Life of Labour: NREGA Workers against PM Modi; India's Long Work Hours

Latest news updates from the world of work.

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Workers from over 20 states congregate in New Delhi to demand rights

Thousands of workers rallied together in New Delhi this week to demand an end to contractualisation, better working conditions, guaranteed living wages and pensions. The workers, who took out a rally from the Ramlila grounds to Sansad Marg, came from over 20 states in India and were represented by various trade unions under the banner of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangarsh Abhiyan. They also demanded that the media end the war hysteria it has been indulging in.

Agricultural Crisis

Police complaint filed against PM for defrauding NREGA workers

Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a new challenge before the elections with rural NREGA workers in nine states filing complaints of fraud in over 150 police stations. This collective action on the part of the workers is part of a national protest to bring attention to the non payment of wages in blatant violation of the employment guarantee act.

The workers claim that while over Rs 88,000 crore is required to meet the guaranteed work demand for the financial year, the scheme has been plagued by low allocations and subsequent delays in releasing the funds to depress work demand. The workers allege that since the central government is in charge of the implementation, it is the government that has defrauded the workers by deliberately delaying wage payments. The article details the deficit between demand and allocation and the effects on the workers due to this gap.

Also read: NREGA Workers Want PM Narendra Modi Booked for ‘Making False Promises’

Precarious Work

Bonded labour is slave labour: former bonded workers expose the conditions of bonded workers

Rescued bonded workers, organised by the National Committee for the Eradication of Bonded Labour, congregated in Delhi to demand speedy release of their papers and also to present their testimonies to the central government. They wanted to press home the point that bonded labour in India is a modern form of slavery.

The testimonies reveal how a lack of jobs in the rural economy, the poor state of formal public education and increasing poverty drives many into bonded labour. The protestors also exposed the abuse and violence that permeates this form of labour. The campaign is demanding faster processing of workers’ release certificates and a better rehabilitation package.

Also read: With 99% of MNREGA Funds Exhausted, Concerned MPs and MLAs Write to PM

Seven Indian workers in Malaysia imprisoned for violating visa status

Seven Indians who travelled to Malaysia in search of employment have ended up in the country’s Senawang prison for unauthorised stay on unlawful visas. They were taken into custody a year and a half after they landed in the country and were remanded on February 22. Five others have been able to evade arrest and return home.

The seven are all victims of a job racket, where they paid large sums of money to touts in return for employment in Malaysia. They were sent on visit visas that expired in three months, which lead them to overstay. As the company failed to provide them employment, they could also not convert their visas to work visas.

Death at Work

Four more victims to ‘rat hole’ mining

Even as the recovery of bodies from the mine in Meghalaya continues, reports indicate that four more may have perished inside a abandoned rat hole mine in Nagaland. It is unclear as to why these workers entered an abandoned mine, but some suggest they entered to retrieve their tools and equipment. Coming close on the heels of a major tragedy, it is clear that our workers are not any safer in spite of increasing fatalities.

Also read: Trapped Meghalaya Miners Are the Latest Victims of Years of Labour Exploitation

Delhi’s solution to manual scavenging?

The Aam Aadmi Party government in New Delhi launched 200 sewer cleaning machines last week, amidst claims of taking concrete steps towards eradicating manual scavenging rather than merely washing it away with emotive photo ops.

The 200 mobile jet rodding machines is meant to end the practice of humans entering sewers to clean them. Delhi witnessed a spate of manual scavenging deaths and the investment is supposed to be help provide a cure to this epidemic.

Also read: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal Flags off 200 Sewer Cleaning Machines

However, even though the machines carry the face of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the logo of the Delhi Jal board, the state government will not own or operate these machines. They will be allotted t manual scavengers, who will pay an initial Rs 4 lakh, and take on board a debt of Rs 36 lakh.

They will then be able to operate the machines and be paid a sum fixed by Delhi municipalities, from which they will have to repay their loan, maintain the vehicles and earn a living. This scheme has thus been criticised by organisations such as the Safai Karamchari Andolan, who claim that while the machine will definitely decrease the incidents of death, it will reinforce the casteist culture that allocates dehumanising jobs to Dalits. It will also make them responsible for the machine and keep them in low paying jobs.

