The Life of Labour: UP Raises Retirement Age for Government Employees

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Workers across Tamil Nadu Protest against Thoothukudi massacre

On May 22, police opened fire on ‘anti-Sterlite’ protesters in the town of Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu. 13 were killed and scores injured. There has been widespread condemnation of the police action, government’s failure to respond and the company. Following this gruesome incident, there were demonstrations by workers across Tamil Nadu. These protests were led by workers, including farmers, fisher people, traders, factory workers and transport workers. Here is a compilation of events and demonstrations held in Chennai on May 24.

The ‘anti-Sterlite’ campaign had been triggered 3 months back in opposition to the expansion plans of Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources. The protest had wide support from farmers, fishers as well as traders. The recent protest and the police firing have galvanized the workers across sectors and regions.

One dead cleaning sewer pipe in Gurugram

One person died while trying to rescue two workers who were cleaning a sewer pipe in Gurugram. According to reports, the workers had been contracted by a private contractor to clean sewer lines maintained by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram. As is usual in India, they were not given any safety equipment while being contracted to engage in employment that has been declared a punishable offence. Nor was any precaution taken by the employer and the contractor for the eventuality that is a regular occurrence. This was the fourth incident within a year. According to MCG officials, the death of the worker occurred as he attempted to rescue two workers who were asphyxiating. The two were admitted to a hospital and are recovering.

UP raises the retirement age for government employees

The Government of UP has raised the retirement age of Group D and Group C government employees to 62 years from 60 years. This follows similar policies of  Madhya Pradesh earlier this year. While no clear reason has been provided to the media for this policy change, its generally considered a way to defer pension payments while allowing older employees to enjoy full salaries for a few more years. While there is debate across the world on increasing retirement age as life expectancy and general health improves, it makes little sense in a country like India where the life expectancy is barely 70 years, especially in states like UP, MP and Chhattisgarh with much lower life expectancy. Younger recruits into government services have been forced into NPS which unlike the earlier schemes, is not a defined benefit system.

Rail Neer supply to be stopped at Rail Bhawan, headquarters of Indian Railways

Rail Neer, the bottled water marketed by IRCTC, the catering arm of the Indian Railways, will not be supplied to officers at Rail Bhawan from this month. According to a Financial Express article, over 1,000 bottles of Rail Neer were being supplied to officers every day, while the rest of the staffers had to use the regular water supplied through taps. After installing three RO plants, the railway board has decided to cut down on this additional expense. The staffers feel that this measure would help improve the water quality at the regular water fountains as the officials too would have to use them. While it is a positive development, it begs the question why, at the outset, a discriminatory system was put in place that allowed some to enjoy a more purified and packaged water while the rest were forced to use piped water that was not of similar quality.

Employees at Anand Bazar Patrika protest being laid off for demanding minimum wages

A group of ABP employees of the Barjora unit of ABP in Bankura district, whose services have been terminated, have parked themselves beside the ABP Kolkata office for almost a month now. Despite, or perhaps on account of, being part of the media establishment, their protests have gone totally unreported. Twenty-two of them were hired for “housekeeping” by one contractor but also helped with the machines for printing. Of the other 12 hired by a different contractor, 3 were forklift operators, 3 supervisors, and 6 worked with printing. Maharam Shaikh, General Secretary of the ABP Pvt Ltd Contractor Sramik Union, and one of the terminated workers said the story began with them not being paid minimum wages in 2016. After they formed a union and raised a dispute with the labour department, their wages were increased in 2017. But in 2018, their services were terminated on the pretext that the contract with the two contractors had been terminated. Even though the workers have been working at ABP for over 10 years, even as contractors changed, ABP has claimed that these workers were never employed by ABP directly. Interestingly, no media outlet in the state has come to cover their story though they have been sitting in front of the ABP office for nearly a month now. Ground Zero, a recent initiative of independent journalism, has documented their struggle.

PRICOL workers stage protest against the company

Members of the Coimbatore District Pricol Workers Union under the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) on Monday staged a protest in front of the firm’s corporate office at Race Course condemning the move to allegedly withhold the amount for unused leaves and also for not giving them the amount under children’s education benefits. The union affiliated to AICCTU has claimed that the company has not fulfilled their part of the wage agreement and are also delaying discussion on the next wage agreement. The company has claimed that the workers have backtracked on their part of the agreement and they have raised an industrial dispute with the labour department.

