The Life of Labour: Garment Workers Protest Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace

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Arrests in Tamil Nadu for opposing 8-lane expressway between Chennai and Salem

Tamil Nadu is again facing a standoff between the government and the farming community. This time it’s over a proposed 8-lane expressway, ironically dubbed the ‘Green Corridor’. The access controlled highway has been proposed at a cost of Rs. 10,000 cr and would lead to an acquisition of about 2,000 hectares of agricultural and forest lands. Farmers along the proposed route began protesting against the proposal ever since it was announced but over the last couple of weeks, the protests have significantly expanded as the government ramped up its survey work. The farmers are agitated about the acquisition of pristine agricultural lands. The state government has responded with police force, arresting a number of farmers and activists who have expressed their opposition to the project.  There has also been a major effort to curb social media activity and even journalists covering the issue were arrested.

However, there has been no let-up in the protests with the farmers refusing to cooperate with the government as it pushes ahead with the land acquisition process

Collective farming in Uttar Pradesh

Facing labour shortage, sugarcane farmers in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, have hit upon the idea of collective farming whereby they work in each other’s fields. “It is time for sugarcane crop cultivation, and there is a crunch of workers here. Most of the workforce has moved to big cities. Even the children of farmers are not keen on continuing with their elder’s profession and they are moving to big cities. So, we have devised a plan to form a group of farmers. Initially, 12 farmers joined our group. Now, the group has 35 members. All of them work together in fields of each other. If any member works more than his share, he is paid Rs 300 per day,” Ashok Kumar, a farmer, said. The farmers’ union has also appealed to link MGNREGS work with farming so that agriculture does not suffer due to workers drifting towards the scheme work.

Despite High Court order, retired Delhi University staff and teachers denied pension

Over 1,000 retired staff and teachers of Delhi University have been denied their pensions since 2014 due to a wrangling between UGC and the Delhi University. Even after the High Court of Delhi gave its clear order restoring pension to all the staff, the issue has not been settled. In 1987 and 1989, Delhi University had allowed its employees to shift to GPF from the older retirement savings scheme (CPF). In 2014, the University Grants Commission (UGC) stopped the process of granting pensions to all Delhi University employees who had applied for the pension scheme after 1987. The Commission had stated that permission was not taken by the university before it allowed its employees to join the pension scheme. In all, 2,469 employees are caught in this limbo with over 1,000 employees who retired after 2014 in deeper trouble as they have not received any pension.

With the Delhi University planning to challenge the High Court order, the employees have gone to court demanding that the order passed by the High Court be implemented. They have claimed that in this instance, where the litigants are over 60 years and in dire need of the pension to support themselves, justice delayed is justice denied.

On-job injuries very high among truck drivers

A recent study by Kantar IMRB, a market research firm, has revealed very high levels of occupational injuries and illness among truck drivers, yet a very low concern for the same among them. The survey finds that truck drivers often work over 12 hours a day and drive continuously for over 6 hours. Working in cramped spaces and often resting in them, they have little space to stretch their muscles, increasing ergonomic risks. This brings to light the stressful lifestyle of long-distance commercial drivers. Maintaining mental and physical fitness is of utmost importance in the trucking industry and yet 62% drivers have not undergone a medical check-up in the past one year. Castrol India, that had sponsored this research, has come up with Yoga asanas for truck drivers on the go to help them cope with stress. They have planned to popularise these yoga exercises among truck drivers.

Garment workers stage protest in Mandya against sexual harassment at workplace

Around 2,000 workers of a unit of Shahi Exports at Maddur in Mandya district walked out of the factory to protest against the management on June 23, 2018. The protest that was staged demanding minimum wages brought out the level of harassment that the women working in the factory face. The workers in the garment sector have been fighting to improve their working conditions, the safety of women workers at the workplace as well as wages. While the union leaders maintain that the protest was to demand an increase in dearness allowance, the women focussed the protest against sexual harassment at workplace. In this report, Newsclick chronicles the various cases of sexual harassment in these factories. An earlier study by the Garment Labour Union had revealed that 14% of women garment workers in Bengaluru have been raped or forced to commit a sexual act; 75% of garment workers report that there is no functioning complaints procedure in their factory for investigating and punishing in cases of sexual harassment or violence; 80% of women garment workers report their health and safety is at risk because of working conditions; 43% of women workers were not given maternity leave; 65% do not believe women garment workers can access justice because they are too poor.

Recently the Karnataka CM had met with representatives of various garment unions and had constituted a committee to look into the wage issue. But as this article reveals, it is vital that the issue of rampant sexual harassment is addressed immediately and an effective legal structure is created to deal with the complaints of the workers.

Strike by Ola, Uber drivers fail to deliver results; police arrest protestors

More than 500 drivers gathered outside the Ola office in Chennai as thousands more participated in the strike on June 21. The major demands of the drivers have remained the same since their successful strike in January this year – fare revision and reduction of the commission deducted from the fare. Since several talks with the Transport Commissioner failed, two unions Urimai Kural and Vaazhurimai Sangam decided to announce an indefinite strike. A dialogue between an Ola official and union representatives of the two unions as well as CITU mediated by the Assistant Commissioner of Police failed to make any headway. Although CITU withdrew from the strike, Urimai Kural and Vaazhurimai Sangam decided to proceed with it. When the leadership arrived at the Ola office and informed the members about the failed meeting, drivers attempted to gherao the Ekkatuthangal main road. They were quickly taken away in the police vans and detained till about 10.30 pm at a nearby marriage hall. The police demanded that each person sign an undertaking that they will not protest before the Ola office henceforth. The drivers refused and dared the police to remand them. The police offered to obtain an appointment with the transport minister.

