The Life of Labour: 5 Killed in Blast at Cochin Shipyard, 12 Deaths in 3 Days Due to Manual Scavenging

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Explosion at Cochin Shipyard kills five, 13 injured

On Tuesday, February 13, there was an explosion on board a ship undergoing repairs at the Cochin shipyard. 5 workers lost their lives – a firefighter, a permanent worker, and the other four were contract workers. Preliminary investigations indicate that the explosion was caused by a leak of acetylene, a gas used for welding and cutting. The Hindu quotes officials of the Department of Factories and Boilers trying to shift the blame for the accident saying “tendency to bypass safety procedures and the overconfidence of workers” might have triggered Tuesday’s fatal accident.

The News Minute reports that there were delays in contacting the fire and police departments. The General Secretary of the Cochin Shipyard Workers’ Union, A. Kishore, is quoted on the New Trade Union Initiative website as saying: ‘had it been a regular working day, over 200 workers may have perished’.

The NTUI report points out that, “This contributes to the significant and growing evidence that ‘self-certification’, ‘self-regulation’ and ‘third-party certification’ simply do not work. In the absence of compulsory and random inspection, companies spend less on health and safety equipment and provisions… Evidence also indicates that companies do not invest adequately in skilling workers and in health and safety training. This is more so the case as companies rely on contract workers to further increase their profits… The CSL’s Red Herring Prospectus says that ‘instead of maintaining a large number of full-time employees, we employ a significant number of contract labour’ including through sub-contractors. This is despite the fact that the CSL recognises as a ‘risk’ that ‘sub-contractors use poor quality sub-components or under qualified or less skilled workers’. In light of this, the enquiry into the accident ordered by the Ministry of Shipping and the Directorate of Factories and Boilers would merely pass on the blame to the sub-contractor.”

7 million jobs in FY18? An ‘independent study’ with government’s hand-holding

A Business Standard investigation shows that a recent report, widely circulated by the government, that purports to show the healthy state of job creation in the country was made in close collaboration with the Niti Aayog. “This was perhaps the first time that the EPFO data on employees was made available to a select group of non-government researchers. Sources familiar with the developments say that even the EPFO was not fully aware that its employment data would be used by somebody outside the government system.” The report was described as an academic study and did not mention that it has been presented to the PMO four days before being made public. Business Standard also claims that the entire exercise was “triggered by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which had asked the NITI Aayog last October to give “quick indicators for direct or indirect reflections on employment data” to be able to arrive at “desired trends in employment at the earliest.”

Three days, twelve deaths: No end to manual scavenging

All claims to India’s scientific and engineering prowess aside, India has failed to find a true solution to manual scavenging. Leaving aside the issue of human dignity and entrenched casteism of the occupation, the death toll alone should have been a call to action. Yet, as a society, we have become numb to the grave issue with our administration becoming adept at post accident compensation rather than prevention. The News Minute has tracked three deaths in Kanchepuram, two workers’ deaths in Bangalore and seven deaths near Chittor in Andhra Pradesh. A body count of 12 workers in less than a week across three states that boast of a technology-driven economy. With little proactive effort to eradicate manual scavenging in all forms, half motivated post facto actions will do little to improve the situation.

‘Housing for all’ means nothing for India’s migrant workers

Sangeeth Sugathan and Nivedita Jayaram who work with Aajeevika Bureau, a civil society organisation that works with rural and seasonal migrant workers, write about their work in Ahmedabad. “Ahmedabad, recognised as one of the fastest-growing cities internationally, presents a perfect example of the systematic exclusion of a large section of its population. It is one of the largest destinations for migrant workers coming from the adjoining tribal belts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, or from the poorer states of Bihar, UP and Odisha. The estimated 1.3 million migrant workers in the city form an overwhelming one-sixth of its population and provide the cheap labour which fuels the remarkable growth of its manufacturing, hotel and construction sector. Yet, they remain excluded from the ambitious slogan of ‘Housing for All’.” They write that living within their worksite is the most common kind of arrangement for these labourers, a situation that exacerbates the chance of exploitation.

Trail of workers’ suicides and deaths in South India’s textile spinning mills

On February 6, before her 14th birthday, Dharshini Balasubramani killed herself in her hostel room at Dollar Spinning Mills. Based on reports by the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union, IndustriALL lists out the horrifying number of deaths associated with the industry in just 2017: “T Manjula (33) allegedly died in an accident at SMP Textiles in Nilakottai, Dinidigul district…N Kalaiyarasi, a 14-year-old girl, who went to work in Dindigul Cotton Spinning Mills despite suffering from pneumonia, died on 3 October 2017 in hospital. She had returned to work after a hospital visit to avoid losing her Rs 2,700 bonus, paid to workers who worked during the Diwali festival.

An activist worker, Sebastin Inbaraj (24), an assistant fitter in Prabhu Spinning Mills, reportedly committed suicide on May 15, 2017, after factory managers accused him of theft and he was abused and beaten in front of his colleagues. Apparently, he supported women workers to fight for their wages and demand their rights. On March 10, 2017, a 17-year-old girl was found dead in her room in the Ganapathy Spinning Mills compound in Vellakoil in the Tirupur district. In 2016, more suspicious deaths were reported.”

The News Minute quotes a local rights group, the Serene Secular Social Service Society, as saying “it had documented the deaths of at least 10 workers at mills in western Tamil Nadu in the past four months.”

