The Life of Labour: India's Working Women; Workers at Statue of Unity Go on Strike

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.

Agricultural Crisis

Agrarian crisis spreads to non-farm rural economy

According to a new report, the rural non-farm wage rates have remained almost stagnant over the last four years of the NDA government. After adjusting for inflation, the real wage increase in the rural economy has been at 0.5% year on year since 2014, as against a robust 6.7% in between 2009 to 2013.

More troubling is the estimation that rural non-farm employment, like carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical jobs saw much less increase in wage rates compared to farm jobs. This article argues that the rural agrarian crisis is impacting non-farm employment and increasing rural distress.

Gender and Work

LGBTQIA+ workers rights in the US: A chequered history

Gender and sexuality have often caused major disruptions to equality of workers. Even as we celebrate the struggle of women in fighting against discrimination at the workplace, marginalised genders and sexes and sexual minorities continue to face an uphill battle against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality.

This article provides a brief history of the chequered legislative history in US in the attempt by the LGBTQIA+ community to end discrimination at the workplace and ensure their rights as workers are safeguarded.

Also read: Life of Labour: NREGA Workers against PM Modi; India’s Long Work Hours

Indian Coffee House finally opens door to female staff

Indian Coffee House in Kerala. Credit: Wikipedia

Indian Coffee House, run by a very successful workers’ cooperative, the India Coffee Board Workers’ Cooperative Society, employed six women on probation – ending the decades old unofficial exclusion of women in their chain of restaurants in Kannur.

The society officials claimed that this shift in policy came about after the state industries minister emphasised the need for inclusion. The women workers are being trained in various roles in the coffee shops and would be drawn into the permanent staff at the end of their probation. The officials claim that this opens the possibility of hiring more female staff and to even open all-women coffee houses in the future.

Precarious Labour

Yet another year of contract for Jammu an Kashmir teachers

The governor-led state administration of Jammu and Kashmir has approved the extension of over 550 teachers to high schools on a contractual basis for four months. These teachers have already tendered their services on a contractual basis and their term came to an end on February 25. The extension, the officials maintained, was to ensure continuity for the students.

However, the government hires teaching staff regularly every year and it can better maintain continuity and also improve the productivity of the teachers if they are made permanent and their tenure is secured.

Bonded labourers rescued in Chennai

Thirty one migrant workers were rescued from a timber mill in Kovalam, close to Chennai. The rescued included 11 children between the age of one and 11.

The workers, who hail from Arni, a neighbouring district, have been employed for the past three years to pay back dues of Rs 3,000-5,000 which they had taken as an advance. The workers, including the children, were being paid between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,400 a week.

The workers have alleged that the owner of the mill had sexually assaulted a girl of 14, after which a family escaped the mill and sought help from an NGO, that helped lodge a police complaint. The owner has been arrested and the police state that he is a habitual offender with an early case from 2013 still pending.

Minimum wages for informal workers 

The committee appointed to discover the adequate minimum wage for the informal sector has arrived at a minimum monthly wage of Rs 9,772, which will be the bare minimum required to run a family of four. This works to Rs 376 per day which is double the existing minimum wage at Rs 175. However, this remains half of what the workers have been demanding as the floor minimum wage.

A scrap dealer searches for useful material at a weaving factory, that was shut a year ago, in Panipat, India, August 29, 2018. Credit: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

The new norms have substantially increased the floor minimum wage even while reducing the per person calorie count from 2,700 to 2,400 calories. This was because it decided to account for the needed protein and fat intake, which are expensive. It has also increased marginally the consumption basket for non-food items.

This exercise was carried out as part of the process to codify all wage laws into a single code as part of the labour reforms package. The government has not yet committed to implementing the minimum wage calculation on this new formula.

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

Other News

Workers at the Statue of Unity go on strike for non-payment of wages

Sardar Patel was a one of the tallest leaders of the freedom struggle leading peasants to fight for fair remuneration and taxation by the British governments. It is ironic that the workers guarding his statue, the world’s tallest, have to resort to strike in order to get their wage dues from the Indian government.

News reports suggest that over 100 workers of one of the contractors, entrusted with maintaining and operating the services at the Statue of Unity complex, have gone on strike demanding wage dues for the past three months. This has prompted the worker to go on strike and protest by forming a human chain.

