Life of Labour: The Sad State of Real Chowkidars; An Inter-Jail Music Contest

Latest news updates from the world of work.

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Agricultural Crisis

Sheep and goat farmers left without fodder in drought-hit Marathwada

The Marathwada region of Maharashtra saw a substantial fall in rainfall and a draught was announced, allegedly as far back as October. This disproportionately affects marginal farmers because as the groundwater level falls, grazing area for their goats and sheep disappears. These animals provide an alternate source of income for these farmers, but the drought has spoiled this as well.

One farmer told The Wire, “Goat or sheep that is generally sold for Rs 10,000 is being sold for Rs 4,000 to 5,000. Pregnant animals that would fetch Rs 13,000 to 15,000 are being sold at Rs 6,000 to 7,000. Otherwise, we have to sell our cattle to a butcher.”

Precarious Work

139 million labourers are suffering due to a messed up payment system in India

In an interview with Indiatimes, economist Jean Dreze discussed how digitising records of NREGA and the introduction of Aadhaar has actively hindered transparency from the point of view of workers:

“The fact that everything is now internet-based often creates an illusion of transparency because only government officials can see everything on their screen but not the workers. Nothing is visible for them anymore because they don’t have internet and all the old safeguards like keeping physical records of the work days and the data of the worksite are not maintained. Since everything is internet-based and the system has become very non-transparent for workers and this opens the door for corruption.”

He also touches on the issues that migrant labourers face around accommodation and mental health.

Long working hours, low salary, no weekly off: The sad state of real chowkidars

The Indian Express writes, “As the term chowkidar is a much-used in the high voltage election politics of the day, the actual chowkidars are a forgotten lot, struggling for basic rights as workers and humans.”

There are over 50 lakh security personnel in the country and a lot of them are not receiving benefits as per the country’s labour laws like ESI etc.

“The government’s policy of ease of doing business has given these agencies a free hand. Farmers, villagers, illiterate people get an easy job of standing outside a gate and get paid monthly. That is why they also don’t complain because after all they are getting employment,” said an official who spoke anonymously to Indian Express.

Gender at Work

Women’s groups win as Supreme Court cancels anganwadi contracts worth Rs 6,300 crore in Maharashtra

A recent court judgement has chastised the government for awarding huge contracts to three private contractors who had already had a bad track record for providing poor quality food to the children. Since these contracts were awarded in 2016, women’s groups have been fighting to get it set right. These groups argued that the terms of the contracts were changed at the last minute to ensure that only the large contractors could apply for them. The court has found the change mala fide.

Also read: The Life of Labour: India’s Working Women; Workers at Statue of Unity Go on Strike

Death at Work

BMC worker chokes to death, four injured inside water chamber

Employees from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Byculla workshop were trying to investigate poor water supply to Malabar Hill when one of them fainted from the noxious fumes. This was a water pipeline and not a sewage pipeline so the corporation cannot explain why there were noxious fumes in the first place. Two workers fainted straight away when they entered the chamber and the other three fainted when trying to get them out. One of the workers died while the others were rescued.

So far, there has been no update on the cause but the fact these workers were not wearing adequate security gear shows how these deaths can only be avoided if the corporation cares enough to enforce safety protocols.

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

Two contract workers killed in ONGC well fire near Ahmedabad

Two contract workers were killed while four were injured in a blaze at one of the company’s wells when maintenance was being carried out. There is no news around how the fire started or how the company is responding to these deaths and investigating whether was negligence on the company’s behalf.

Two killed in violent clash at Vedanta Alumina plant in Odisha

OdishaTV reports, “At least two persons including a security personnel of Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF) were killed  while 30 others injured in the violent clash.”

The workers were protesting outside the Vedanta office and reports claim that they were trying to torch the security shed but workers dispute the claim. The company has offered to pay Rs 25 lakh compensation to the family of those who were killed but why is nobody asking how a lathi charge can killed two people. Were these security personnel hitting the workers repeatedly  till they died? What could justify this level of violence?

Other News

Gurugram inmates win inter-jail music contest

In Bhondsi Jail, 20 inmates recently filled the air with sounds of Sufi, Qawwali and other forms of folk music. This was an inter-prison music competition for the inmates of Ambala, Rohtak and Gurugram jails. Hindustan Times writes, “Dhun is an attempt to enhance the talent of male prison inmates in music so that it can become their source of livelihood upon their release.” Apparently, they trained for more than a year with professional musicians.

Also read: Life of Labour: NREGA Workers against PM Modi; India’s Long Work Hours

Worker victimisation continues in Royal Enfield, Oragadam

The aftermath of the ten-day strike that Royal Enfield workers began on February 13 is still being felt by workers, with police action, job terminations and job transfers being initiated by the management. Last month’s strike was instigated by the installation of over 150 CCTV cameras around the shopfloor, with workers alleged would be used to force them to take shorter bathroom and lunch breaks.

Soon after, Royal Enfield began taking action against members of the employees’ union who were active during the strike, transferring 27 office bearers to factories in North India, and terminating about 200 jobs. They also made workers who returned after the strike sign a ‘good conduct bond’ to ensure they wouldn’t assemble collectively to express their grievances again. Police officers were spotted arresting workers at bus stops and train stations even before they had a chance to assemble at predetermined protest points.

Dalit sanitation workers in Tamil Nadu help doctors perform autopsies

Arun Vijai M.’s photographs from inside Tamil Nadu’s mortuaries focus on the Dalit sanitation workers who are trained to dissect corpses a month after joining work.

“Since it is considered a dirty job, hospitals prefer sanitation workers who belong to the Dalit community to do this,” Arun Vijai says. While these workers are now doing highly skilled lab jobs, they are still seen as sanitation workers and are paid the same low wages. The photos are on display at University of Madras as part of the Chennai Photo Biennale till March 24.

International News

Bernie Sanders’ staff unionises in presidential campaign first

Bernie Sanders’ campaign will become the first US presidential campaign to have a unionised workforce. “We cannot just support unions with words, we must back it up with actions,” Sanders said. “On this campaign and when we are in the White House, we are going to make it easier for people to join unions, not harder.” Sanders has said that he was proud of this record.

In Philippines, teacher unionists under threat

The General Secretary of Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Raymond Basilio, has been receiving death threats and union members are being profiled by the Philippine authorities according to Labourstart. There is a campaign to write to the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has a reputation of being violently anti-labour.