The Life of Labour: Maharashtra's Agrarian Crisis; Domestic Labourer Rescued

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610 suicides in 90 days: Maharashtra’s agrarian crisis at its worst

In the first three months of this year, 610 farmer suicides were reporting in Maharashtra. The severe drought in various parts of the state and the falling prices of agricultural commodities and a credit crunch has forced the farmers into a severe crisis. Marathwada and Vidarbha regions are the worst hit, as they face a fourth drought in six years.

Ironically, the long drawn Indian Elections, has put a spanner in drought relief work due to the model code of conduct being in place and a large section of government staff employed in poll related work. Even though the MCC has been relaxed, the government is claiming to be short staffed due to a large number of them being deployed on election duty.

What is the government doing to a drought at sea?

Not just agriculture, but even the fisheries sector is facing a drought. Fishermen in Kerala are claiming that their catch is fast depleting and that they have been facing drought like conditions at sea. The last three months was a period of fish drought, Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikya Vedi president Charles George said. “There is no fish in the sea. Many families are really struggling to make both ends meet. This is the time of fish drought and the government should have come up with a drought package as is being given to the farmers,’’ he said.

In 2012, nearly 4 lakh tonnes of sardines, the major fish variety on the menu, were caught. It fell to 45,000 tonnes in 2016, increased to 1.7 lakh tonnes the next year, only to fall to 71,000 tonnes in 2018. The NFF general secretary also voiced similar concerns, saying the Centre has neglected the fisheries sector.

Representative image. Fishermen on Kovalam beach, Kerala. Credit: Wikipedia

Traditional irrigation in Kangra Valley is facing a slow death

While there is a lot of focus on food prices, credit supply and value addition in the battle against deepening farm crisis, the more fundamental reason for the acute and chronic agrarian crisis that we face is the failure to manage the water and soil resources. Our agricultural methods have become unsustainable. However, the pressure of the market is forcing us to seek easy solutions to long term problems.

A report by People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) documents the steady collapse of a sustainable, indigenously developed irrigation system in Himachal Pradesh. This centuries-old system is facing the threat of modernising farming methods.

However, what is being lost is more than just an outdated irrigation system. With the Khul, the traditional canal irrigation system, goes a well established community management system.

Gender at work

Domestic labourer from Jharkhand rescued after 15 years in captive labour in Delhi

The Delhi Commission for Women, along with police, rescued a 29-year-girl who was allegedly kept in captive labour at a bungalow of a well established interior decorator. The girl, in her complaint, said she is from Jharkhand and has been forced to work in this house for 14 years without wages. She was held captive, without ever being let out of the house. The DCW had acted on the basis of an anonymous email that directed them to the crime. An FIR has been filed against the house owners.

A multitude of challenges facing women home-based workers in Delhi

The Wire reports on two empirical studies conducted by the Institute of Social Studies Trust across five locations in Delhi that study women workers who labour from their homes on a piece-rate basis.

It has been found that home-based workers across all trades could barely manage to earn Rs 25-35 per day, which was much lower than the entitled daily minimum wages of Rs 513.

Also Read: A Multitude of Challenges Facing Women Home-Based Workers in Delhi

These women earn around Rs 900 per month. Many of them have to work multiple jobs because their wages are so low and the work is irregular. The article says their work has been rendered invisible.

The salary saga of Bengaluru’s garment workers

“I started out as a helper, and I have managed to reach the position of quality checker today. But that has not made my life any better. My salary is still a meagre ₹8,000, which amounts to nothing in a city like Bengaluru. About 60% of it goes towards rent,” says Dakshayini, a 41-year-old garment worker who has worked in the sector for two decades and across eight different companies.

Speaking to The Hindu, she asks, “How do we manage other expenditure, such as our children’s education?” We have mentioned Bangalore’s garment sector often in this newsletter, including the intersection between migration and gender, the large-scale protests and the industry’s poor regulation. Despite the large number of people employed by the sector, garment workers are not usually mentioned in the typical story of Bengaluru, amidst all the shiny IT companies and the flowing liquor business.

