The Life of Labour: Amazon Workers Strike on 'Prime Day'; Irregularities in Rajasthan's Schemes

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 week. Click here to subscribe.

Gender and work

Working women and menstruation

A BBC article looks at two reports about working women and menstruation – both of which have earlier been covered in this newsletter. The first is from Maharashtra and looks at how “thousands of young women have undergone surgical procedures to remove their wombs in the past three years.” They do this to get work in sugarcane fields because contractors don’t like to hire menstruating women – because they miss a couple of days of work every month because of it.

The second report is about garment workers in Tamil Nadu who are given unlicensed drugs when they complain of period pain.  

Given that even in countries like Indonesia and South Korea there are government-guaranteed rights for working women to take two days a month off for period pain, India’s lack of policy on it is quite telling. NITI Aayog has suggested a private member’s bill that would grant this benefit, but since such bills seldom get passed, it’s clear that this is only the first step in enacting such a policy. Unions like the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha have been talking about this issue for years. 

Precarious work

Jobless growth 

An article in The Hindu on the Periodic Labour Force Survey highlights the decreasing labour force participation rate as well as rising unemployment and underemployment. In absolute numbers, there has been a decline of 6.2 million workers between 2012 and 2018. Remember that this includes unpaid family labour and self-employment.

The article also looks at the gender disparity shown in the survey. It states: “Given the sharp decline in women’s labour force participation rate, they have been losing out heavily due to the double whammy of exclusion from the labour force and an inability to access employment when included in the labour force.”

While the article doesn’t say anything new, we want to keep discussing this ongoing jobs crisis that is affecting millions of people across the country. Without a drastic change and a vision of sweeping reforms, this crisis will turn into a catastrophe. Or maybe it already has. 

India’s informal workforce 

Reacting to different government reports using varied statistics, Business Today looks into the government’s inability to measure the informal workforce. Some reports say it is 85%, others quote “more than 90%”. This lack of accurate data is systemic. It is true of areas that are much less challenging than counting informal workers, like the number of colleges or even ports.

Also read | Why Aggregate Employment in India Is Shrinking

The head of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, C.K. Sajinarayanan, told Business Today: “They get no leave, no safety equipment, no medical facility or family welfare support and there is no limit to their working hours. Their wages are very low. Even after the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008 came in, very few (about 5-6%) got enrolled for social security benefits.”

Other news

Rajasthan: Irregularities in labour schemes 

After the Supreme Court directed a social audit of welfare schemes, large-scale irregularities were found in Rajasthan. The Hindu reports, “33% of beneficiaries of the schemes meant for construction workers were those who were not employed in this sector”. These registrations happen through e-Mitra centres and some of them have had their licenses cancelled and one labour office has been fired for accepting bribes.

Simultaneously, the cess that funds these workers’ benefits hasn’t been properly collected from building projects across the state. 

Survey of cotton-farming sector in Telangana to identify child labour

The Telangana government and the International Labour Organization have “started a two-year study into the entire cotton supply-demand chain after a survey revealed that cotton farming within the agriculture sector employs a majority of the child labour (under 14 years specifically) in a handful of districts”, according to LiveMint.

According to the labour joint commissioner, 50% of the labour in cotton farming comprises children under the age of 14. 

Irula workers rescued from bonded labour in Kancheepuram 

Over two dozen people belonging to the Irula tribe in Kancheepuram district were rescued from a woodcutting unit where they were trying to pay off a loan they had taken years earlier from the owner of the unit. The same day that they were escorted back to their hometown, they were threatened by the unit owner and his men and are now scared for their lives. 

Also read | The Odisha Women Who Pull out Threads for 500 Minutes Every Day

The tip about their location was given to the authorities by the Released Bonded Labourers Association, and the rescue was coordinated by the International Justice Mission and revenue officials from Tamil Nadu. 

Rs 375 minimum wage plan junked as govt opts for Rs 2 hike

Despite the recommendation of an internal labour ministry committee to raise the minimum wage to Rs 375, the Union cabinet has approved the wage code which only increases the current minimum wage by Rs 2, making it a total of Rs 178 per day. An unnamed official told LiveMint that “the increase will not help most workers considering that Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh are the only states to pay lower wages than the proposed amount.”

The move on the government’s part comes in spite of Economic Survey 2019 saying a better national wage floor will reduce inequality and poverty in India.

International news

Global: Strike on ‘Prime Day’

Coinciding with Amazon’s ‘Prime Day’ sale, workers all across the world are striking to demand better rights. The BBC reports that workers will be on strike in Germany, the US and the UK. In Germany, 2,000 workers will go on strike though there are almost 20,000 in total. In the US, workers are planning a six-hour work stoppage. In the UK, there will be protests all week. These workers have asked people from across the globe to boycott Amazon and related products in solidarity with their struggle for better working conditions. 

At Whole Foods, the grocery chain that was purchased by Amazon in a surprising move, workers say conditions declined after the takeover. The Guardian reports“Several Whole Foods workers noted one of the Amazon-related changes is understaffing has become the norm within the stores they work in. Full-time workers cited their hours have regularly been reduced from 40 a week to 35 to 37 hours a week in the wake of Amazon enacting a $15 minimum wage for all its employees, thus rendering any rises in pay almost nonexistent.”

Extra reading

“I was a fast-food worker. Let me tell you about burnout”. Read more here

“’It’s A Career Ender’: 2 LGBTQ Former Dell Workers Share Their Stories”. Read more here

“The US sees the introduction of the National Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights”. Read more here