The Life of Labour: Forced Eviction of Tribals; Anganwadi Workers Protest

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Agricultural crisis

SC orders forced eviction of Adivasis

In the middle of the agricultural crisis that has gripped the country, a tribal crisis has been unleashed. Since the government “forgot” to appear in court to argue a case regarding the Forest Rights Act brought by a myopic wildlife NGO, millions of Adivasis and forest dwellers have now been threatened with eviction.

The court judgement said the evictions had to happen before the next hearing on July 27.

A Business Standard report quoted researcher C.R. Bijoy, “The last time country-wide evictions took place was in 2002-2004, again triggered by a Supreme Court order, which led to many cases of violence, deaths and protests in the central Indian tribal forested areas and uprooting of around 300,000 households.”

Also read: The Supreme Court Sends Forest Rights Back to a Dark Past

An RSS-affiliated organisation has called on the government to issue an ordinance that will stay the Supreme Court’s order. The judgment will most certainly lead to a backlash against the government during the next elections. Now they have to scramble to save face and reverse the damage done to these communities by their own negligence.

First instalment disbursed under PM-KISAN scheme

The Central government had in its Interim Budget announced a direct cash transfer to marginal farmers of Rs 6,000 a year. The first instalment of Rs 2,000 was transferred this week to a section of eligible farmers. It is estimated that over one crore of the more than ten crore eligible farmers would receive this money in their bank accounts.

Some, however, have questioned the time frame, stating that collecting data on farmers, vetting them and establishing channels for fund transfers will take additional time. An article in discusses the difficulties involved in identifying and verifying farmers, some of which emerge due to an insistence on evolving technology.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

The Narendra Modi government had promised to double farmers’ incomes, but the last few years have seen a widening of the crisis in the agriculture sector. The basic income support scheme was seen as a way to bridge the gap between promise and reality.

Precarious work

Solidarity, not spectacle

In light of the prime minister washing the feet of sanitation workers and referring to them as ‘karma yogis’, it is worth remembering the treatment that is meted out to them when the camera crew isn’t present. 

Kabir Agarwal wrote that just a few weeks before the prime minister’s visit to Uttar Pradesh, about 14,000 people were brought into the state and employed as sanitation workers for the Kumbh Mela. Workers reported being lied to about the nature of the work – they weren’t aware that they had to handle faeces and urine – and wages.

Since they were promised high wages for the whole duration of the mela, entire families travelled together, and were left with no choice but to work without any safety equipment – earning Rs 285 a day.

In addition, two leaders of the Dalit Safai Mazdoor Sangathan were detained by the police for protesting with other sanitation workers for higher wages, safety equipment, insurance cover and better facilities. They were told that they were “bringing disrepute to the nation and will be booked for sedition and under the National Security Act”.

Also read: Modi Pays Tribute to Sanitation Workers After Five Years of Ignoring Them

The statement given by the officer in-charge of the Kumbh Mela – “These people are not real sanitation workers” – is revealing in terms of what the state wants from its workers and what it is willing to give back.

Data from the last five years of this government’s relationship with sanitation workers paint a clear picture of what Modi government’s priorities are. Of the Rs 55 crore allocated for the rehabilitation of families engaged in manual scavenging, the Central government hasn’t releasea single rupee so far.

Anganwadi workers protest

“I am not going to back down until the signatures are paid heed to by the mute and deaf government. In all of my existence, this government has proven to be the most anti-worker and anti-women government,” Ravinder Kaur, an anganwadi worker from Punjab, told Newsclick.

Workers from Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh had all collected in Delhi to protest their working conditions. Anjula, an anganwadi worker from Himachal Pradesh, told Newsclick: “We are the builders of this country, nourishing the children, teaching them to utter their first words, yet we are paid the lowest. I want to question the government why is this unfair treatment being meted to us?”

She added, “We are paid the lowest, despite working for over eight hours per day. I get paid according to the whims and fancies of the Central and the state governments.”

Kerala: Hostels for migrant labourers

Internal migration in India, especially from central and northeast Indian states to the south, has been steadily increasing. Even a small state like Kerala with a population of about 3.5 crores, is estimated to house over 40 lakh migrants. This causes severe strain on existing infrastructure and exposes migrants to poor conditions of accommodation and living.

