The Life of Labour: Criminal Cases Against Farmers; BSNL Employees on Strike

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Agricultural crisis

Defaulting Punjab farmers face jail as banks file criminal cases

The Indian Express reports that “scores of Punjab farmers … have been convicted or are facing trial in criminal cases of cheque-bouncing filed by banks under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1938.”

Apparently, the majority of these farmers qualify for a loan waiver because their holdings are so small. The farmers claim they were asked to sign blank cheques and hand them over to the bank, which is a practice that bank employees have accepted.

So now, farmers have to furnish bonds (which might involve borrowing more money) to be released on bail. This vicious chain of events illustrates how broken the entire system of agricultural credit has become. The banks claim to have no choice but to engage in these activities because the government berates them for not giving more loans as well as for not recovering them.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Farmers’ march “disrupts traffic” in Patna

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee has not stopped agitating and organising farmers. Last week, they marched in Patna and while most places didn’t cover it, Times of India reported it again mainly for the traffic disruption. This is a constant practice by large media outlets – ignoring the life-and-death reasons people strike and simply describing the inconvenience to middle-class readers.

Death at work

‘On how many fronts can I fight?’

PARI speaks to Rani, whose partner Anil Kumar, a Dalit, died while cleaning a septic tank in September 2018. The story is painful and tragic.

“I am not his wedded wife, but I was everything to him. And he was my beloved. He gave me love and respect, and treated my children as his own,” says Rani. Bhasha Singh, the writer, describes her as “unwilling to talk much about her former husband, the children’s father, who she indicates was severely violent – burn marks from that time are still visible on her arms and legs – and eventually left for another city.”

Rani says, “Anil and I were living together [for the last 3-4 years], our hearts were one, but we were not married. I was married to someone before but Anil was single. Our relationship was not a secret, everybody knew that we lived as husband and wife. My children got a father’s love for the first time. We lived in poverty, but we were happy.”

Centre of Excellence on ‘Occupational Safety and Health’ inaugurated at KIIT, Orissa

The Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in Orissa has set up the centre in association with German partners – BG BAU, Germany, BG ETEM, Germany and Indo German Focal Point. Its mandate is to “work for the safety and generation of health awareness for the labourers working in organised and unorganised sector.”

Gender and work

Combating sexual harassment in the garment industry

Human Rights Watch (with inputs from the Garment Labour Union) has published a report on the rampant sexual harassment and abuse that happens in the garment industry in South Asia. They discuss the limitations of the current protections and how social audits do not help at all. They have listed a number of suggestions including a specific ILO convention to tackle sexual harassment at work as well as various policies that the brands have to take up and institute if they are serious about putting to stop to the abuse of their contractors’ employees.

Great Indian Family doesn’t help working women

Writing for LiveMint, Rukmini S. analyses data on working women from the NSSO, the ILO and the India Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland.

She writes that “findings from India are in stark contrast with evidence from countries such as China, where residence in a joint family raises the likelihood of a young woman moving into formal employment.”

Also read: How Maternity Benefits Can Be Extended to Informal Women Workers

Precarious work

Two lakh BSNL employees begin three-day strike

For years, the employees of BSNL have been criticising the government for letting the telecom operator decline and setting it up to fail. The New Indian Express writes, “The employees have condemned the Central government’s move of not allocating 4G spectrums to BSNL for strengthening its viability. They said that this delay is discriminatory in nature and detrimental to national interests.” In continuation of their previous efforts, BSNL unions have gone on a three-day strike.

Why Karnataka’s sanitation workers are against privatisation

In an excellent piece for The News Minute, Bhavani Seetharaman speaks to porakarmikas or sanitation workers who are employed by the government as well as those employed by private contractors. She finds that those employed by contractors are even more victimised than those employed by the government.

But more pertinently, when she spoke to Sarfaraz Khan, the joint director of the solid waste management department under BBMP, he said, “I don’t know who these people are… the BBMP does not pay contractors any money for such work. I wouldn’t know how the contractors are paying them since we have not paid contractors.”

Then who are the interviewed sanitation workers actually working for? He says that he is against privatisation and outsourcing of the work and currently only the drivers of the trucks and garbage loaders are contracted out. Another interesting claim in the article is that SC workers were fired from their jobs when reservations were instituted as they had to make way for OBC and general category workers. Hopefully, these claims can be followed up on in greater detail.  

Also read: Insurance Needs a Stronger Push in Draft Labour Code on Social Security

Other news

Victimisation and resistance: Updates from MRF, Royal Enfield and Pricol

Thozhilalar Koodam reports on the latest movement from the industrial belt in Tamil Nadu. At an MRF plant in Chennai, the workers have completed a week of striking because the management installed CCTV surveillance systems across the factory.

“If safety is the concern for installing CCTV cameras, why install it in the engineering department where it is a desk job and there are no machines?” asked one worker. “If I go and ask for a replacement glove, they say that we just gave a glove, use the old one. Look at ITC, they give much better safety equipment. What safety is management talking about?”

In Pricol and Royal Enfield, the workers are on strike after the management transferred union members and leaders to plants in other states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan. At Pricol, almost 300 workers were transferred as a vicious lashing out by the management, who are clearly hope for them to quit and leave.

Absentee board, no aid for domestic workers in Maharashtra

Newslick reports that the BJP government which has been in power in the state for years has failed to even constitute the mandatory board for the welfare of domestic workers. This tripartite board was to include representatives from labour, government and the public. It was the board that would distribute a number of welfare schemes including senior citizen pensions, child delivery expenses, funeral charges, etc.

Despite existing under the previous Congress government, the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government has completely ignored the domestic workers board and has vaguely discussed streamlining all the informal sector welfare boards. But how can you streamline something that doesn’t exist?

International news

US: In 2018, labour strikes had the largest increase of the last three decades

Some good news amidst the constant barrage of anti-worker stories coming from the United States. “There were at least 20 major work stoppages in the United States involving 485,000 workers, which is the highest increase in striking workers since 1986.”

Apparently, 90% of these workers were from education, healthcare, and social workers. This mirrors an idea that anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber discusses as “the revolt of the caring classes”. Graeber argues that our definition of labour is too wrapped in industrial revolution images of factory life whereas the majority of work is maintenance. He thus seeks to rename the working class as the caring class, driving home the idea that they do the majority of the actual caring and maintenance of modern society. To read more about this, check out Bullshit Jobs, his latest book.  

Weekend reading

When water flows like money: The People’s Archive of Rural India or PARI does phenomenal work. In this article, P. Sainath speaks to men and women for whom water has become a struggle at the centre of their lives. “Yes, every household has a person on full-time water duty,” says Bharat, a small farmer with five-and-a-half acres. 

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