Representative image of garment industry workers in Bengaluru. Credit: Reuters

Representative image of garment industry workers in Bengaluru. Credit: Reuters

Death at work

2 labourers die after entering septic tank, families allege nobody helped them

Another case of manual scavenging in Delhi. Two labourers died and three were hospitalised as they were cleaning a septic tank in a home. The three hospitalised workers remain critical, according to PTI.

80% of India’s construction sites “unsafe”

At a seminar organised by the Bandhkam Majoor Sangathan (BMS), a British Safety Council study revealed that not only do construction workers in India enjoy no legal protection, their on-site deaths are 20 times higher than those in Britain. About 25% of these deaths are from falling from a height. Nearly 80% of workers work in an “unsafe environment”.

The construction sector is one of India’s largest employers and remains highly unregulated despite repeated attempts by civil society organisations. The problem is definitely compounded by the informality and migratory nature of the work and the contractor system that enables it to exist. In this article for Counterview, RTI replies show some basic statistics about the nature of deaths and the percentage that gets converted to FIRs.

Precarious work

In Punjab’s labour hubs, workers plead for jobs at 1/3rd wages

Continuing their excellent series on India’s labour hubs, Indiaspend reports on workers from Punjab who are desperate for work. Despite attempts at increasing the minimum wage, jobs are still hard to find. The problems of Punjab are familiar, in that sense, to other places where demonetisation and GST has greatly affected existing industries.

To deal with the lack of work and lower wages, workers have had to cut down their daily expenses. They now walk instead of taking buses. Even labour contractors are finding fewer jobs and making less money.

90% of jobs created in India after liberalisation were in the informal sector

Based on their analysis of NSSO data, Indiaspend reports, “Of around 61 million jobs created in India over 22 years post-liberalisation of the economy in 1991, 92% were informal jobs.”

Also Read: Nearly 81% of the Employed in India Are in the Informal Sector: ILO

According to another study, most of these workers are self-employed and at least a third are casual labourers working for a daily wage. Even in the formal sector, the percentage of informal workers has increased to almost half of the workforce. The analysis also says that more than half of female workers are in the informal sector. This facet of the post-liberalisation economy has not been discussed enough.

Other news

Not afraid of ESMA, say RTC unions

The Essential Services Maintenance (ESMA) Act is one of the Indian government’s primary tools to shutdown genuine protests by workers. It’s a method of controlling and supporting companies ahead of employees. ESMA was initially a way to protect public services whose shutdown would cripple the residents of a city, like say electricity or water.

But in Tamil Nadu, the automotive sector is an essential service under the Act. This brazen step by the government is to prevent workers from fighting hugely powerful multinational companies for their dues. In Andhra Pradesh, a union of workers of State Transport Corporation is planning to go on strike and undoubtedly they will have ESMA invoked on them and a court will direct them to call off the strike.

Unions are often left without choice but to ignore the law and thus criminalise themselves in an attempt to simply fight for what they deserve.

Buses in a depot during the strike. Credit: PTI

International news

Ethiopia: Lowest paid garment workers at the base of expensive luxury brands

Ethiopia is fast emerging as one of the largest manufacturer of global garment brands. However a report by the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, reveals that the workers are paid less than $1 a day for their intense labour. The report highlights that while the government is facilitating the entry of global brands to manufacture their products, it has neglected the condition of the workers.

In comparison to the $26 earned monthly by an Ethiopian worker, garment workers in South Africa and Kenya earn over $200 a month for the same work. The report indicates the need for a livable minimum wage and improved soft skills training for the workers to improve their lives and productivity.

Lebanon workers strike against Austerity measures

Public sector workers from telecom, water, electricity, the universities and other government-run services took to the streets of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, on Friday to protest the government’s budget proposals to cut their wages, pensions and benefits. The protests were the second in as many weeks. They were joined by retired army personnel angry over the proposed cuts to their pensions and benefits. The rallies were part of a nationwide public sector strike affecting schools, universities, state-run media outlets and government offices.

Straddled with a huge public debt and pressured by the international community to adopt stringent austerity measures to access further loans, the government is cutting down on public sector wages as well as attempting to privatise and commercialise public utilities.

But the workers claims that while the debt was enjoyed by the upper class, they are being forced to pay back the loans through wage cuts. Students and even migrant workers suffering the Kafala system that makes them ‘serf like’, have joined the public sector workers in these strikes.