The Life of Labour: Labour Ministry's Quarterly Jobs Survey Put on Hold

Latest news updates from the world of work.

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Sanitation workers in Chennai stage two-day protest against discriminatory employment practices

Over 1,500 sanitation workers from across Chennai staged a two-day sit-in protest at the Corporation head office demanding an end to the discriminatory classification of their jobs and making them permanent employees of the municipal corporation. The workers withdrew their protest after officials made it a prerequisite for restarting negotiations.

While all the workers who assembled last week carry out very similar work in solid waste management, they fall into varying categories. Some of them are permanent employees of the corporation. Others, who were employed by municipalities before they were amalgamated into the city corporation, are yet to be officially made part of the corporation. They are referred as Non Muster Roll (NMR) workers and are subject to difference in pay as well as tenure security. Yet another category is employed as NULM workers as they were recruited under the central government-sponsored NULM scheme. Once again there is no parity of wage and benefits even though the work sought from them is similar. The workers have been agitating against such discrimination for years and had also launched a similar action a year ago. However, there has been no progress regarding their demands.

Assessing Sterlite from its workers’ perspective

The anti-Sterlite struggle in Thoothukudi took a bloody turn with the police killing 13 protestors. Following this brutal repression and the subsequent uproar among the public, the government ordered the closure of the Sterlite plant. The company and economic pundits claimed this would adversely affect employment in the region. However, the workers of Sterlite have themselves been at the receiving end of the profit-maximising practices of the company. There have been a number of cases of accidents, some even fatal, that often do not get settled through established legal regulations. This article in The Wire documents many cases of injuries where the victims continue to await compensations. An RTI information cited by the article reveals that over 20 cases of workers’ death between 2006-11 were closed without any action by the police. It is understood that the cases were settled unofficially. The article highlights that even while many workers, especially contract workers, are concerned about their jobs, there is little sympathy for the company that has cost many lives, both directly and indirectly.

NIOH announce simple test for early detection of silicosis

This newsletter has often covered silicosis and the millions of people who contracted it working in stone quarries. Times of India reports that the current ILO practice for detection of silicosis works only for later stages of the disease and that the new method presented by the National Institute for Occupational Health could change that. Mahesh Pandya, member of Paryavaran Mitra said, “If such a nation-wide study is conducted by NIOH, it will be a big boon for early detection of silicosis. The government should bring out an ordinance and ask employers of stone crushing or polishing units to include a half-yearly and annual health plan for early detection based on CC16 secretion. The health and labour department should fund the NIOH project and ensure that the periodic check-up is available at all village or taluka level primary health centres.”

NCPR says international NGO is wrong and there’s no child labour in granite mines

In August 2017, the Indian Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) reported that granite mines in south India were exploiting children and using slave labour. In response to that, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPR) along with other organisations organised joint survey to verify the report and has come out saying that the ICN’s report is false and they have found no evidence of any child labour at all. The same NGO had released a report in 2015 claiming that one in ten workers in the mines of Raichur was a child. In response to ICN’s work, multiple European retailers have stopped sourcing granite from these mines. This seems to be a major economic setback as stone is a major export with India controlling 49% of the world’s raw stone export in 2015. With two different reports, each saying opposite things, the situation is looking extremely peculiar.

Women workers report abuse, violence across fashion giant H&M’s supply chain

A new report on the gender-based violence in the H&M’s production units in India and other South Asian countries was presented at a recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference. The report documents women being subjected to physical abuse, developing occupational diseases, being cheated of their benefits and being fired for making complaints at garment factories, from Gurgaon to Tirupur. While almost the entire workforce is comprised of women, they are rarely part of the management.

This is as good a time as any to repost Rohini Mohan’s reporting on Bangalore garment workers for Scroll which looks into the lives of these women, most of whom are migrants, with a rare empathy.

The silence that shrouds the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers

Another institution where women workers are frequently exploited is domestic work. Meenakshi Tewari speaks to a group of such workers and reports on their everyday grievances for The Wire. “I started work at one of the houses,” says Sita. “A few days later she found a new maid who agreed to work for a lower salary. But she could not tell me off directly so she accused me of stealing a mobile phone one day. I was new in Delhi then so I just cried. She called the police but made one mistake. She made the call from the number she complained was missing. But the police did not say anything to her.”

BJP government announces that no quarterly jobs data this time

The usual Quarterly Employment Survey data will not be published this quarter as the government has decided to rely on the payroll data to be harnessed from the EPFO. Both these data sets have been criticised for inadequacies by statisticians and policymakers. It is interesting to note that the two methods have provided starkly different estimates of employment generated in India in the past couple of years. While the QES data, gathered through survey of establishments in 8 different sectors by the labour bureau, has estimated about two lakh jobs being created between April and September of 2017, the payroll data that uses the enrolment numbers in EPFO as a data set, has estimated 35 lakh jobs for the half-year from September 2017 to March 2018. Though the time period for the data differs, the scale of difference is surprising. In this situation, discontinuing the publication of the QES makes one wonder if it is a political rather than a statistical decision, as the payroll data presents a much better employment scenario than the QES.

