The Life of Labour: Farmers Begin 10-Day Strike Demanding Loan Waiver and Increased MSP

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Four years after being regularised, 20,000 workers in Haryana lose their jobs after HC order

In the build-up to the 2014 state elections, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government passed an order regularising 20,000 government contract workers. The move has been declared illegal by the High Court which means that these 20,000 workers have effectively lost their jobs. The Congress government had utilised a method that was legally untenable. The court has given the state government six months to do fresh appointments via the regular process. The only bone that it has thrown to these workers is that the age criteria for the jobs will be relaxed for them – once. It’s interesting to note that despite being a Congress decision, the succeeding BJP government led by Manohar Lal Khattar defended the appointments in court, according to Hindustan Times.

The legal reasoning is complicated. It seems to arise from the tension of regularising existing temporary or contract workers as against appointing new candidates as per the public services commission. While there are legal cases related to this (State of Karnataka vs. Uma Devi, Sachivalaya Dainik Vetan Bhogi Karamchari Union, Jaipur VS. State Of Rajasthan), the basic question seems to be what the value of a public services commission criteria is if workers who don’t meet that criteria can be employed on an ad-hoc basis for decades.

Farmers begin 10-day strike to press their demands for loan waiver and increased MSP

One year after a series of farmers’ protests rocked central India, a federation of farmers’ organisations, Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, has begun a ‘Gaon Bandh’ campaign to mark the ‘Mandsaur protests’ while also demanding farm loan waivers and increased minimum support price. While last year the protesters had taken to the highways, this year RKM has called for a strike by farmers who will not supply milk or vegetables to the towns and cities for ten days. This, while highlighting the importance of the farming community, would also not devolve into violence like last year.

However, unlike last year, the farmers are not in unison about the protests. While the RSS backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has distanced itself claiming that the BJP government is ‘pro-farmer’, the All India Kisan Sangarsh Samiti, supported by left and liberal political groups has also not joined the protests as they claim that they were not consulted. While offering their good wishes to the struggle, they have sought a week of parliamentary debate on the agrarian crisis.

Even as the farmers’ struggle led by the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh was launched on June 1, reports of farmer suicides due to debt have increased the tension in the region. This has led to increased police presence to prevent violence.

Contract workers at North Chennai thermal power station go on hunger strike

Contract workers employed at the thermal power station in North Chennai, Tamil Nadu went on a one-day hunger strike demanding an increase in their daily wages, proper identification cards recognising their work at the power plants, as well as improved safety and medical care in case of accidents. The workers, whose representatives met the management officials in the evening, have decided to go on a strike later in June if their demands are not met by June 15. Recently, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board had concluded a wage agreement with the permanent workers that increased their pay by a fitment factor of 2.57 in tune with the pay commission recommendations. However, the demands of the contract workers were overlooked in spite of many unions pushing for their demands.

With eight months’ salary pending, workers come to Pune factory to find it closed

Premier, the manufacturer of Padmini, has shut down its factory in Chinchwad in Pune. This comes after a recent court judgement that ordered the company to clear all its dues to the 200 odd workers. The case was brought by the workers as their salaries weren’t paid along with their provident fund and life insurance contributions which they now say has lapsed. According to workers who spoke to Pune Mirror, the company still has functioning branches in Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi where salaries are being paid.

Two-day bank strike cripples financial transactions

Bank employees of all the public sector banks went on a two-day strike on May 30 and 31, after the Indian Bank Association offered a meagre two percent wage hike. With the talks over wage agreement breaking down, the United Forum of Bank Unions announced the strike. Reports suggest that critical banking operations such as cheque clearance, ATM and across the counter transactions suffered heavily due to the strike and protest by banking staff. However, an ET article indicates that the online transactions and the increased role of private banks in the urban market have cushioned the impact of the bank strike. The unions have expressed their anguish at the lack of official response or an expression of willingness to renegotiate the offer.

Anganwadi workers demanding wage parity faint during protest

35 Anganwadi workers fell unconscious during a protest organised in Mohali against the Punjab government’s failure to raise their wages on par with nursery school teachers. While the Congress party had promised just wage during the elections that brought it to power in Punjab, it has failed to deliver on its promise. Recently, the government had issued directives to admit children for about 3 years in pre-primary schools by merging the centres. This prompted the Anganwadi workers, who handle kids between 3 to 6 years of age, to demand parity of wage with nursery teachers. They had marched to the state capital from two different towns over two days and on May 31, were stopped at Mohali by the police. As they sat in protest, many workers began to faint because of the heat.

