The Life of Labour: Maharashtra Farmers Continue Protests

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Maharashtra farmers continue the fight – “jail bharo” and Nirdhaar march

Farmer organisations in Maharashtra have called a ‘jail bharo’ andolan (agitation) on May 14, the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, across the state, demanding a complete waiver of loan and electricity bills, scrapping of the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway and refinery at Nanar in Ratnagiri, among others. Around two lakh farmers are likely to take part in the agitation, which is to be held in all districts. The steering committee of farmer organisations, which has called the “jail bharo”, includes the Shetkari Sanghatana led by Raghunathdada Patil, All India Kisan Sabha, Baliraja Shetkari Sangh, Satyashodhak Shetkari Sabha, Akhil Bharatiya Shetkari Sangh among others. The farmers’ organisations are also demanding that the milk dairies pay the mandated rate of Rs 27 per litre of milk and the payments are made within 24 hours as promised by the government. Labour unions affiliated to the Trade Union Joint Action Committee have extended their support.

On May 3, almost 35,000 farmers, most of them Adivasis, gathered together in Dahanu town in Maharashtra to protect their land from being acquired by the government through a Nirdhaar (determination) March. PARI’s video shows both men and women farmers marching and singing, unabashedly declaring to the camera their determination to stop the government and the contractors from exploiting them.

Teachers in Tamil Nadu stage massive protest against new pension scheme

The police thwarted an attempt by teachers to mount a massive protest in front of Tamil Nadu State Secretariat in Chennai. According to New Indian Express, over 7,500 teachers were arrested for violating prohibitory orders, while more were arrested pre-emptively from across the districts of Tamil Nadu. The report also claimed that police were stationed at Chennai bus terminus, Central and Egmore rail stations to detain teachers from proceeding to the protest. The teachers were protesting against the New Pension Scheme (NPS) and were demanding that the state replace NPS with the old pension scheme. They were also demanding the regularisation of employment for many teachers and the implementation of the 7th pay commission recommendations. In spite of police action, over 25,000 teachers assembled near the state guest house in Chepauk and protested peacefully. The protests were led by a federation of teachers and government staff unions, JACTO – GEO. A fortnight ago, they had gone on a state-wide hunger strike which was withdrawn after many teachers fell ill with the summer heat taking a heavy toll. The government had refused to entertain their demands, maintaining that a one-man commission will look into their demands and recommend action. In spite of the recent protests and support from opposition parties, the government has maintained its stand on the issue.

MGNREGS and Kudumbashree changing working women’s lives

Women constitute over 90% of the MGNREGS workers in Kerala and they seem to be reaping the benefits of the job guarantee programme. While the proportion of women in manual labour in Kerala is very low, the reason for the high rate of female participation in this programme is also due to the impact of Kudumbashree, Kerala’s poverty eradication and women’s empowerment mission, which has been significant in mobilising women for the unskilled labour opportunities that MGNREGS offers, and ultimately changing old attitudes. The complementarity between Kudumbashree’s self-help groups and the jobs programme has spawned economic and social opportunities that women have been quick to grasp.

MGNREGS has also played a crucial role in guaranteeing equal wage for equal work to women in a state with one of the highest gender wage gaps in unskilled work. Many women have credited this aspect as being crucial in their participation in the programme. By allowing workers above the age of 65 to engage in work, it is also playing a role in providing financial security for the aged, who have no social support. The stability of work has also allowed women workers to participate with greater confidence in the savings schemes of Kudumbashree and benefit from the credit facilities it offers.

Workers remain unpaid in spite of record allocation for MGNREGS

A report by IndiaSpend has revealed that while the government has claimed it has released over Rs 51,000 crores in January 2018, workers are yet to receive over 57% of their wages at the end of April. The article claims that while the government denies the extent of delays in wage payments, an independent study found that the primary reason for this mismatch between ground reality and government claim is the flawed definition of delay adopted by the government. With the implementation of the nationally administered electronic payment system for disbursing wages, the states have to raise Fund Transfer Orders (FTOs) for each worker, which is processed and the wage is transferred. While the accepted lag between work and wage payment is 15 days, the government records delays only in cases where the FTOs have been made after 15 days rather than the date of transfer of wage. This also means that the workers don’t get their fair share of compensation for the delay in wage payments.

The delays in raising FTOs and transferring wages also happen due to a number of other reasons including the problems associated with Aadhaar-MGNREGS linking, wrong bank accounts, delays due to problems with the digital systems. A detailed working paper has been published by professors at the Azim Premji University that goes into detail about other aspects including the lack of funding, problems in auditing work and payments, among others. Given the value of MGNREGS in rural livelihood, the support for the project from the agricultural labourers and the potential for improving the mechanism to serve better as the earlier story illustrates, it is imperative that the problems with the system are fixed and the workers are not denied their rightful wage and work.

