The Life of Labour: Protest Against Sterlite Copper Plant in TN, Deaths in Surat’s Garment Industry

Latest news updates from the world of work.

The Life of Labour, a compilation of important labour developments from around the world, will be delivered to your inbox every Sunday at 10 am. Click here to subscribe.

Ban Sterlite: Massive Protests against Sterlite in Thoothukudi

Thoothukudi, a town in south Tamil Nadu, came to a standstill on March 24 when thousands of farmers, fisher people, traders and even auto and cab drivers came together demanding a ban on Sterlite’s copper smelting plant. This was a massive show of solidarity with villagers around Thoothukudi who have been on a protest for over 40 days. The protests also went international with Tamil residents in London protesting in front of the Vedanta CEO’s house in Mayfair, London. Following the protests, the company announced the closure of the plant for two weeks pending maintenance.

The Times of India reported that, “…All the eateries, hotels, shops, trade and commercial establishments remained shut from the early hours of Saturday. Auto rickshaws, vans and minibuses too did not operate from 9 AM. Production was stopped in the salt pans too while the 12 cinemas in the city also did not screen any shows throughout the day.”

“More than 2,000 country boat fishermen did not go for fishing. More than 50 associations and organisations have extended support to the one-day strike,” M Krishnamoorthy, a coordinator of the protest told ToI.

Owned by Vedanta Resources Plc, Sterlite’s main business is the production of copper and manufacturing copper products for the electrical industry. Copper production is a highly polluting process requiring very stringent regulations. Over decades, farmers and fisher people have been raising concerns over pollution of ground and seawater. They have been claiming that there has been an adverse impact on their livelihoods. In 2013, after a severe leak of sulphuric acid that led to residents suffering various symptoms of poisoning, there have been demands for the closure of the plant. The Supreme Court, which had found Sterlite guilty in the case, had imposed a Rs. 100 crore penalty.

Nithyanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist, has listed the health impacts of the copper plant in an article in The News Minute. He had also earlier highlighted an accident at the copper plant that left a worker maimed for life.

Years of service as contract worker included in calculating gratuity period: SC

Overturning a Chhattisgarh High Court order, the Supreme Court has ruled that the years served by a worker as a daily wage worker in a company will be counted for gratuity when she is regularised. In this case, the government of Chhattisgarh denied a worker gratuity as he had worked 22 of the 25 years of service as a daily wager. By ordering in favour of the worker, the Supreme Court has set the stage for lakhs of workers across India to gain gratuity for the service period. While this is a major improvement as it will enable contract workers to gain statutory benefits for the years served, the loophole is that the SC has made this provision contingent on the continuous employment of the said worker over the period. Usually, companies evade this by breaking service every 6 months to a year.

114 deaths in three years in Surat’s garment industry

A soon to be released research report titled ‘Labour conditions in Surat Textile Industry’ has compiled over 84 fatal incidents that have left 114 people dead in Surat’s textile industry between 2012-15. Using RTI information received from Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), it also has documented serious injuries to over 375 workers. The report also reveals the poor implementation of ESI schemes and oversight that has left many insured workers without disability care and support.

Two investigative journalists killed within 24 hours

Sandeep Sharma and Naveen Nishchal were killed in separate vehicle incidents. Sandeep Sharma was killed by a truck. According to the National Union of Journalists (India), Sandeep Sharma had recently done investigations against the sand mafia in Madhya Pradesh. “In CCTV footage of the incident, the truck can be seen making a sudden swerve and crushing Sharma on a motorbike.” Naveen Nishchal was a journalist in Bihar and was killed along with a friend. Their bike was hit by a car driven by “a former village head, who has several criminal cases against him”.

Updates and other news

Sonipat accident: a fact-finding report published in Rupe India

A team comprising members from four workers’ organisations, Inqilaabi Mazdoor Kendra, Nagrik Akhbaar, Jan Sangharsh Manch Haryana, Mazdoor Patrika and Grameen Mazdoor Union, Bihar, visited the accident site where five workers were burned to death. They have submitted a fact-finding report that records the poor wages in these factories, abysmal conditions of work, systematic ways of control over workers and the abject failure to maintain safety standards. The report also brings out the contradiction in the state and police response stating, “The owner Gulshan Mata, his son Abhishek Maata, and the manager Meenu and three supervisors have been booked under section 304 A of the IPC – causing death due to negligence. It is telling that while the police routinely slap workers with much more serious charges including murder, treason, sedition, Gangster Act, etc., they seemed to get all soft and generous when it comes to the crimes of the owners and their henchmen.” It highlights how the state has begun neglecting the injured workers though it had promised all aid in their treatment.

J.K Tyres workers go on strike against arbitrary production targets

Over 700 young workers of JK Tyres near Manimangalam in Kanchipuram district have accused the management of being unwilling to negotiate a collective wage agreement. Last year, a successful strike had forced the management to recognise the union and reinstate the workers who were suspended. Since then, they claim that the management is unwilling to give any concrete assurance on their wage increase demands and instead keeps setting impossible production demands forcing them to take the latest strike action which has been on since March 23. The workers have also reported that the company, in order to deny wage increase, has demanded a production target that stretches the maximum daily capacity of the workforce. The workers, who have refused to agree to this production target, maintain that it’s a ploy to deny wage hike.

Collector claims Kerala unions on board against ‘Nokkukooli’, unions apprehensive of job losses

As we wrote in earlier editions, Kerala’s Chief Minister P. Vijayan has come out strongly against nokkukooli, a labour practice where a unionised member gets paid to simply watch the work being done. Trade unions have also apparently agreed that the practice is unjustifiable and that they would join the efforts to eradicate the practice in Ernakulam.

Labour unions condemn ‘fixed-term employment’ notification

The ‘fixed term’ provision has been notified by the government despite wide-scale agitations and protests. Unions see future employment being ‘fixed term’ to ease hire-and-fire practices. The government also allegedly ignored the tripartite consultation process.

International news

French workers expand their protest against Macron Government’s ‘anti-labour’ policies

France erupted in protests against Emmanuel Macron’s labour policies. Workers across all sectors took to the streets on March 22 in a strike action. It marks the beginning of a series of strikes by public sector employees, rail workers and workers of Air France that might last up to June.

The Rail workers have announced rolling strikes starting the first week of April in which they will strike two days a week until the government backs down on a proposed staff reduction and wage freeze plan. Jacobin published an interview with Bruno Poncet, one of the union leaders organising the rail workers, about the consequence of the reforms and the justification for the strikes.

In a complementary action, Air France workers have announced two more days of strike over the Easter weekend, forcing Air France to cancel scores of flights across destinations.

Cathay Pacific’s female staff win right to wear trousers in a historic move for Hong Kong carrier

Earlier this month, female members of the cabin crew of Cathay Pacific sought the right to wear trousers. Till Thursday, female flight attendants could only wear skirts. Now, all staff including ground staff, thanks to the work of the flight attendants’ union, have the right to wear trousers if they wish. However, this went with a sub-par result on wage negotiations where the inflation adjustment to wages was limited to 1% despite the unions initially asking for 4%.

Weekend reading

Whose children can move up the social ladder in India?

A November 2017 paper by Vegard Iversen, Anirudh Krishna, and Kunal Sen used data from the India Human Development Survey-II to analyse inter-generational occupational mobility among men. Their paper has been converted into an interactive by the team at EPW Engage. The interactive allows readers to see the differences in occupational mobility across social groups.