The Life of Labour: Mumbai Union Leaders Granted Bail; Failure of 'Olanomics'

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Adani workers granted bail after almost a year

Four workers who were arrested as part of the ATS investigation of the Bhima Koregaon incident last year, were granted bail by a special court on December 27. Earlier, the Mumbai high court rejected attempts by the police to get an extension to file the chargesheet against these workers.

Another four workers remain in jail awaiting judgment on their bail application. These workers were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, making it difficult to get bail.

While they have been accused by the ATS of having Maoist links, they are the leaders of a workers’ union in Mumbai Electric, which was run by Reliance Infra before being taken over by the Adani group in August 2018.

The arrested workers are believed to have led protests and strikes, and were in the forefront of organising workers.

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It is alleged that the real reason for their long incarceration is their efforts to unionise and utilise collective bargaining rather than any links to the Bhima Koregaon incident.

While the bail is a major positive development for the workers, it has come at great cost. They have been asked to shell out Rs 50,000 as surety. Since their incarceration, their families have been in crisis.

They have been imprisoned for a year without charges being framed. The demoralising effect these arrests had on the workers is yet to be assessed. However, their bail does punch a hole in the ‘Urban Naxal’ narrative the state is trying to push to stifle all dissent.

Dalit groups protesting the violence at Bhima Koregaon. Credit: PTI/Files

Dalit groups protesting the violence at Bhima Koregaon. Credit: PTI/Files

Workforce more educated, but jobs less secure

Jobs have been scarce for several years in India. While this phenomenon is concretely experienced by the citizens, capturing it in statistical data has been fraught with contradictions and counter-claims. Citing the State of Working India 2018, Amit Basole writes that while salaried permanent jobs are falling precipitously, the aspirations of the young workforce, much more educated than the previous generations, is increasing.

With the Indian economy banking heavily on growth in capital intensive sectors, the failure of Make in India to boost manufacturing and the deepening agricultural crisis, the only growing jobs are low wage, precarious opportunities in the informal sector.

With eye on elections, government to fix minimum floor wage and pensions

One of the major political proposals of the NDA during the 2014 election campaign was the rationalisation of the labour laws and securing improved wages, working conditions and safety. Even after four-and-half years in power, not one of the four wage codes have been passed.

With elections approaching, the labour ministry is trying to push proposals to at least fix a national floor minimum wage and increase pensions for workers in the unorganised sector. The wage code still requires the cabinet’s assent. However, the proposed minimum wage falls far short of the workers’ demand for Rs 18,000 as the floor minimum wage per month. It remains to be seen if even this diluted code can be passed.

Fish workers upset over CRZ amendments

Last week, the cabinet approved the contentious amendments to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2018. The new amendments make it easier to get approval for commercial exploitation of eco-sensitive coastal areas.

This has raised serious concern among environmental activists as well as fisherfolk. The National Fishworkers Forum and other fishworker unions from Tamil Nadu have submitted more than 1 lakh representations to the environment ministry opposing the draft notification released in April 2018.

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“During cyclone Ockhi last year and Gaja this year, locals noticed that sea water entered 3 to 4 km inland in Tamil Nadu. After the Tsunami in 2004, the entire coastline of TN was declared eco-sensitive…Sand dunes which protect the coast from seawater intrusion will be destroyed completely if temporary structures are allowed…We will oppose this notification tooth and nail and take to the streets to protest,” said Olencio Simoes, vice chairman of National Fishworker’s Forum.

16 teachers faint during hunger strike against pay anomalies

Thousands of teachers across Tamil Nadu are protesting (21,000 according to one estimate). In Chennai, teachers participated in a hunger strike at a stadium in Egmore to force the government to fix the arbitrary salary structure because of which some teachers paid less.

The protest started out on College Road, but the police arrested the protestors and detained them at the stadium. Over the course of their strike, 16 teachers fainted. According to the Indian Express, “Under the 6th Pay Commission, teachers who joined before 2009 draw a basic monthly salary of Rs 8,370 while those who joined later get Rs 5,200.”

Preparations for January 8-9 strike across Telangana

Ten trade unions including Centre of Indian Trade Union, All India Trade Union Congress, Indian National Trade Union Congress and Hind Mazdoor Sabha have called for a national strike on January 8 and 9.

Newsclick reports that the preparations are underway in Telangana as unions discuss their demands with their members. The article reports, “The 12-point charter of demands that the trade unions have come up with includes urgent measures for containing price-rise and unemployment, universal social security cover for all workers, minimum wages of not less than Rs. 18,000 per month with provisions of indexation, stoppage of disinvestment in Central/State PSUs and strategic sale, stoppage of contractorisation in permanent perennial work and payment of same wage and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for same and similar work, among others.”

Nagpur: Health inspector suspended for not wearing GPS watch

In Nagpur, the municipal corporation has suspended an inspector for not wearing his GPS enabled watch while visiting a site. The corporation has distributed around 80,00 GPS watches to keep track of sanitation workers.

