s ID.

Retrenched Greaves Cotton workers demand answers from the company

The Greaves Cotton factory closed in 2016 after the workers formed a union under DTUC. Instead of moving the workers to alternate locations, the management terminated them. Since then, the workers have been fighting in vain to get the management to even speak to them.

In Pricol case, SC rejects workers’ appeal without enquiry but takes up management’s appeal

In a case where there are more questions than answers, Thozhilalar Koodam discusses the “brazenly pro-capital and anti-worker bias” of the Supreme Court. There have also been two worker deaths in the factory in the recent past and the management is said to be targeting union members.

Weekend reading

“Ginnie pauses at the desk where she found her husband Matt’s letter on the night he died. “My dearest love,” it began, and continued for pages. “I have torment in my head.” On the morning of his last day, 12 May 2011, Matt stood in the kitchen of their farmhouse.
“I can’t think,” he told Ginnie. “I feel paralyzed.”

“The hiring of domestic workers for live-in, full-time help is so common that their presence has altered residential architecture. Pass any real-estate billboard in east Beirut’s affluent Ashrafieh, and chances are the floor plan of the apartment will include a tiny enclave at its heart: “Maid,” the description of this room will read, “180 × 155 cm.”

“When Dorothy Hinton-Adams was arrested for allegedly shoplifting a can of peanuts in May, she didn’t have the money to pay for her bail, which a judge set at $500. No bail bond company would help her, so Hinton-Adams, 71, was forced to stay in Fulton County Jail in Atlanta until her court date. “After the 15th day, I got kind of panicky,” Hinton-Adams said. “So I asked around how I could find out if I had a court date? There was a lady in there who wrote down my name and booking number.” That night, a stranger appeared and paid the $500 to bail out Hinton-Adams.

Hinton-Adams is among some 60 women across the South freed during Black Mamas Bail-Out, a coordinated, month-long effort in May by the grassroots group Southerners on New Ground to highlight the injustice of cash bail and its disproportionate impact on women of color and LGBTQ women.”