While the payroll data is a better tool for policymakers due to its higher frequency and lower time lag, it has come for criticism as an inaccurate measure to capture employment as it might include dormant accounts. It is also susceptible to significant change due to policy changes that might incentivise the creation of accounts. Above all, the payroll data is being collected only recently and has many glitches to be ironed out and a time series to be evolved that would allow for robust comparison. On the other hand, QES has been around for some time and can help in comparison over time. Rather than discontinue a valuable source of inference, it might make sense to publish both until more reliability can be built into the payroll data. But such policy is not new for the present NDA government that had radically altered the GDP measures so as to make it hard to compare old numbers of the UPA era with the present numbers. The controversy over India’s GDP measures continues to rage in academic and policy circles.

HR of Mitsubishi Shot in Gurgaon; sacked apprentice arrested

A Human Resources (HR) head at a Japanese company in Gurgaon was shot at by two bike-borne assailants while he was heading to work on Thursday morning, said police. A disgruntled employee, whose services he had terminated “around three months ago”, is suspected to be behind the attack. The suspect, who was employed as an ‘apprentice’, has been arrested along with another person. He had been sacked by the HR manager for ‘unprofessional behaviour’. The family has claimed that the HR manager had been receiving threats ever since demanding that the worker is re-hired.

International news

Israeli army kills Palestinian nurse

Razan al-Najar, a 21-year-old Palestinian volunteer medic, was shot in the chest though she was in her white uniform with her hands up as she was trying to get to an injured Palestinian near a border fence in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

Last month, a Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani was shot in the leg and his medical assistant Musa Abuhassanin was shot in the chest and killed, though he was wearing green medical scrubs and the assistant was wearing a bright orange vest along with all the other health workers. It has been estimated that there have been 229 attacks against medical personnel in Gaza since March 30.

Doctors Without Borders has issued a statement, “The Israeli army has used disproportionate force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza. Since mass demonstrations began on March 30, 128 people have been killed and 3,664 people have been wounded by live ammunition fired by Israeli forces, according to United Nations authorities. Over the past two months, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated more than 1,200 people with gunshot injuries at its four clinics in Gaza. We are opening a fifth clinic to cope with the influx of patients.”

Gender pay gap costs $160 trillion in lost human capital wealth

A recent report of the World Bank on gender inequality in work and wages has estimated that unequal wages have cost the world economy about $160.2 trillion in human capital wealth. This estimate also includes the multiplier effects of increased incomes that will accrue to all if the life term earnings of women match those of men. The report, titled ‘The Cost of Gender Inequality’ further argues that the effects will also be seen in health care, education and other social indicators. It uses an interesting methodology to arrive at this estimate. Using a previous study on ‘Human Capital’ as a theoretical basis, and data from 141 countries, economists analysed the potential skills, education, training and future worth of each person in the workforce, then compared those so-called “lifetime earnings” to generate estimated global losses. The paper argues that the need to invest in girls and women in order to end the inequality in gender is the prudent economic policy to pursue.

Weekend readings

Working conditions in Gurgaon and Neemrana auto industry

The manufacturing sector has been witnessing fast-paced changes in its production processes due to the rapid changes in technology and policy regimes that have facilitated flexible business processes. The auto manufacturing sector, as a major engine of the economy as well as manufacturing employment, lies at the heart of this paradigmatic shifts. These have also caused tectonic shifts in the labour movement and the struggle for workers’ rights. A working paper published by the Center for Sustainable Employment, authored by Amit Akash and Nayanjyothi, activist researchers, reveals in detail the impact of these changes by an ethnographic study of Gurgaon, Neemrana auto hub. With a very detailed description of the production process and interrelationships within the ‘supply chain’, the article explores the trajectory of working-class organisation and struggle in the region. It also examines the role of political shift with the ascendance of BJP in curbing workers’ collective action and bargaining. The details in the article allow us to gain a high-resolution picture of the working conditions and emerging conflicts in one of India’s fastest growing industrial regions. You can download the full article here.

Mirchi farmers and middlemen in Andhra Pradesh

Rahul Maganti writes an excellent report for PARI on the crisis caused by a failed crop of chilli in Penugolanu in Andhra and the profiteering nurseries and money-lenders that caused it. One such tenant farmer, Devara Nagarjuna, 50, says, “I now have a total debt of 10 lakhs at an interest rate of 60 per cent, part of it from the very people who sold us the seeds.” Devara lost Rs. 5 lakhs during the 2016-17 agricultural season due to the bad seeds. “They take our fingerprints on empty promissory notes while giving seeds, pesticides and fertilisers and write any [inflated] amount,” he says. “Since they are also the middlemen who purchase our produce, they deduct the debt and interest and pay us back the rest.” Read more here.