Other news

Workers of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board on indefinite strike after wage talks break down

TANGEDCo workers, 19,000 strong, have been on an indefinite strike since February 16 in Tamil Nadu after negotiations for wage revision failed to reach a consensus. Workers affiliated to CITU, BMS and many other smaller unions had given strike notice demanding that their wages be increased on par with government staff with a fitment factor of 2.57 and the minimum wage be declared at Rs 18,000. In a public meeting held on February 8 in Chennai, the Unions had declared their resolve to go on strike from the 16th if the government did not engage in effective negotiations. The other issues such as filling vacant positions and concerns regarding increasing contractualisation were also discussed.

India needs more salaried jobs: World Bank
For all the rhetoric of ‘Make in India’, job creation and ‘growth’, India still ranks far below BRICs, Bangladesh and even Bhutan in the proportion of salaried jobs to the workforce. These serious lacunae in creating quality jobs within the economy have been flagged recently by the World Bank. “India needs to create regular, salaried jobs with growing earnings rather than self-employed ones in order to join the ranks of the global middle class by 2047—the centenary of its Independence, the World Bank said in a draft Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) for India.” The bank said in a society with wide inequalities, the most urgent priority is to create productive, regular jobs.

India and UAE sign MoU to improve safety of migrant workers in UAE

A MoU has been signed between the Indian government and the UAE that will allow the linking of India’s eMigrate system, launched in 2015, to UAE’s human resource department database. This will allow UAE to access the contracts under which Indian workers are recruited by foreign companies to work in the Emirates. Any violation of the contractual obligations will enable Indian workers to take legal recourse. The eMigrate process mandates foreign companies interested in recruiting blue collar (emigration check required) workers from India to apply through the digital system. Already over 2 lakh workers have been hired through this system. The linkage with UAE is to be set up in the next three to four months. “The problem that is so endemic is of contract substitution. Somebody gets a contract of Dh 2,000 and come here and finds that they are getting only Dh1,500. This will end. We do want a maximum of workers to come through the e-migrate system because that enables them a degree of protection. And once we integrate that into the UAE system, then it really does make a quantum leap in terms of protecting the rights of our workers,” said Navdeep Singh Suri, India’s envoy to UAE. The MoU was signed on the sidelines of PM Modi’s state visit to the UAE.

Workers arrested to allegedly prevent union formation in LGB Rolon

Six workers of LGB Rolon in Coimbatore were arrested on February 14 for staging protests near factory premises. All six workers were office bearers of the newly formed union at the company. The District Court, while maintaining that the police cannot play a partisan role in a labour dispute, granted bail to the arrested workers and extended a partial anticipatory bail to other workers until the February 20. The bail application of Dinesh, president of the newly formed union, is still pending. The union was in the process of submitting a charter of demands that included a rise in salaries. The workers allege that the management transferred five workers after the union was formed, forcing them to engage in protest against unfair labour practices. The police, taking advantage of a High Court injunction against protests within 100 meters of the factory gate, arrested the leaders.


The Netherlands to investigate ‘Deliveroo’ for unfair labour practice

The Dutch government has launched a full-scale investigation into one of the dark sides of the gig economy – the strategy of employing workers on bogus self-employment contracts despite working full time for a company, like Uber or Deliveroo. The investigation comes after several weeks of strike action by Deliveroo workers against the company’s move to replace all employees on legitimate contracts with “self-employed” workers.

Until now, the Dutch government had been passive, but this action has spurred an examination of the gig economy’s labour conduct. Where applicable, it will enforce the law in cases of bogus self-employment. UNI affiliate FNV is convinced that Deliveroo will not pass the test and be forced to reinstate adequate labour contracts with social insurance, paid leave, pensions, and health/accident insurance.

Health services in Gaza, Palestine hit after strike by cleaning workers

Cleaning services were stopped in all medical facilities in the Gaza strip on Sunday because the cleaning companies are on a general strike for non-payment of salaries. The health ministry said in a press statement that nearly 200 operations were put off due to the current strike. Physicians organised a sit-in at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza strip Monday morning, calling for meeting the demands of striking workers. The health ministry spokesman in Gaza said that operation rooms in the hospitals were completely paralysed due to the accumulation of dirt and rubbish in the hospitals for the second day in a row.

Weekend reading

Agricultural Workers suffer the cost of Aadhar Mess Ups

Poor, underpaid agricultural workers in India are bearing the brunt of India’s experiment with digitisation and financial inclusion. A report from PARI recounts how mess ups in Aadhar-MNRGES linking have led to a number of workers unable to access their hard-earned wages from the employment guarantee scheme. The article says that nearly 700 MGNREGA workers in Munagapaka – a village with a population of around 10,000 – are collectively waiting for Rs. 10 lakhs in wages since April 2015, And 294 labourers of Ganaparthi, a village with a population of around 2,200, are yet to receive more than Rs. 4 lakhs. From mix-ups between bank accounts to problems with biometric verification and linking process, digitisation is throwing up a number of glitches that are far too costly for the impoverished workers who depend on these wages to make ends meet.

Doubling farm incomes: mechanisms and challenges

PM Modi had promised a doubling of farm incomes by 2022 as part of BJP’s election manifesto in 2014. The finance minister had reiterated this goal as he delivered this year’s budget that promised an MSP of 150% of the cost of production. An article by Sukhpal Singh in the Economic and Political Weekly examines the challenges facing India’s agricultural sector in achieving this goal and examines the mechanisms by which this goal can be achieved. The article also discusses similar goals set by the Chinese government as a comparative programme. The article proposes a focus on high-value crops and rain-fed areas, non-farm occupations, agro-industrialisation, and strengthening producer and worker institutions in India.