CII surveys MSME job creation, media reports very different outcomes

According to a CII survey, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) section of the economy is creating more than 14 millions jobs per year. The survey spoke to 1 lakh enterprises and found that they had created around 3.3 lakh jobs over 4 years. Extrapolating this 3.3% per annum increase to all MSME enterprises, they arrived at a figure of 14 millions job per annum over the last four years.

Obviously, this methodology isn’t very sophisticated and it’s interesting to see how media outlets reported the news. The Times of India and the Economic Times as well as right-wing sites like OpIndia trumpeted the 14 million number – glorifying the MSME sector as the saviour of the Indian economy, more or less.

The Hindu and the Business Standard seem to have been much more circumspect. Business Standard even references the contradictory reports that came out after demonetisation that claimed that 13 million jobs were actually destroyed. They still went with an overall “positive” headline while The Hindu retracted their old headline and changed it to “only” three lakh jobs created.

Given the crisis of job creation in the Indian economy and the naked attempt by the CII at getting more benefits for the corporate sector based on non-existent job creation, the Hindu headline seems to be the closest to the truth.

Also read: Life of Labour: Faulty Budget for Farmers; India’s Very Real Unemployment Crisis

It’s important to note that no job creation figure can ever make us “feel better” about the Indian economy. Such a number would not help us understand the quality of jobs – whether they are permanent or contract, whether they come with benefits, whether the work is cyclical or not.  

Madras HC comes to rescue of 294 Pricol workers

With “no hesitation”, the court has stayed the dismissal of 294 workers till the labour department has made its decision. The Pricol management had first transferred more than 300 people in a vindictive move, then when workers protests, they fired 294 of them.

Journalists protest Centre’s threat to The Hindu

A meeting organised by the Alliance for Media Freedom, Centre of Media Persons and Chennai Press Club brought journalists together to stand in solidarity with N.Ram and the Hindu after the central government’s threats against the publication and its chairperson for releasing the Rafale documents. Multiple people spoke out against the Official Secrets Act and how it has been used to silence whistleblowers and journalists.

International News

From $22 an hour to $11: GM job cuts in Ohio

In the USA, much noise has been made of the decline of manufacturing jobs. Last year was the best in terms of manufacturing jobs created for the country in the last two decades but in many parts of the country, factories are still shutting down.

The workers hurt by these shutdowns have had to lose half their income as they take more informal jobs like delivery pizza. Washington Post reports, “GM is cutting its plant here because it no longer wants to make small cars such as the Cruze in the United States. As of this week, the company has laid off 4,500 workers since cuts began in early 2017, and another roughly 900 have lost jobs at nearby suppliers.”

Bangladesh: Investigate dismissals of protesting workers

Human Rights Watch have released an article on the vicious backlash for the workers of Bangladesh who have tried to assert their rights. “After strikes in mid-January 2019, union leaders have reported at least 7,500 garment workers were dismissed from their jobs.

Some of those dismissed were accused of vandalism and looting, but the allegations appeared broad and vague. At least 29 criminal cases have been filed naming 551 individuals, as well as over 3,000 unidentified people.”

Myanmar hotel workers imprisoned for defending their union and their rights

After the police destroyed a union’s solidarity camp, hotels workers took out a peaceful protest march. They were summarily arrested. The IUF reports, “The six trade unionists were each sentenced to one month’s imprisonment and arrested immediately after the verdict was pronounced, an unmistakable announcement by the authorities that trade union activity in Myanmar is now criminalised.”

Weekend Reading

Four-day work weeks in India?

Despite evidence that a four-day workweek would be beneficial to employees as well as companies, 69% of India’s workers said they would opt to work five days a week even if given the option to work for fewer hours with the same pay.

While the rest of the world is experimenting with reducing either workweeks or work hours during the day, it seems that for now India will continue to operate within traditional working hours.

Songs of the sea

When K.R. Sunil first heard the songs about the lives of Malayali sailors, it was from an 80-year-old man named Ibrahim. He was then introduced to this “world of manchukkar (seafarers), a dying community of shranks, deckhands and assorted helpers, who were once a common sight on the Malabar coast”.

These stories, songs, and the portraits of this community of seamen is now being exhibited at Uru Art Harbour, Kochi.