The Life of Labour: Fire at Mumbai Hospital; a Win for Kochi Cab Drivers

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Fire at ESIC Hospital in Mumbai; eight dead, 100 injured

Eight people included a two-month-old baby died in a fire accident at ESIC hospital in Andheri, Mumbai. While the cause of the fire is not known, officials have claimed that the hospital had failed a fire safety test two weeks ago. There are also reports that the staff had written to the administration seeking a proper fire safety audit after a minor fire accident in March this year. ESIC provides medical care and insurance for low-income workers and their families.

New Trade Union Initiate, a national federation of unions, in its statement on the incident has highlighted that the employees’ union had pointed out the poor state of infrastructure at the hospital. It also blamed the rule changes by the NDA government that allow for ‘Self Certification’ on issues of safety, which creates conditions for such fatal failures.

The Union minister for labour has announced ex gratia compensation for the kin of dead and injured patients. The National Human Rights Commission has sent a notice to the ESIC and investigations are underway.

Kochi drivers win demands for a better regulated fare and incentive structure

Drivers working with cab aggregators in Kochi withdrew their three-week strike after the labour commissioner mediated negotiations with the management. The commissioner has asked the cab aggregators to submit proposals for a new tariff and incentive structure that offers living wage to the drivers and insulates them from rising fuel costs. As an interim measure, the aggregators have agreed to raise the fares by Re 1 and offer incentives of Rs 150 a day. They have also agreed to move the GST charges to the passengers.

Credit: Reuters

Across the world, workers in the gig economy are agitating against low wages and skewed incentive structures that force them to work long hours. Here is an article in Thozhilalar Koodam that analyses the nature of the incentive system with food delivery agencies as an illustration of the issue plaguing gig economy workers. The analysis shows that the incentive system is simply a way of withholding wages and that for a worker to theoretically earn the full incentive possible, they would have to go without sleep. Something which has been shown to happen as workers push themselves to earn as much as they can, destroying their health in the process.

Internationally, workers are steadily winning legal battles for recognition and rights as workers, even though ride sharing companies try to label them as ‘partners’ to bypass labour laws.

Fact finding report on Noida mobile factory layoffs

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights has published its fact-finding report on the layoff of workers, subsequent protests and police action against workers. Hipad Technologies, which manufactures Xiaomi mobile phones in Noida, had retrenched about 200 contract workers on November 29, citing lack of material supplies. This had led to protests by over 1,000 contract workers. The company has alleged that some workers vandalised property. The police have registered cases of rioting and endangering life, and arrested four workers. The fact-finding report goes into the details of the incident preceding the police action, enquiring into the conditions of work and insecurities faced by the workers that led to the protests.

Coal kills: Legal or otherwise, coal mines kill miners in droves

Two fatal incidents last week once again exposed the poor safety systems in India’s mines. Three workers were killed after a gas leak in a coal mine in Chhattisgarh. While the accident report claims that the workers had entered an unused tunnel with low oxygen, it is clear that the workers neither had the training, awareness nor the equipment to deal with such a scenario. In Meghalaya, 13 workers were trapped in an illegal coal mine when water from a nearby river flooded the mine and led to collapse of a section. There is fear that the workers might die as a previous incident in 2012 had caused the death of 15 miners. Since 2014, these mines are outlawed by an NGT order.

Anti-trafficking Bill: Will it penalise consensual sex workers?

The Anti Human Trafficking Bill is coming up for vote in the Upper House and the debate around its collateral impact on consensual sex work and workers has reopened. There is concern from associations of sex workers that the Bill, if enacted, will increase police harassment and drive the business down. They claim that the proposed law does not make a clear distinction between forced and consensual sex workers, treating all sex workers as either trafficked or traffickers.

Even UN special rapporteurs had raised the concern that the emphasis of the legislation is on the criminal justice system and less on protecting the human rights of sex workers. Arguing this case is an article in The Conversation, based on research conducted in Sonagachi, Kolkata.

A girl waits along the by lanes of Sonagachi for clients.

A woman waits along the by lanes of Sonagachi for clients. Credit: Shome Basu

Employers in the dock after Delhi governments’ inspections

Following up on its promise to implement enhanced minimum wage provisions, the AAP government in Delhi conducted inspections in many companies over the past 10 days. These inspections, part of ‘Operation Minimum Wages’, has so far identified 79 employers who have violated the minimum wage provisions. The government has filed FIRs in all these cases.