Also Read: During ‘Verification’ Process, Count of Manual Scavengers Goes from 55,000 to 25,000

“NMC has linked the payment module of workers with these watches,” a health officer told Times of India. It’s unclear if there another reason for the suspension apart from not wearing the watch. The article implies that the inspector did not actually make the visit.

This measure has to be seen in the long line of moves involving surveillance of workers. These measures seem to have no real benefit except to the private companies paid to enforce them.

Deepening Crisis of Olanomics: “The Dream Has Failed”

“We have been demanding an increase in the rates for a long time now, but the companies are not responding. Our dreams have failed,” a vehicle owner and union worker told GroundXero. In Kolkata, vehicle owners have been coordinating strikes during peak holiday season to try to force the cab company to hike rates.

These workers are not drivers, but those who bought cars and pay drivers a daily wage. The drivers are paid Rs 900 a day and the owners take the rest. While the owners were making money initially, they now find themselves making losses.

An employee speaks over his phone as he sits at the front desk inside the office of Ola cab service in Gurugram, April 20, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo

An employee speaks over his phone as he sits at the front desk inside the office of Ola cab service in Gurugram, April 20, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo

Karnataka: factory owners assault worker over wages

A worker from a granite factory, Rizwan Khan, claims to have been locked in a shed and assaulted with an iron rod by his employers for demanding his wages. He escaped and went to the police and filed a complaint. He was owed more than Rs 50,000 in back wages and was beaten up just because he kept asking for it.

22 kids working at brick kiln in Gujarat rescued

Following a complaint, the Anand district police raided a brick kiln in the Anand district and rescued 22 children working along with their parents. While their parents had come to work in the kiln, the police state that the owners did not hire the children, but used them for labour anyway.

The police also claim that they are conducting suo motu inspections in the region. The kiln has been sealed that the workers and the children have been sent back to UP.

Air India’s Boeing pilots reject revised salary, won’t take 25% cut

Unions are almost universally discussed in India as a working class tool. When IT and tech workers were organising for the first time, a common argument was that white collar workers would not see the value of unions.

The prominent counterexample remains the strong pilot unions that exist in India. Pilots are some of the most well-paid employees in the country, with monthly salaries greater than the annual income of most working class people. Yet they have strong unions and understand the value of collective bargaining among other things.

Also Read: Jet Airways Cancels 14 Flights as Pilots ‘Sick’ Over Unpaid Salaries

Air India pilots who fly the larger Boeing planes have been fighting an order that might reduce their salary by 25%. Air India attempted to harmonise payment structures for its pilots. While this meant an increase for some, it meant a decrease for Boeing pilots, who refused to accept it.

New guidelines issued for textile mills

South India Mills Association, a federation of textile mills, has released a new set of employment guidelines to replace the ones issued in 2010 for operating textile mills. It has incorporated guidelines with regard to running hostels for women workers, as well those related to employment of migrant workers for the first time.

Earlier in the year, the Tamil Nadu state women’s commission along with the labour department, mill association and activists had organised a public hearing in Chennai. The issue of mills running women’s hostels without proper licences and the need to provide emotional support for young women workers were raised. They seem to have found a place in the revised guidelines released by the chairperson of the Tamil Nadu State Women’s Commission.

International News

Increase in killings of journalists and media staff in 2018

The International Federation of Journalists has published a list of 94 journalists and media staff killed in work-related incidents during 2018 across the globe. This annually published report has seen a rise in killings, bucking a clear downward trend in recent years.

Even in India, the number of journalists and media workers killed the past year increased. IFJ reported seven documented deaths. Almost all of these men and women were working in the regional language press, reporting on abuse of power by local players.

Those of us working in the English media operate with some protection that doesn’t exist for our colleagues in the regional media. It is important to remember that Gauri Lankesh was seen to be such a great threat by the right-wing thugs because she was writing in Kannada, reaching thousands of ordinary working class people.

Even in India, the number of journalists and media workers killed the past year increased. Representative image. Credit: Pixabay

Weekend Reading

The ICC is not enough: Lessons from #MeToo on the limitations of sexual harassment law: A comic on the limitations of workplace ICC in handling cases of sexual harassment. Read it here.

2018 in Review: Thozhilalar Koodam is one of the few organisations dedicated to covering news from the lens of the working class in India. Through this lens, 2018 has seen some stunning moments of solidarity and unity among different groups of workers as well as a year if grey trauma and pain.

From the Farmers’ March revealing the depth of the agricultural crisis to scheme workers fighting for regularisation, from the transport sector fighting for the maintenance of vital public infrastructure to sanitation workers who have to fight every month just to receive their salaries. Read this excellent essay that looks back on the year and shines a light on what we can expect in 2019 here.

This article was updated at 1:20 pm on January 4, 2018 to reflect that Reliance Infra was taken over by the Adani group.

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