The Life of Labour: Maharashtra Farmer Suicides; Sugarcane Crisis in Eastern UP

Latest news updates from the world of work.

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Agricultural Crisis

Over 12,000 Maharashtra farmers committed suicide in 3 years

According to a statement made in the legislative assembly, more than 12,000 farmers have committed suicide between 2015 and 2018. Of these farmers, only half of them, around 6,888, were found to be eligible for relief of Rs 1 lakh from the government.

In the first three months of 2019 alone, more than 600 farmers have committed suicide.

Sugarcane farmers caught in a complex web of negligence in eastern UP

Translated from Hindi, this report dives deep into the state of sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh. The Wire reports, “Sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh are still owed Rs 10,626 crore in dues. In many areas, the crop is yet to be harvested. In Gorakhpur district, sugar mills are being run under the risk of poor recovery. In Kushinagar, one lakh quintals of sugarcane still stand in the fields.”

The farmers have been protesting for months, driving their unsold crop to the voting booths during the elections among other actions. The BJP has made multiple promises to solve this issue, which is cyclical in nature and always occurs like clockwork in this industry.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Gender and work

An Indian nonprofit is showing how free childcare at work can help disrupt the poverty cycle

India already has one of the world’s largest early childhood and maternal health program called the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme. But this programme has many flaws including that it usually isn’t usable by women and children at construction sites who are almost always migrant workers. One organisation that tried to fill this gap in welfare services was Mobile Creches.

Quartz reports, “For almost 50 years, Mobile Creches has cared for vulnerable children and their mothers through its community-oriented early childcare and child education model in construction sites and informal urban settlements. Available evidence shows that this model is successful: Kids who attend mobile creches for significant periods of time have shown gains in nutrition, hygiene, and cognitive and school readiness skills.”

Also read: What Does the Periodic Labour Force Survey Tell Us?

56 women housekeepers who accused NIFT employee of sexual harassment asked to leave

News Minute reports that 56 women housekeepers who worked at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Hyderabad were fired recently after they complained of sexual harassment by another employee. The employee, D. Srinivas Reddy, continues to work at the institute. The article discusses how the women attempted to follow due process and describes how the long process ended with them being fired casually, as new replacements were sought from the staffing agency.

The women had to approach a police station and file an FIR. According to the institute, the women are being fired for “lethargic work”.

The 56 women were later reinstated after NIFT’s director general arrived in Hyderabad to constitute a meeting of the Internal Complaints Committee to look into the matter.

Precarious Work

The art of converting workers ‘rights’ into ‘benefits’

Attacking the current central government, Shankar Gopalakrishnan writes in Newsclick that “…so much of the country’s decision-making and policy discourse around labour issues appears to be based in a kind of fantasy world. In this fantasy, labour laws in India are ‘rigid and strictly enforced’, affecting employment; loosening restrictions will enhance employment; and welfare schemes will take care of the destitution and poverty that plague the majority of the working population. In short, workers primarily need “benefits” rather than ‘rights’.”

Representative image. Female labourers wearing helmets take a break from laying underground electricity cables along a roadside in Ahmedabad. REUTERS File/Shailesh Andrade

Indian flexi-workforce rises to 3.3 million in 2018 from 1.2 million in 2015: report

An article in LiveMint highlights the double act required to talk about employment in a “positive” light in India nowadays. Based on a report by flexi-staffing giant ISF, LiveMint writes that a 16.3% increase in flexi-workforce is a good thing as it means an increasing formalisation of the workforce. The report also declares this new method of employment takes the responsibility of providing benefits off the employer and onto the staffing agency.

It should be obvious that citing industry reports has to be done with a little scepticism but none of that is here. The article does not question whether this increase in flexi-staffing is formalisation or the reverse i.e. full-time workers being forced to accept contract jobs. In the current moment where all job creation data is being analysed carefully, the audacity for this report to claim that flexi-staffing is creating jobs shows how completely disconnected or uninterested corporate giants are in the wider economy.

Other news

Cabinet approval for wage code bill likely next week

Despite being introduced in the last session of the Lok Sabha, the wage code that was first mentioned in the 2014 BJP manifesto was never passed. The wage code is expected to replace a number of laws including the Payment of Wages Act and the Minimum Wages Act. Now the cabinet has to approve the bill for it to be reintroduced to the Lok Sabha.

Also read: ‘Nationalising Losses, Privatising Profits Has Become Govt Policy’: BMS President

Indian Railways on the fast track to total privatisation

As reported earlier, Indian Railways is developing 23 railway stations through a public-private partnership. Newsclick reports, “The financial model for the redevelopment work has been framed in a way so that the government doesn’t incur any expenditure as the developer would be rebuilding the railway stations and maintaining it for 15 years. In return, the firms would be granted 45 years’ leasing rights for the commercial properties developed at these stations. It gives them the right to commercially exploit railways’ land. The firms will also be allowed to maintain all the station facilities like power, platform maintenance, parking, food stalls, retiring rooms, etc.”

Indian Railways. Credit: Reuters

Bengal IT employees apply for trade union registration

The Kolkata Forum for IT Employees, a new trade union in the IT sector, has 180 members already and has now applied to be officially recognised by the government. There have been IT worker unions already set up in other states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. But with IT companies resorting to more and more sudden layoffs, workers are beginning to realise that if they want fair working conditions, they will have to come together and fight for it.

International News

ITUC condemns brutal suppression of protests in Hong Kong

After China introduced a new extradition law, the people of Hong Kong shut down, gathering huge numbers across the city to protect their fundamental rights. The authorities struck back hard with tear gas and police squadrons deployed across the island.

“This completely unacceptable and unwarranted attack is another example of the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong…The legitimate concerns and demands of the people must not be denied, and the international trade union movement stand in full solidarity with them,” said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

‘Work until you die, or die working’: Workers strike in Brazil

Brazil’s fundamentalist right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro continues his onslaught against workers’ rights with previously announced pension “reforms”. Thousands of people took to the streets to oppose these reforms. Many of them were teachers who would have to work 40 years to qualify for 100% of their pension when they retire.

Also read: A Simmering Unemployment Crisis in India

As the retirement age is 60, this would mean they would have to start working at 20. The government has struck back by circulating messages that the protestors are anti-Brazilian and are seeking to stop the economy from turning around. Al Jazeera spoke to Silvani Moreno, a 42-year-old teacher, who said that under the new rules she expects she will have to work “much beyond 60” while working under the “massacring conditions teachers face inside of schools”.