“Under our Operation Minimum Wages campaign, labour inspectors have registered statements of the labour and owners at these places. Different types of violations like non-payment of minimum wages, late payment and not informing employees about the Provident Fund and Employees’ State Insurance are the laws that have found broken,” said Gopal Rai, minister of labour. Violators could be fined up to Rs 50,000 and face a three-year jail term. The Delhi government has also set up a helpline number, 155214, for workers to report violations of the minimum wage or delay in wage payments.

Assam: Rural postal workers on indefinite strike seeking implementation of pay commission

The All India Gramin Dak Sevak Employees’ Union started an indefinite strike in many parts of India on Tuesday in support of their long-pending demand for the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission. They demanded the implementation of all positive recommendations of the Kamalesh Chandra Committee. There were also complaints that the workers are not getting their medical and education allowances. Earlier this year, the gramin dak sevaks had held a massive strike that had brought the postal service to a standstill, forcing the government to approve pay revisions. But the government revised wages only from July 2018 and not from January 2016, as per the committee’s recommendations.

Buried alive: Three workers killed in a Bengaluru godown

Three workers were killed and five others severely injured when heavy cartoons loaded on steel racks crashed down on them at a logistics firm in Whitefield, Bangalore. Some of the workers were migrants from Odisha and even Nepal. While the investigation is ongoing, the primary suspect is the steel racks, which might not have been capable of handling the weight of the goods. The owner of the godown has been arrested and charged with negligence leading to death. Thirty labourers were working in the warehouse when an employee noticed one of the racks titling and starting a domino effect which resulted in the fatal accident.

Despair in North Bengal’s tea gardens despite Mamata’s welfare claims

Four months ago, after thousands of tea workers went on strike, the state announced a hike in the minimum wage. But till today, the workers do not know what the new wage is. On International Tea Day, Alisha Rahman Sarkar writes for the New Indian Express about the hypocrisies of the Mamata government, which claims to have given Rs 1,000 crore in handouts for tea workers while denying them even a decent minimum wage.

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. Credit: PTI

Meghalaya: PWD muster roll workers on hunger strike over no salary

Casual workers in Meghalaya haven’t been paid their wages in seven months and have been forced to go on a hunger strike just to get what they are owed. Jaintia PWD Muster Rolls Workers and Labour Union has taken the opportunity to fight for the implementation of the new minimum wage of Rs 300 per day which was notified in June 2018 but still hasn’t been implemented. They are also asking for the state to implement schemes and benefits that were first proposed in the 1990s.

International news

Argentina muzzling judges who protect workers rights

The Argentine government has sought the removal to two judges who ordered the reinstatement of retrenched workers. This is being seen as an attempt to muzzle the judiciary at a time when Argentinian workers are facing massive layoffs due to economic issues and International Monetary Funds recommendations. The lawyers fighting the case of retrenched workers of Telam, a state-run media company, have alleged that the complaint against the two judges is to avoid a similar ruling favouring workers.

According to labour lawyers, there is a government offensive against all fronts that uphold labour rights. Lawyers of the most relevant Argentine unions, including the General Confederation of Labor, have created a forum to warn against this offensive and respond to it.

Complaint filed against Brazil at ILO for violating trade union rights

Major trade union federations in Brazil have referred a complaint with the ILO against the government for its failure to implement ILO convention 151, even after ratifying the same. The ILO convention proposed to protect the right to unionisation and collective bargaining among public sector workers. This complaint comes after their efforts to move an enabling legislation was vetoed by the conservative president, after it passed the relevant legislative forums. The unions are arguing that the ratification of the convention has given it constitutional validity and the failure to implement its terms is therefore a violation of Brazil’s constitution.

Weekend reading

Why don’t these girls work?: “When I watched Manmarziyaan and fell in love with Taapsee Pannu’s character Rumi, a question my mother had asked two and a half decades ago after seeing Hum Aapke Hain Koun came back to me: Don’t these girls need to study? Go to work?” Read more here.

The robots in Trump’s country: According to a paper published by economists at MIT and Boston University, “the Midwest and sections of the South have far higher ratios of robots to population than other regions of the United States”, as a result of which the presence of one robot would reduce chances of employment for about six workers. “The adverse effects of automation fall disproportionately on the voters who cast most of their ballots for Trump in 2016: White men, much more than women, and whites without college degrees.” Read more here.

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