The Life of Labour: Re 1 Hike for MGNREGA Workers; Empowerment and Domestic Violence

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Agricultural Crisis

Some MGNREGA workers will get a hike of as little as Re 1 – or nothing at all

The BJP has continued its policy of undermining India’s largest anti-poverty scheme through its negligence. Despite workers and activists demanding an increase in MGNREGA’s daily wage to around Rs 600 per day, the government’s announced increases average around 2.16% – which for some states amounts to as a Re 1 per day. The Wire reports, “Workers in Jharkhand and Bihar – who had to do without any increase last year – will get a hike of Rs 3 and Rs 2 respectively. Six other states and union territories, however, will not see any wage increase.”

Farmers in Jharkhand: Govt is cheating us, destroying traditional agriculture

Farmers belonging to the Gangaram Kalundia Forum issued a statement attacking the government for its apathy towards their pain and struggle. They state that the government is ignoring their constitutionally-mandated right to life with impunity, destroying their livelihoods in the name of development.

Also Read: Some MGNREGA Workers Will Get a Hike of as Little as Re 1 – or Nothing at All

Instead of trying to make use of their traditional knowledge about various seeds and crops, the government’s policies seem to only consider the well-being of large corporations. “They also want the government to reject amendments to Jharkhand’s tenancy laws like Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, and to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 to ensure no acquisition of cultivable land”, according to Down to Earth magazine.

Death at Work

It’s 100 days and bodies of trapped Meghalaya miners are yet to be pulled out. Does nobody care?

The bodies of the 15 miners in Meghalaya who died have still not been recovered. Scroll.in reports that when incidents like this happen, the owners don’t even report the deaths. As the miners are generally poor migrant labourers from Bangladesh and Nepal, the owners get away with their morally repugnant and criminal behaviour.

Even in this case, though the deaths have received national coverage, the government hasn’t taken action. What can the powerless miners, exploited by the mine owners, hope for in the future?

Navy personnel entering the vertical shaft of the illegal coalmine at Ksan in Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya for a recce Credit: PTI

Gender and work

What is forcing Indian women to stay at home?

Writing for Hindustan Times, Punarjit Roychowdhury of IIM Indore looks at data from the Indian Human Development Survey 2012 and found that “delaying the age of marriage for women does not lead to better labour market outcomes for them.”

He attributes this to the “male backlash” effect, a theory that claims better educated women have a greater chance of facing domestic violence. He cites a recent study based on data from the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, where sociologist Abigail Weitzman “finds unequivocal evidence of Indian women who are at least as educated as their husbands have a higher likelihood of experiencing frequent and severe intimate partner violence than women who are less educated than their spouses.”

This means that typical platitudes about empowering women isn’t enough – delaying marriages and better education isn’t enough. Men remain the greatest obstacle for women.

Precarious work

Employee not entitled to full back wages on acquittal, unless his prosecution was found malicious: SC

The Supreme Court heard the case of Raj Narain, a Railway employee who was accused by his employer of forging high-value money orders. He was immediately fired, but the case took years to come to court. When he was found innocent, he tried to recover wages but was only given them from the date of being acquitted and not from the date of being fired.

The Supreme Court has upheld this view – saying that only if the case is shown to be malicious and the management were being vindictive in some way, the employee can claim back-wages from the date of being fired or suspended.

While the logic of the court is clear, it ignores the power imbalance. Workers face a loss of livelihood when they are casually accused of theft and embezzlement and have to suffer despite being innocent.

Bombay high court: Granting mass leave will set bad precedent

Based on a PIL filed against civil servants who went on strike, the Bombay HC has stated that the government granting mass leave sets a bad precedent. The HC asked the government to take the “appropriate” action so this kind of activity i.e. civil servants striking for their dues, doesn’t happen again.

Bombay high court. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wages fall as a proportion to productivity

Given the thrust of the present government to ‘ease’ business and aid in higher profits, it should come as no surprise that recent reports suggest that the wage to productivity ratio is falling further. The wage to productivity ratio indicates if workers are getting their due share of the production they are involved in.

IndiaSpend highlights an Oxfam report on the increasing disparity between wages of managerial class against the workers. It also reports that contract jobs in the organised manufacturing sector are seeing a higher growth than permanent jobs. This has resulted in a fall in the overall proportion of high paid, secure jobs in the organised sector.