Credit: Dalberg Advisors

However the government claims that the workers will be able to pay back the loans and also make a five figure income each month. Yet the question remains as to why the government is not directly investing in the machines and taking on the debt itself.

Gender and Work

What India Inc can learn from Kirloskar Brothers’ all-women unit in Coimbatore

Economic Times did a feature on a factory in Tamil Nadu that employs more than 200 women to manufacture pumps. While the report is probably a bit hagiographic and should be approached with a little skepticism, it is an interesting case study. The factory has a creche and a good maternity leave policy. The reporter appears to be aware that in most cases like this, the reason for hiring women is because they might be a more pliable and more dependable workforce, but seems to feel that this unit bucks that trend.

What drives companies to hire women

Based on a survey of 618 companies across Bhopal, Gwalior and Indore, a World Bank report has found that “certain types of firms such as micro-enterprises with more temporary workers are more likely to hire women”, according to LiveMint. They also found that “the share of female employees is higher in the services sector, likely driven by female-owned businesses and traditionally ‘female’ trades such as beauty salons”.

Other News

India’s working hours one of the longest among global peers: NSSO report

The National Sample Sample Survey Office (NSSO) undertook its first first periodic labour force survey which seeks to measure working hours and other metrics of working life in India. As per the report, workers in Indian cities worked for more than 50 hours a week on average and those in villages worked around 46 hours in a week during the July-June 2018 period. These figures are among the highest in the world and higher than the ILO’s 48-hour limit. The report, allegedly, is not being fully published by the government.

Tata Workers’ Union begins centenary year celebrations

In Jamshedpur, one of India’s oldest unions celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Tata Workers Union is one of the longest serving labour bodies in the country – a relic of a different era of labour politics.

Sonepat: Union protest marks over one year of continuous struggle

Haryana Breweries Limited Mazdoor Union have been fighting for 374 days against the unfair termination of its leaders by the management. Through peaceful protest, they have secured the reinstatement of two people and are continuing the struggle to help the others get their jobs back. They want the management to recognise that the union’s leaders were democratically elected and to negotiate with them.

Who bears the cost of all war rhetoric?

India Today visited the residents of villages on the border between India and Pakistan. The residents are terrified of war breaking out and their settlements being bombed. Migrant labourers who have been working on roads and other infrastructure have been asked to leave. These are daily wage earners and their incomes have halted.

International News

Mexico: Strike wave wins raises for factory workers

On the border of Texas, in the Mexican city, Matamoros, workers from a number of different factories went on strike. The Mexican president had recently increased the federal minimum wage from 88 pesos to 176 pesos – a 100% increase. As these workers were already earning that wage, it would not affect them but for a clause in their union agreement. As TruthOut writes , “That provision, aimed at preserving the purchasing power of workers, says that any increase in the federal minimum wage must be applied to the entire pay scale via a proportional daily wage increase and an annual bonus.”

Typically, the management refused to abide by this collective bargaining agreement that was already in place. The workers then went on strike and eventually won, much in thanks to their solidarity.

Australia: Amazon hires permanent employees after complaints about casual work

After media reports lead to a loud public debate over the poor treatment of subcontract labour at Amazon’s fulfilment centres in Australia, the company has decided to create 500 permanent jobs. All over the world, Amazon workers have been fighting against the tech giant with its billions of dollars in capital. In the US and the UK, they have won fights for minimum wage. In Australia now, they have turned their jobs into permanent work, which comes with stability, benefits and a higher wage.

Weekend reading

Construction workers cess: how the states performed

It is widely known that over Rs 28,000 crore collected as cess from the construction industry has not been spent of the welfare of the workers. It remains locked up in banks, helping them prop up balance sheets. A recent report in Factly, helps us understand better how the states have fared on this count. It points to high utilisation of the cess in administrative expenditure and low disbursement in some of the richest and developed states like Maharashtra. It points to the need for institutional reform to allow workers to better benefit from the cess.