Life of Labour: Farm Crisis, Death on the Job and Precarious Livelihoods

Latest news updates from the world of work.

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Agricultural crisis

Income support and interest free loans on the cards?

Working at a feverish pitch since the electoral debacle in three major states, the NDA government has proposed further schemes for the welfare of the agricultural sector. The agriculture ministry, along with the NITI Aayog, is working on a proposal that will provide income support as well as further interest subsidy to address the growing crisis in the agricultural sector.

The Economic Times reported more proposals that even include cash compensation for the farmers who have had to suffer distress sale of crops below the minimum support prices announced by the government. Thought the MSP was touted as the highest ever by the NDA government, the poor procurement process has forced farmers into distress sales. The proposal plans to mitigate this shortcoming. Other proposals included reducing premiums for crop insurance. These measures are seen as a counter to Congress’s loan waivers.

Also read: Farm Loan Waivers and Corporate Defaulters are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Some of these proposals had been discussed by experts in the sector for sometime. There have been suggestions to move away from a production focussed approach to income focussed policy.  However, the efficacy of these measures would have been even greater, if it had come at a earlier moment, when the government could have overseen its implementation better rather than become preoccupied with a elections.  

Prices of agricultural products continue to fall

In all, 2018-19 might turn out the be worst year in recent times for small farmers as wholesale prices of agricultural products fell steeply. While the WPI value for agri products has been in the negative, the rest of the commodity basket has seen positive inflation. This means that the farmers income has shrunk at a time when they are paying more for the non farm products they consume.

Such a situation is only intensifying the crisis, with a significant slump in the purchasing power of the rural households. Some experts have laid the burden on the governments’ overemphasis on keeping inflation low by suppressing agricultural prices.

Death at work

Nine injured in blast at cement block manufacturing factory in Goa

The blast was at Tuem Industrial Estate which is about 35 kms away from Panaji. The blast caused a fire which was eventually put out by the fire department. PTI did not report the name of the factory. According to the report, nine workers were injured, three of them very seriously. There is no mention of any action against the management.

Worker dies in Jharkhand coal mine, company suspects suicide

A 58-year old miner, an employee of Central Coalfields Limited, died after being trapped in a mine. Ajay Kumar Singh, a general manager of Central Coalfields Limited, tried to suggest that it was a suicide, claiming that the worker should never have been in the mine as he was a surface employee.

PTI also reports him stating that, “As the deceased was nearing retirement, it is suspected that he might have committed suicide to ensure a job for his family member, in lieu of provisions of giving employment to a dependent if a worker died during service period.”

This is a transparent attempt at the management of the mine to not take liability for this worker’s death.  Without any evidence, Singh is trying to cast this death as a suicide just to benefit his employer.

Precarious livelihoods

Arrest of Neemrana factory workers arbitrary, finds fact-finding team

On January 8, around 2,000 workers who were protesting in the Neemrana industrial area were set upon by the police with tear gas and rubber bullets and lathis. Soon after, a number of union leaders and workers were arrested for rioting and attempted murder. The police arrived in the middle of the night and dragged them from their homes. One worker’s wife said that the police were reeking of alcohol when they arrived and were violent towards her husband as they took him away.

A fact-finding team which includes two members of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, called the arrests “arbitrary” and said they were “backed by no evidence”. The conditions at the Daikin factory where the workers are employed have been described as oppressive and the union has been organising despite such harsh action from the management and the police.

The Hindu reported, “The fact-finding team said that the workers felt that the unity of permanent and contract workers, and the demand for permanent employment of contract workers was particularly resented by the company. “

Speaking to migrant workers in Dubai, Rahul Gandhi misses a rare opportunity

Rahul Gandhi travelled to Dubai to speak to labourers about their concerns but instead of assuring them of their rights under a Congress regime, he mainly discussed the special rights to be given to Andhra Pradesh as a state.

Writing for the Wire, Rejimon K. reports that the drop in oil prices has resulted in “delay of salaries for migrant workers, a cut in health benefits and denial of end of service benefits. Many were also sacked or forced to take temporary leave. Unfortunately, when workers return, most of them empty handed, neither the Union government nor state governments take responsibility for their rehabilitation.”

Not paid for four years, Jammu PHE Dept daily wagers take to the streets

Thousands of workers gathered on the January 14 to march and criticise the Modi government for not taking their needs seriously. They have not received their salary for years and are in penury.