This while causing precarity for workers, is also pulling down the total wage costs for companies as contract workers are paid far lower than permanent workers. While the article blames the failure of the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act, recent changes to labour rules have made it easier for companies to hire and fire workers on contract, cutting down the contractors.

Other news

Social security to low wage workers suffers

The Employees State Insurance scheme is the principal social security and healthcare provider for crores of low wage workers and their families. It is implemented through a network of hospitals and offices under the ESI Corporation.

Recently the coverage for the scheme was expanded to those earning less than Rs 21,000, increasing eligible workers by over 1 crore. But ESIC’s administrative and medical facilities have not been expanded commensurate to this increase. This has caused delays in enrolment, certification and other critical processes, leading to many eligible and invested workers not being able to avail critical medical and financial support in time.

Also Read: We Are Living in an India That Has No Connection With Its Modern Political Past

Even though the corporation has a corpus of over Rs 78,000 crores, adequate to support the needed infrastructure investment, the state bureaucracy is delaying the process. The Centre also has a vested interest in slowing the ESIC, as it will help propagate private insurance-based social security measures.

However, private systems will be unable to offer the range of cover that the ESIC offers, even while increasing overhead costs due to profit booking. Given the recent history of how other PSUs like the ONGC and BSNL have been dealt with by the government, this should be fair warning for the possible future of the ESIC too.

Strike at Asahi India

After many years of discussion and negotiation, the workers at Asahi India Glass Ltd have gone on strike demanding the immediate reinstatement of 28 colleagues who were dismissed on various grounds. The workers allege that they were victimised for starting a union at the factory.

They also want to revoke the suspension of their union office bearers. The suspension violates the Industrial Disputes Act, which protects workers’ representatives from being subject to disciplinary action. The workers, who have been on strike since March 25, are also demanding the early conclusion of a wage agreement that has lapsed a year ago.  

No official data on jobs: Government’s excuse unravels

After the NSSO survey results that showed a precipitous drop in employment were leaked to journalist, the secretary at the concerned ministry, claimed that the report was referred to the Standing Committee on Labour Force Statistics to review the changes made to the process.

It was revealed this week by the chairperson of the standing committee that it has not received any request to conduct such a review. Given that this was the reason cited by the secretary for not releasing the survey report, the statement by the chairperson unravels this excuse.

The question is, how can democracies function effectively if the government conceals information from the public because it does not suit its narrative?

Daily wage workers wait for employment on a street side at an industrial area in Mumbai. Credit: Reuters file

International news

Algeria: Unions demand president step down

Thirteen independent trade unions in Algeria have refused to support the efforts of newly-appointed Prime Minister Noureddine Badawi to form a government that he hopes will help pacify protesters who are pressing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his inner circle to step down.

Boualem Amoura, one of the leaders of the education sector unions, stated that the trade unions would not hold discussions with the government as their members consider themselves as part of the Algerian people who said “no” to the regime.

Journalist under arrest for reporting on silicosis among workers in China

A journalist has been arrested and an editor has gone missing in China’s Shenzhen province. They have been following cases of silicosis among workers. Through their magazine New Generation, they have been informing people about workers and their protests.

This, the administration considers to be ‘anti-revolutionary’. The recent arrests of Wei Zhilli lends credibility to fears that the missing journalist Lao Mu, might also have been taken into detention. Reports indicate that the journalists and other labour activists are also being subjected to psychological harassment by keeping families from meeting them.

Neo-liberalism arrives in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is among the post-Soviet states that have continued to have abysmal human rights and workers’ rights. Forced labour, union busting and incarceration of labour leaders have been common practice in the country, but a change in leadership and the need to improve the economy has forced the present administration to seek help from neo-liberal institutions like the World Bank.

The World Bank’s entry into the financial economy of Uzbekistan, has come with pressure to open the economy and to offer certain liberal democratic space to workers. But the investments that will come into Uzbekistan will demand a government that will curb workers rights.

An article in Open Democracy argues it is essential for workers to make use of this small window of opportunity to mobilise and organise to confront the ‘free market’ hegemony that will soon replace the hegemony of command economy.   

Bonus Watch: Baraaf, a stunning short film about the ice men of Mumbai’s largest fish market. Watch here.