Less than half of India’s youth enter the workforce

A recent report by India Spend documents that less than half of Indian youth who enter the age eligible for work become part of the workforce. In other words, more than 50% of the youth decide not to seek employment. Tracking labour bureau data for four years since 2012, India Spend estimates that only 47.5 lakh persons become part of the workforce as against the 1.2 crores who were believed to be joining the workforce every year. While it was true that between 2001 and 2005, we had an average increase of 1.2 crores into our workforce, it has sharply declined since. Thus, our workforce as a proportion of the population has come down by a couple of percentage points to just over 50%. While the numbers might seem to suggest lesser competition for jobs, the article notes that the formal economy in India is failing to create adequate jobs even for the reduced proportion of the working age population.

Murder of teenage Indian maid sparks calls for tougher laws urgently

Thomson Reuters reports that “Police said the 16-year-old girl from eastern Jharkhand state was strangled and her body chopped up and dumped in a drain earlier this month after she demanded a year’s unpaid salary from the employment agency that hired her.” Calling attention to the incident, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi called for the government to pass the anti-trafficking bill that had been cleared by the cabinet but has not been tabled in the parliament yet, arguing that it would bring badly needed rules that would help girls like these.

SC refuses to stay Kerala government’s notification to revise wages of nurses in the private hospital sector

Kerala Private Hospitals Association had approached the Supreme Court for a stay on the order that raised the minimum wages of nurses and other employees working in private hospitals and clinics. The matter is still going to be heard by a single judge at the High Court but the SC has refused to intervene. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the counsel for the Kerala Private Hospitals Association, told the judge according “My Association has 960 hospitals of which 630 have less than 25 beds…these are small people.”

After 15 days, Haryana sanitation workers call off strike

In a major victory for the nearly 25,000 sanitation workers and 5,000 other municipal employees who had gone on strike on May 9, the government has agreed to regularise the workers, abolish the contract system and absorb the workers onto the payroll. The strike had led to a complete breakdown of sanitation system and forced the government to give in to the workers’ demands of ‘equal work, equal pay’. The striking workers have agreed to go back to work.

On May 19, the sanitation workers of Dehradun had called off their strike after talks with the Chief Minister. Following the talks, the government has agreed to raise their daily wages to Rs. 275 which is still lower than the minimum wage in the state. After the strike was called off, the mounting garbage was effectively cleared over the weekend, as per officials

Postal workers go on strike across the country to aid their contract comrades

In Coimbatore and in some areas of Andhra Pradesh, post offices have come to a halt as workers went on strike to demand 7th Pay Commission benefits for contract workers. These contract workers are called Gram Dak Sevaks (GDS) and make up about half of the postal employees in the country, according to The Hindu. They primarily work in rural areas. The 7th Pay Commission initially did not apply to the GDS workers but their counterparts have gone on strike in solidarity. There have also been actions in Shillong and Amritsar with GDS workers asking for regularisation and other benefits. Times of India reports that “Currently, GDSs are paid from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000. If the seventh pay commission is implemented, their pay would rise to Rs 10,000 to Rs 14,000, along with benefits like allowance for their children’s education,” said Secretary of the clerical wing of National Federation of Postal Employees Ebenezer Gandhi.”

International news

American workers ‘just got screwed’: In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of the USA ruled that “company can include in an employment contract a clause that, in the case of disputes between employees and management, not only forces the employees into individual arbitration but also forces the employees to waive any right to resolve those disputes in court.” Esquire reports that this is a massive loss for workers as the decision “essentially bans class-action lawsuits.” It was a close call – 5:4. The winning vote was probably cast by Neil Gorsuch, the Republican nominee, “a judge whose attitude toward the rights of organised labor—and, indeed, any individual working man—resides somewhere between those of Henry Frick and Caligula. This, you may recall, is the fella who once issued a dissent supporting a company’s right to fire a truck driver who abandoned his rig to avoid freezing to death. This is a cold and unempathetic man.”

Weekend reading

A new book highlights the lack of rights in the fashion industry

Models are workers too. A new book, Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Glamour Industry, written by Manjima Bhattacharjya and published by Zubaan, tackles the social assumptions around the fashion sector. Describing the informality of the sector, the author writes, “unskilled, with a floating labour population, relative ease of entry, operating on informal transactions, with no minimum remuneration, a chain of third parties facilitating work between two parties and absence of any institutionalized body to oversee or regulate matters arising from conflict.” The book includes detailed interviews with the models, many of whom are women from small towns that have used the social mobility that the industry allows. LiveMint reports on an attempt to form a union to protect their labour rights, “over 100 women joined Models United mostly from Mumbai. And soon they drafted a set of rules and a list of do’s and don’ts, regarding late payment, bouncing cheques, cancellation of shows, hours of work, and sexual harassment. Within no time, the initiative collapsed. “The union crumbled under the weight of members’ personal relationships with choreographers and designers who were the ones wielding power and resisting the demands made by the union,” the author writes.”