The Life of Labour: BSNL Lays off Contractual Workers; Kanpur Leather Industry Under Threat

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.

Agrarian crisis

Maharashtra: Farmers to protest ban on GM crops

Around 5,000 farmers are expected to gather in Akola to plant genetically modified seeds of brinjal and cotton. Right now, the scientific establishment has developed a consensus that these varieties are safe to use but current agricultural policy considers them dangerous. While there is a lot of misinformation, anti-GMO groups argue that using these varieties will allow profiteering by anti-farmer corporations.

“It will be a peaceful protest. We will only plant the varieties in the fields. But there is the possibility that the police could arrest us because the cultivation of these varieties of these crops is banned,” Anil Ghanwat, state president of Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ body, told The Wire

Gender and work

Millions of Indian women may lose jobs to automation, study says

A new study by the McKinsey Global Institute states that millions of women in India could risk losing their jobs to automation by the end of the next decade, Livemint reported. The report studied ten countries – six developed and four developing ones, including India.

The end result was even more shocking at a global level – “20% of working women or 107 million female workers in these 10 countries could lose their jobs to automation.” For India, 12 million women could lose their jobs despite 23 million being added in that same period.

Disadvantages for women at work ‘only going to increase’

With the Aam Aadmi Party promising free public transport for women in Delhi and Zomato introducing paid parental leave for its employees, Hindustan Times took a look at the data from the latest labour force participation rate and various related studies to explain the decline in female participation in the workforce.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration: Aliza Bakht

The article looks at the unfair distribution of household work, the effect of having another child as well as of higher education on workforce participation. They have also examined workplace policies regarding leave. Rising income or GDP will not fix the problem.

They report, “As income levels rise in the Indian economy and employment shifts from agriculture to the non-agriculture sector, this disadvantage for women is only going to increase.”

After Andhra hikes wages, Maharashtra’s ASHA workers protest for better pay

Hundreds of ASHA workers gathered in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to agitate for a pay raise from the Rs 2,000 that they currently make to Rs 10,000 that their colleagues in Andhra Pradesh will be getting.

The Wire reported: “Reddy’s decision to hike pay by Rs 7,000 may be markedly more than Modi’s decision to hike it by just Rs 1,300, but both fall short of what many ASHA workers are actually demanding – which is Rs 18,000.”

Also read: Where Are Indian Women If Not in the Workforce?

Death at work

Odisha: Three quarry labourers dead

A quarry landslide led to the death of three workers, including one woman. A fourth person was critically injured. The PTI report on the incident does not mention whether the police have registered a case against the management and the owners of the quarry.

Precarious labour

BSNL lays off contractual workers

Facing a severe cash crunch following a prolonged downturn in business, BSNL was reportedly planning to lay off as much as a third of its workforce. The proposal had not been implemented due to the elections.

Now, with the elections done and with the NDA returning to power, BSNL has begun implementing it. It has decided to lay off over 30% of the outsourced contract workers across the country. Wages of contract workers had been pending for nearly five months, with some workers in the UP circle not having been paid for nearly a year.

The union is fighting against this move. It maintains that the Union government is responsible for this predicament due to its creating of hurdles for BSNL to be competitive. For example, the company has not yet been allocated spectrum in the 4G band. The workers had even gone on strike last year demanding action.

Pellet guns in Kashmir leave a Bihar migrant worker without eyesight

A 17-year-old migrant worker from Bihar is the latest victim of pellet guns in Kashmir. The young man was hit when security forces were dispersing a protest by locals against an encounter killing of a militant leader. The worker, who was in the market buying rations, scrambled for cover. When he ventured out, he was met with a barrage of pellets that left him unconscious.

He has lost sight in one eye.

Pellet guns, which were meant to be a non-lethal weapon, have claimed several victims. Usually, it is the eyes that suffer irreparable damage due to the pellet fragments that cause harm to soft tissue.

Haryana unions plan strategy to demand regularisation of work

Employee unions in Haryana have come up with a detailed plan to mobilise support for their demands of regularisation of jobs and restoration of old pension scheme ahead of the upcoming assembly polls in the state.

Led by the Sarv Karamchari Sangh, an umbrella body of over 100 unions that has been playing an important role in Haryana politics, the unions have already started holding conferences in all districts from this month. These conferences will culminate in a state-level conference in Panchkula in August in which they are likely to announce a major stir to raise their demands.

Other news

Industrial workers facing price rise

News media and the monetary experts often quote the overall consumer price index to present inflation figures. These numbers also play a pivotal role in the RBI’s policy decisions regarding cash flow into the economy. However, the heat of price inflation on the working class can only be recognised if these numbers are disaggregated to different consumption baskets.

This time around, while the overall inflation rates have hovered between 2-3%, encouraging RBI to allow greater lending by banks, the inflation on food products, which forms a greater share of the working families’ cost, has increased at a much higher rate. The Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers (CPI-IW) reveals that inflation for this category of consumers is steadily increasing and is now over 8.3%. When wages and jobs are becoming scarce as the economy slows down, this opens the possibility for stagflation among the wage earners – all while policymakers turn a blind eye.

Kanpur leather industry on verge of permanent closure

Kanpur was famous for its leather processing and allied industries long before the British Raj was established. Though it was the British merchants who established the industry and controlled it in the 20th century, it had an overwhelming workforce of Dalits and Muslims. Since independence, the sector has proliferated to an Rs 10,000-crore business.

Also read: Forced Shut for Three Months for Kumbh, Kanpur’s Tanneries May Not Recover

Since the advent of the BJP government at the Center and state in 2014, the situation has changed. The emphasis on cleaning river Ganga, and the mob lynchings against cow slaughter, has effectively crippled the sector. An article in Sabrang India puts out the perspective of these workers.

Assam: Paper mill workers set June deadline to revive the mills

The Cachar Paper Project Workers Union, which represents the workers of Cachar paper mills and Nagaon paper mills, has said that they will be launching a series of agitations if the Central and state governments fail to resolve the wage issues and revive the mills.

The two paper mills had closed down in 2015 and 2017 respectively. They have also long pending wage dues. In May, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal – before which a case for liquidation is pending – had asked the workers to continue their duties while urging the state government to act on the issue with priority. 

Life after closure: Chowel India workers share their uncertainties and anxieties

What happens to the workers after a factory closes down abruptly? In an article in Thozhilalar Koodam, workers of Chowel India, which has all but closed after its client confiscated critical machinery in lieu of unpaid debt, describe the issues they are facing, the labour they invested in raising the company and their uncertainties about the future.

International news

Philippines: Labour organiser shot dead during meeting with workers

A political activist and labour organiser was killed on Sunday when a gunman drove up in a bike and shot him at point-blank range. He was in the middle of speaking to a group of workers. Under the leadership of President Duterte, this style of killing has become very common, used frequently in the country’s ‘war on drugs’.