While several states have been addressing issues of childcare for migrants, Kerala has set up its first hostel for migrant workers in an SEZ. With accommodation for 600 people, it is a drop in the ocean but will provide valuable lessons in scaling up and making this viable.

Odisha moves to regularise staff in health departments

After many years of struggle and with the general elections around the corner, nurses and other health sector workers – who were under contract – have won their demand to be regularised. Over 8,000 nurses, lab technicians and other junior cadres in the health departments will have their jobs confirmed and inducted into regular service.

The government has also proposed to increase permanent positions in the junior levels in other departments of the government.

Gender and work

Harassment and rape at work under MNREGS

At least two women have accused a panchayat clerk’s husband of harassment and rape in Madurai district’s Ramayanpatti village. One of the women, a work-site supervisor under the MNREGS scheme, has alleged that the one R. Thirupathi assumed the role of the clerk and pressured her into having sex with him as well as other men. He also pressured her to “fudge records for him to swindle money”.

Sanitary napkin makers go to the Oscars

In Kathikhera village, near Delhi, seven women aged between 18 and 31 work at a sanitary napkin manufacturing factory. The stigma of talking about menstruation follows these women, with several of them being told by family members that they should stop working. A short documentary on the factory and the women who keep it running (Period. The End of a Sentence) has won an Oscar, bringing a new set of conversation into Kathikhera about the work itself.

Also read: ‘Period. End of Sentence’, a Documentary on Menstruation in India, Wins an Oscar

Death at work

An explosion at a two-storey building left 13 dead and six injured in Bhadohi, UP. The explosion is suspected to have occurred in a carpet making shop inside the building which allegedly also illegally manufactured firecrackers. Rescue operations are still underway to retrieve workers from the shop who might still be trapped under the debris of the building and three adjacent houses. Nine of the 13 dead were migrant workers from West Bengal.

Other news

Social security or a pension scam? 

The government announced a ‘pension for all’ scheme in the recent Budget. This was welcomed by many supporters of the current government, but it also saw sharp criticism from certain sections that questioned the premiums and other eligibility criteria.

An article on the website of an IT employees’ union that dissects the cost of premiums that the workers will have to bear and the returns at the end. The results seem to suggest that the government and pensions managers – who might be private firms – are set to gain considerable profits in this process, while the informal workers might see the real value of their investment erode with time. 

Royal Enfield strike ends, over 40 trainees dismissed

Royal Enfield workers at its Oragadam factory went on a strike after the company transferred a few union organisers to factories in north India. However, the management came down heavily on them. Even when workers decided to return to work, the company did not let them, demanding that they sign a ‘Good Conduct Bond’.

After more than a week, the workers signed the bond and have returned to work. However, the management has transferred a few more permanent workers and dismissed from employment over 40 trainees. The company has claimed that the strike has resulted in a production loss of up to 3,000 vehicles. 

Pending salaries: The plight of Hindustan Antibiotics employees

As many as 900 employees of Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd, who are facing a severe financial crunch, have been waiting for their pending salaries for 22 months now.

Arun Borhade, vice president of the Hindustan Antibiotics Mazdoor Sangh, told Indian Express that“Every employee is getting only 25% of his or her basic salary, a lump sum of at least Rs 5,000-8,000 every month, which is insufficient for them to survive in today’s world.”

According to the union, the government while assuring them of their salaries has failed to pay the mounting dues. The anxieties have increased as many of the staff are reaching retirement age and are worried about their future financial security.

Weekend reading

Protecting migrant workers in Qatar

A 2014 report that the Qatari government commissioned from the international law firm DLA Piper noted that Qatar attributed a “seemingly” high number of worker deaths to cardiac arrest, a general term that does not specify the cause of death. The authorities have ignored key recommendations of its own report commissioned from DLA Piper.

The present Qatar law doesn’t mandate autopsies or post-mortem examinations in cases of so-called “sudden deaths”.

$15 minimum wage

Matthew Desmond, professor and author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, writes about the people who live on minimum wage in the US in an interesting interactive for the New York Times

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