Air India workers to suggest revival plans as government fails to find buyers

Air India’s employee unions have said that they were preparing an alternative plan to revive the debt-laden national carrier, a day after the government announced that not a single bid had been received for the proposed stake sale in the loss-making airline. The unions, under a common platform, are also likely to hold a convention of all stakeholders associated with the airline to discuss its turnaround plan. “The matter is not over as yet. We are planning to give an alternative plan to the government as to how to run and revive the airline. We will also suggest the government what all it can do which is in the interest of all stakeholders, including the employees,” said a union member.

While the unions have been protesting the privatisation plans demanding that the government streamline the management of the airlines instead of selling it, the government has been keen to sell India’s flagship carrier.

Teacher’s strike in Lucknow a sign of deep-rooted crisis

Thousands of school teachers were protesting in Lucknow when they were allegedly lathi-charged by the police. NewsClick reports, “The recent strike was only the latest in a series of such protests that reveal a deep-rooted employment crisis and a crumbling education system in Uttar Pradesh.” UP had about 1.7 lakh elementary and primary teaching positions but they filled them by deputing Shiksha Mitras whose only qualification was passing the 12th grade. With the SC requirement that appointment is done on the basis of the TET or Teacher Eligibility Test, the UP government has utterly failed to take any kind of serious steps to solve the problem.

Delhi University teachers, students hold hunger strike asking for regularisation of ad-hocs and against ‘autonomy’

In Delhi, university teachers and students are fighting for the regularisation of ad-hocs. Though unlike UP’s education system, Delhi University is one of the best-funded and well-respected institutions in the country. It seemingly has no excuse for building a system based on the use of highly-qualified but extremely precarious labour in the form of ad-hoc professors. The protesters are also agitating against what they see as the de facto privatisation of higher education in the form of increased autonomy.

National Fishworkers Forum calls for a nationwide protest on June 11 against CRZ notification 2018

The National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF) has rejected the draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2018, which was made public by the union environment ministry on April 19, claiming it was against protecting biodiversity and ecology and stands in violations of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. “From 1991 onwards, CRZ norms have undergone several changes that only aide builders and allow tourism in critically sensitive marine habitats, scaling back on safeguards for the coastlines by giving coastal infrastructure and tourism priority over coastal livelihoods,” said Thomas Peter, general secretary, NFF. He added that NFF had already written to the union environment ministry to give them a date for hearing their objections in person. Members have planned a nationwide agitation, calling it as the ‘National Day of Action’, on June 11 at the block, village, district, state and national levels at all coastal states and in New Delhi.

IT Professionals hold meeting for implementation of labour laws in IT Sector

A meeting organised by the Forum of IT Professionals, a union for IT workers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has called for implementing labour laws and regulations even in the IT sector. In the first state-wide meeting, the techies also highlighted the ‘inhuman practices’ adopted by the management when retrenching workers. Electing a 27-member executive committee to take their struggle forward, they also passed a resolution seeking the governments of Andhra and Telangana, which are in the forefront of luring IT companies through concessions, to implement the labour laws of the land to protect workers in the IT sector.

International news

Fired Deliveroo riders set up their own cooperative in Barcelona

After being fired for organising, former employees of Deliveroo, Glovo and UberEats have set up their own food delivery service, Mensakas. “The cooperative will be self-managed by its own workers. Everyone will have an employment contract and therefore taxes and social security contributions will be paid,” said the employee-owners of the new service.

Weekend reading

Workers’ movements and strikes in the twenty-first century

Jörg Nowak, Madhumita Dutta and Peter Birke write about their new book that looks at the comeback of large-scale labour strikes and working class struggles, mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. “A list might start with the general strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique in spring 2009, followed by the largest strike wave since the 1980s in China in 2010. Such a list would include the massive garment worker strikes in Egypt in 2010, which prepared the grounds for the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the public sector and miners’ strikes in South Africa in 2010, 2012, and 2015.” Read more here.

Human waste disposal in Bengaluru

C S Sharada Prasad and Isha Ray of the Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley spend an evening with the cleaners and truck drivers in charge of sanitation. “It has to be done only at night. The hotel does not want the neighbours or the guests to see this,” Santosh says in a soft voice. “It is a large, posh hotel. We service it once every two months.” Santosh owns a truck in which faecal sludge is removed from septic tanks and transported away to a sewage treatment plant (ideally, if the owner has a ­permit) or to open drains and water ­bodies (commonly, as most owners do not have permits). Read more at the Economic and Political Weekly.