Speaking to Newsclick, Subash Sharma from Udhampur district said, “My wages have been pending for last five years but the current government is least bothered. They come to us when elections are near. Last time, five BJP leaders came to us and assured us that if we would vote for them, they would fulfil our demands within 15 days of assuming power. But nothing happened.” 

Nine minors freed from bonded labour at Chennai pani puri unit

Police have rescued nine minors from a room where they working 16-18 hours a day making pani puris for more than eight months. Times of India reported, “The juveniles were sent to a children’s home in Royapuram and police are questioning Munna Lal, owner of the unit, and his son Rahul Lal. While the two detained men told police they had paid the workers’ families Rs 2 lakh each, volunteers of a Varanasi-based NGO who tipped Chennai revenue officials said the amount paid was just Rs 2,000 each.”

Lal had been working in this business for more than 20 years and stopped these labourers from going out or using their phones. Their relatives had come looking for them but had apparently been sent away on some pretext or the other.

Gender and work

The story of domestic workers

An article in PARI by Urvashi Sarkar captures in vivid detail the arduous journey that domestic workers in Kolkata, make everyday to earn a frugal living. The long journey, the abuse and stress they face, the pressure of being at work at all costs add up to the travails of these women, many of whom have more responsibilities back home.

What is the driving motivation for them to undertake this hard labour? Find out here.

Is sexism at work the reason for over 40% women engineers being out of work?

A recent report by Society of Women Engineers and Work Life Law (WLL), has observed that over work participation among female engineering graduates has fallen from 35% in 2005 to 26% in 2018. The survey also identifies, that selection bias against women, steeper path in the career, and ‘maternal wall’ domestically contribute to this drop in employment among women. They even identify that in hard economic times, the women face even greater barrier to entry.

Also read: A Step Forward to Address the Gender Gap in Indian Science

MUDRA incentivising entrepreneurship in India, but RBI cautions against bad loans

A recent article in The Print claims that the MUDRA scheme that offers young people with collateral free loans to set up business in the non farm and allied activities, has been a great success. It also highlights the role it has played particularly in the economic life of women and the positive impact on GDP. Over 70% of the beneficiaries are women with 55% of the beneficiaries from the SC/ST category. However the article also cautions at a possible spike of NPAs if caution and oversight is limited.

Even the RBI

[https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/rbi-warns-govt-on-spike-in-mudra-npas/articleshow/67519279.cms] had recently flagged the possibility of many of the loans under MUDRA turing NPAs, which would not only be worse for the banking and NBFCs that are reeling from NPAs from big capital, but will also turn disastrous for the budding entrepreneurs, shutting avenues to raise capital in the future.

Other News

Mumbai: BEST strike continues, HC says it will take action

As reported earlier, almost the entire BEST fleet continues its strike, asking for better wages and for merging their budget with the municipal corporation. The Hindustan Times reported that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said the civic body was willing to consider both these demands. Meanwhile, there was predictably a PIL filed in the high court asking for the union to be forced to stop the strike, citing public inconvenience. The HC has asked everyone involved to solve the problem in a friendly way (of course) and if the strike continues, it will probably label the entire thing illegal.

10% quota: Pool of jobs in govt, banks shrinking steadily

Making a reference to the recent farce of a quota announced by the government, Indian Express looks at the number of central public sector enterprises and sees declining trends in their hiring and jobs. This is especially true if you exclude casual jobs.

They report, “In the case of banks, RBI data show that while the total employment has increased by about 4.5%, the hike was on account of the hiring of officers. Recruitment in the two other job categories – clerks and subordinate staff – has gone down nearly 8 per cent between FY2015 and FY2017.”

International news

South Korea: FineTek workers end their smokestack sit-in after 426 days

Workers of a power plant in Seoul have been on a sit-in on top of a smokestack at for more than a year in protest of layoffs at their company. The smokestack is more than 75 metres high and the workers would’ve been exposed to poisonous fumes that were coming out of the power plant.

Bangladesh: Garment worker killed and 50 injured in wage protest

According to UNI Global Union, 5,000 garment workers were protesting in Dhaka last week when the police opened fire, using rubber bullets and tear gas to chase away the protestors. These workers make clothes for the largest brands from Zara to H&M to Walmart and reportedly more than 50,000, of them have walked out of their workplace on strike because they can not support their families on their current wages. .

Weekend reading

Remembering Red Vienna

“Though tragically snuffed out by the rise of fascism, Red Vienna was an island of socialist organising and workers’ power worth commemorating.” Read more at Jacobin.