Gurugram municipal workers on a three-day strike against contractualisation

More than 5,000 employees of the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) went on a three-day strike on Wednesday demanding equal pay for equal work and regularisation of ad hoc employees. The strike is part of a state-wide agitation by municipal employees. The other major demands of the striking employees include elimination of the contract system, resumption of pension scheme, increase in wages and implementation of cashless medical facilities. Nagar Palika Karamchari Sangh’s Gurugram president Rajesh Kumar said that the BJP government in Haryana had failed to keep the promises made to the employees in its poll manifesto.

Delhi state to impose stringent penal action against violators of Minimum Wage Act

The Delhi government has been a leader in revising minimum wage rates on a regular basis for the past two decades. The AAP government had increased the minimum wages in Delhi last March. Following the hike in minimum wages, the Delhi legislature passed a bill to amend the ‘Minimum Wages Act’ to enhance penalties. The President gave his assent to the bill this week bringing it to force. The amendment increases the fine to between Rs. 20,000 – Rs. 50,000 from Rs 500/- and maximum imprisonment to three years from six months. The enhanced penalties are supposed to act as a deterrent. The amendments also attempt to improve monitoring by mandating that employers maintain a list of employees on their website and pay their workers through cheques or bank transfers only. The minimum wage for unskilled workers is pegged at Rs. 13,850/- a month, whereas a skilled worker has to draw a minimum of Rs. 16,858/- a month including dearness allowance.

Robots won’t replace human labour, shows a recent study

In spite of a 200 fold increase in the use of robots in manufacturing in the last decade, robots are far from taking away jobs from humans, states a recent study by Professor Sunil Mani at the Center for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram. The study finds that a meagre 0.1% of the jobs in the manufacturing sector has been replaced by robots. While the number of robots has seen a significant increase in the last few years, they have remained concentrated in hazardous work such as arc welding, spot welding and machine tending. The study that uses data from the International Federation of Robotics and Annual Survey of Factories observes that the number of robots per 10,000 workers has gone up from 1 to 10 in the past decade. Yet, the study concludes the real danger to jobs come from ‘Artificial Intelligence’ enabled machines that might be better adept at learning to do tasks like humans. The study further concludes that the only way to prevent unemployment, in the long run, is to invest in high-quality education to upskill our workforce.

Other news

Sanitation workers in Dehradun on indefinite strike

Sanitation workers of the Dehradun Municipal Corporation went on an indefinite strike pressing their demand for payment of wages commensurate to the minimum wages in the state. They are being paid between Rs. 3,000 – 4,000 and even this is paid half by the corporation and half by the councillor. This split also leads to defaults by councillors. Having raised these issues over many months and having protested at the DMC office for over a week, the workers were forced to strike work to press their demands.

After a spate of deaths, garment workers to be counselled

After nearly 20 young women working in the garment sector in Tamil Nadu died in the last three months, many in suspected suicides, local officials across the state are gearing to provide counselling for the workers on dealing with work pressure and sexual harassment at the work site, according to a Reuters report. The garment sector, a $42 billion export industry, relies on a workforce dominated by young women. They work long hours and are exposed to insecure work environments. They are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment. These, experts and organisers conclude, are the causes of the increasing rates of suicides among these workers. Industry association, district administration and NGOs have come together to run sensitisation workshops and counselling sessions to address this crisis.

Interim relief to contract workers in Vadodara, Gujarat

The Industrial court in Vadodara has ordered an interim stay against the termination of 200 contract workers at Sterling Hospital, pending their case seeking regularisation of services. The workers had gone on peaceful demonstrations at the hospital seeking permanent jobs. The employees’ union at the hospital had taken the case to the labour court as an industrial dispute. Even as the case was being heard, the hospital had terminated their services. Quashing the termination, the court has ordered that the hospital or the contractor cannot change the service conditions until their case for regularisation has been disposed of. This would set a favourable precedent for contract workers to challenge long-term contractualisation.

International news

100,000 marchers bring Melbourne to a halt
“The war on workers is on,” said Mich-Elle Myers, a member of the Maritime Union of Australia. The marchers are fighting for an increased minimum wage which the government is resisting. The workers believe that they have not been getting a fair deal and that the government’s budget gives them only “crumbs”.

Pakistan’s deadly mines – 23 workers killed in one day

According to a report put out by IndustriALL, 23 people died in Pakistani mines in two separate accidents. The first accident involved 16 people at a private-owned mine and the second accident involved 7 people in a state-owned mine.

Weekend reading

How women beedi workers set up Asia’s largest housing cooperative

Subin Dennis writes for Open Democracy about the RAY Nagar Cooperative Housing Federation and about the decades’ long struggle for affordable housing by beedi workers at Solapur. Read the story here.