However, by the second day, with a marked disunity among the cab drivers’ associations, the strike fizzled out. Unions called off their strike after the police promised to fix meetings with the Transport Minister and the Secretary.

Malayalam film industry women revolt: Rima, Geetu, Remya, survivor resign from AMMA

After the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) on Wednesday took back rape accused Dileep into their fold, several female actors have quit the body in protest. The News Minute reports that “AMMA, under the newly appointed president Mohanlal, had reinstated Dileep, who stands accused of being the mastermind behind the assault which shocked Kerala. AMMA had previously been forced to remove Dileep after he was arrested by the police…However, the narrative began to change soon after with Dileep being painted in sympathetic light and receiving open support from prominent members of the film industry.” Apart from the survivor of the assault, actors Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambeeshan and director Geetu Mohandas have stepped down from the organisation.

Other news

MRF workers win back their right to raw materials

Everything seemed as usual when workers at MRF, Thiruvottiyur, began their shift on June 15. But workers at one of the critical departments, where tyres are shaped, began running out of a solvent used to ease the bending of the rubber. At first, they did not realise the issue but noticed that it was getting harder to bend the rubber to its required shape and that their arms were beginning to hurt. The containers of the solvent supplied to them were the same ones they got every day. Yet, all the workers in the shift found themselves facing a shortage of the solvent. Soon they realised the company had reduced their quota of the solvent by crumpling the bottom of the container. Even as the company demanded production targets be met, they had reduced a critical raw material that helped ease the process. Read more at Thozhilalar Koodam.

Maharashtra: 3-month extension to factory closure norms panel

A tripartite committee working on finalising proposed amendments to the factory closure norms in the Industrial Disputes (ID) Act has been given a three-month extension by the Maharashtra state government, reports The Indian Express. The government had proposed increasing the limit for closure under the ID Act to 300 workers from the current 100. Unions not only oppose this measure but argue that the number should come down to 50 as it doesn’t include contract workers.

Jeans, t-shirts banned in Rajasthan’s labour department

After diluting a number of labour laws that it needs to enforce, Rajasthan’s labour department has decided to enforce ‘moral’ laws on its employees by declaring dress codes and prohibiting jeans and t-shirts. Claiming that such clothes are ‘indecent’, the labour commissioner has directed the employees to wear pants and shirts. Unions have come out against this move, calling it ‘childish’ and stating that there was nothing in the service rules that forced a dress code.

International news

Courier workers classified as self-employed win right to be treated as workers

A group of Hermes couriers have won their fight to be treated as workers instead of independent contractors in what has been described as one of the most significant victories against exploitation of gig-economy workers. An employment tribunal in Leeds ruled that the couriers were entitled to receive the minimum wage and holiday pay and to reclaim unlawful deductions from their wages because they had incorrectly been classified as self-employed. The GMB, which helped bring the claim, said the ruling was likely to affect 14,500 Hermes couriers who are engaged under the same contract as the 65 couriers who took the case to the tribunal. The judgment mirrors verdicts in cases brought against Uber and other gig economy majors where judges have ruled that the staff should be given the legal classification as “workers”, thereby receiving the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Workers paralyse Argentina in third general strike

The strike, called by the country’s largest trade union confederation CGT, affected buses, trains, taxis, flights, food sales, petrol stations, schools, banks and ports. Al Jazeera reports that “The labour action was in protest against a government decision to limit salary increases to up to 15 per cent while inflation is running at 26 per cent. Unions also oppose President Mauricio Macri’s recent deal with the IMF which granted Argentina a $50bn credit line to help it stem the plunge of the peso. “

Women who won the right to drive could add over $100 billion to the Saudi economy

Women on the move could add more to Saudi economy than selling a 5% stake in its oil company, maintains Bloomberg Economics. Saudi women have finally won the right to drive, ending its discriminatory ban against women. This is supposed to increase the rate of employment of women, adding to the country’s GDP. “Lifting the ban on driving is likely to increase the number of women seeking jobs, boosting the size of the workforce and lifting overall incomes and output,” according to Ziad Daoud, Dubai-based Middle East economist for Bloomberg Economics. It is estimated by Bloomberg economics that this move could add over $90 billion through 2030, which is equal to what Saudi Arabia could earn by selling 5% of its shares in the state-run oil marketing company, ARAMCo.

Weekend reading

A long march of the dispossessed to Delhi

“India’s agrarian crisis has gone beyond the agrarian. It’s a crisis of society. Maybe even a civilisational crisis, with perhaps the largest body of small farmers and labourers on Earth fighting to save their livelihoods. The agrarian crisis is no longer just a measure of loss of land. Nor only a measure of loss of human life, jobs or productivity. It is a measure of our own loss of humanity. Of the shrinking boundaries of our humaneness. That we have sat by and watched the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years,” writes P. Sainath. Read the full article here.