The Life of Labour: Robots to Stop Manual Scavenging in Kerala, Indian Labour Conference Postponed

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Indian Labour Bureau survey reveals slowdown in job creation

The latest survey data released by the Indian Labour Bureau clearly reveals the impact on employment due to demonetisation. The data for the period from April to June 2017 shows that the manufacturing sector lost over 87,000 jobs. While it records an overall growth of 65,000 jobs in the quarter, this is the lowest growth rate in the last three quarters. The increase in jobs comes predominantly from the education sector that saw an increase of 99,000 jobs compensating for the decline in the manufacturing sector. Health and construction sectors also saw a robust increase of 31,000 and 10,000 jobs respectively. On the other hand, the IT and BPO sector showed a growth of just 2,000 jobs. The impact of GST is not factored into this quarter. With a rapidly increasing workforce, the poor growth rates in employment pose a major crisis for the economy.

Nagpur transport workers’ strike: Government invokes ESMA

Transport workers from four bus operators and two ticketing agencies, all members of a Shiv Sena-led union, successfully struck work on February 21. With a total strike, the administration’s alleged efforts to break the strike using ad-hoc workers was also successfully foiled. The workers were demanding minimum wages and a permanent job but the Maharashtra government invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and the court also ruled the strike illegal. The Nagpur Municipal Corporation took the help of the police to get union leaders arrested in an effort to break the strike. Though the union withdrew the strike after the imposition of ESMA, only a third of the busses were plying on February 22.

The collateral damage of bank frauds

While there is a lot of discussion about the multiple cases of bank frauds and wilful debt defaults, there is little news or discussion about the workers who invariably suffer a loss of wages and jobs as a consequence of such frauds. This was true of Kingfisher airlines, where the pilots and staff were not paid. In a tragic incident, a pilot even committed suicide. Yet again, an article in The Indian Express documents the stories of the factory workers who found themselves without jobs and unpaid wages of over three months when the directors closed the factory citing bank liabilities. These vulnerable workers do not have the legal or the financial strength to fight drawn-out court battles and are victims of corporate mismanagement and tardy regulation. It will not be surprising if they go uncompensated in this process.

Indian Labour Conference postponed fearing boycott of PM’s speech

The Indian Labour Conference has been postponed over fears of a boycott by central trade unions. The RSS-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) threatened to boycott as its demands weren’t included in the union budget. The other central trade unions were protesting because the Congress-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) wasn’t invited to the conference.

Exide workers on hunger fast against victimisation

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)-led trade union at Exide factory in the Narasapur industrial area near Kolar in Karnataka has started an indefinite hunger strike alleging that “as many as 18 workers were suspended for placing demands on behalf of the workers”. Other organisations have joined in the action as the management seems to be ignoring the workers despite their mounting ill-health due to the hunger strike.

Nearly a third of India’s states/UTs have not hiked pay for women who form core of health services

Anganwadi workers and helpers are considered to be “honorary” workers and receive compensation in the form of an honorarium. This is to ensure that they remain outside the purview of government employment and subsequent benefits. An IndiaSpend analysis shows that these women workers have not received any increase in salary for years. “Nearly 40% of Anganwadi workers surveyed in 2014 in six states had to use their personal money to run the Anganwadi centre and 35% of them had not been paid on time, according to Progress of Children Under Six, 2016, report… Uttar Pradesh, with nearly 170,000 AWWs and 150,000 AWHs, increased payments to Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 per month, respectively, as of December 2017, from Rs 200 and Rs 100 per month”.

Tamil Nadu Electricity Board strike ends after wage agreement

A strike by workers of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board demanding wage hike was withdrawn and negotiations proceeded to an amicable conclusion. On February 22, the workers, the board and the government reached an agreement that will increase the wages of the workers on par with government staff. The government has also agreed to fill vacancies by increasing payroll by another 2,000 workers.

Robots to be deployed in sewers, stop manual scavenging in Thiruvananthapuram

Just last week, over 10 deaths were reported due to manual scavenging. A minor ray of hope in the fight against manual scavenging emerged a few weeks ago from Kerala. A student-led initiative had come up with a robot that could replace workers in clearing sewage. This will go into action from this week, where it will be tested in real-world conditions. If it proves successful, it might be a major technological step in finding ways to deal with our sewage without forcing workers into the hazardous and dehumanising occupation. The robot will only cover the city of Thiruvananthapuram for now.

Cochin Shipyard accident: Inquiry faults CSL for safety lapses

The inquiry by the Department of Factories and Boilers has found evidence that relevant safety procedures were not followed prior to the blast. The full report will be submitted to the government on Tuesday.

‘Who makes our clothes’: A report on the state of garment sector in South Asia

A research of the garment sector in India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, commissioned in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster that led to scores of workers’ deaths, has revealed the poor wage and working conditions prevailing in the sector. While finding that the conditions of work are relatively better in India, it highlights the plight of Cambodian workers who suffer abysmally low wage rates forcing them into debt, as well as the poor working conditions in Bangladesh. The report intends to be a tool for advocacy groups to force international brands to improve conditions of work at their manufacturing houses.

Global unions in the garment sector have urged the transnational brands that are yet to sign the 2018 Transition Accord to do it now. The accord allows for inspection and monitoring of factories in Bangladesh for compliance with fire and safety provisions. While over 100 brands have signed the accord, major brands such as Marks and Spencers, Sainsbury, Abercombie and Fitch, and Metro are yet to sign the accord that will lapse in 100 days.

International news:

Postal service workers carry the Amazon burden

“Around one-third of the packages Amanda handles are shipped by Amazon. As the Seattle-based tech giant commands an ever-greater share of the retail market, the number of packages handled by the USPS keeps increasing. But employees say Postal Service management hasn’t responded to the surge in heavy items by investing in staffing or infrastructure. Instead, its leadership has cut costs and resorted to what union leaders call “management by stress.” Read more here.

US Supreme Court case that can devastate Unions

The US Supreme Court is about to hear and adjudicate on a ‘right to work’ case filed by a government employee demanding that he not be forced to pay dues to unions that he does not agree with. This case is yet another in a long list of ‘right to work’ cases that have curbed the power of unions to engage collectively against the management. At present, unions in the public sector get their subscriptions from all employees. If the court rules against this practice, it would greatly jeopardize their revenue stream and significantly affect their ability to advocate and organise. This article in Bloomberg describes the serious consequences for unions and the measures that unions and anti-union lobbyists are preparing for in the likely event of the court ruling against the unions.

Histadrut cries foul over India-Israel agreement on flying routes

India and Israel, in a recently concluded state visit by Israeli PM to India, signed an agreement allowing Indian air carriers, especially Air India to fly to Israel through Saudi Arabian airspace. This will drastically reduce the distance and thereby the cost of flying to Israel. Histadrut, the Israeli labour union with a presence in the Airline Industry, has cried foul over this measure saying that it would unfairly affect Israeli air operators who are barred from flying over Saudi Arabia.

Weekend Reading

Ford’s torture chambers in Latin America

“When a worker was kidnapped, Ford would immediately send out a termination notice for their “failure to appear” at work. In Propato´s case, his household received the notice while military officials were torturing him inside the Ford plant. Attempts to contest notices with the argument that workers were being held at the plant were rejected by Ford.” Read more here.

Misogynist ‘jokes’ and insensitive workspaces

It’s not about a single defining incident or the violence by an individual colleague. It’s not necessary to have suffered sexual violence to recognise and agitate against a misogynist culture. A ‘joke’ can be as discomforting as an unwanted sexual advance. It’s the overall culture of the space, the misogyny that dominates our work settings and its ability to normalise behaviour that restricts women at work and makes them feel uncomfortable. Yet, even in the most literate of spaces, filled with colleagues and managers well versed in politics, it is hard to make people see the gender-insensitive culture in our work environment, let alone act against it. This article by Sushmita Pai in The Ladies Finger describes her ordeal as she tried to improve gender sensitivity by asking the media company she works in to set up anti-sexual harassment and gender sensitisation committee as mandated by the law. Instead of complying with the law, the company management and human resource departments insisted on sidestepping.