The Life of Labour: 6 Killed in Pune Wall Collapse, Rehabilitation for Manual Scavengers

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

Starved of moisture, Rayalaseema’s farmland fast becoming a desert

Forests precede civilisation, deserts succeed them, goes a French saying. The prophecy rings true in the region of Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, which is fast turning into a desert. P. Sainath writes in PARI about the visible shift in the landscape of villages in the state’s Anantapur district, where sand is taking over moisture-deprived agricultural lands. In this well researched article, he exposes the intersection between neo-liberal agricultural economic priorities and the shifting climate, both of which have contributed in creating a desert at the heart of the Deccan Plateau.

Yet, communities and the state government has hardly learnt their lessons. They now gear up to exploit the last remaining sources of fresh water from deep underground to sustain market driven agricultural production. This manmade desert might well be the legacy we leave for the future.

Death at work

Six labourers killed in second wall collapse in Pune since Saturday

The onslaught of monsoon has brought a wall of a building owned by the Sinhgad Institutes in Pune’s Ambegaon crashing down. The wall fell on the houses of labourers below, killing six of them and injuring four more. The labourers were all from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, according to The Hindu.

Municipal officials have been trying to shake off blame, ever so casually suggesting that it was the location of the labourers’ residences that was dangerous, instead of coming down hard on developers who recruit them and force them to set up temporary homes in such dangerous areas. 

Just last week, a similar collapse at Kondhwa had killed 15 people.

Union minister Prakash Javadekar visits patients injured in Kondhwa wall collapse accident. Photo: Twitter/@PIBMumbai

Cancer Institute reaches out to beedi rollers

The Cancer Institute at Adyar in Chennai has been conducting a survey among beedi workers in the districts of Vellore and Tirunelveli. Most of these workers are women and spend their days rolling thousands of beedis for wages of around Rs 150 per day. According to The Hindu, “About 78% beedi rollers who were surveyed by the Cancer Institute in Adyar were found to suffer from one ailment or the other — cancer, tuberculosis, respiratory disorders, chronic cold and cough, gynaecological problems or skin diseases.”

It is not clear if these diseases are directly caused by their occupation but the effect their work may have had on their health is a question of degree. Exposure to tobacco every day for many hours could lead to such diseases but awareness around occupational safety and health is still far too limited. The workers themselves do not enjoy their profession and the vast majority of them would move to an alternative if they had it, according to the survey. The fact remains that until they are given such a choice, they are trapped in an exploitative and fatal profession. 

Precarious work

Economic Survey cites Rajasthan’s labour reforms as ‘ideal’ 

The latest Economic Survey has described the labour reforms undertaken by Rajasthan as an example for the rest of the country. In 2014-15, Rajasthan had as many firms with 100 employees or more as the rest of India. Following a change in laws, the number of firms with 100 employees or more has increased at a significantly higher rate in Rajasthan than in the rest of India, the Economic Survey has observed.

The reforms that the state brought were numerous, including making it possible to shut down factories with up to 300 workers without government permission. Workers’ unions have criticised these reforms for being very stringently anti-labourer. The minimum number of workers required to form a union has been raised to 30% of the workforce. Rajasthan has also seen a lot of violence towards workers with the aid of the police as has been documented in this newsletter numerous times over the years.

Delhi government announces rehab package for manual scavengers

Given the high incidence of fatalities among manual scavengers inspite of the occupation having been made illegal, the Delhi government has proposed a multi-pronged rehabilitation package that it hopes will effectively help manual scavengers forced to engage in this task due to unemployment and poverty. The package includes a one-time cash payment of Rs 40,000, a soft subsidised loan of Rs 15 lakhs to set up a trade and access to a skill development programme with a stipend of Rs 3,000 a month.

The Delhi government had recently commissioned a survey in which East Delhi was recorded as the only area with (50) manual scavengers. Yet fatalities are reported frequently from across Delhi, which question the veracity of the survey. People pushed into manual scavenging are cautiously optimistic about the new package. Experts feel that such measures, along with a stricter enforcement of minimum wages in the state, will dissuade workers from engaging in the dehumanising and hazardous occupation. 

The men and women who are pushed into a life of manual scavenging are cautiously optimistic about the Delhi government’s new package. Photo: Dalberg Advisors

Other News

Fishing boat operators to launch stir seeking action against foreign trawlers

Foreign vessels entering Indian waters has long since been a source of unease for fishing boat operators, who will now launch a protest demanding action against these transgressions. National Fishworkers Forum general secretary T. Peter told the New Indian Express, “So far the authorities have refused to accept our complaints in this regard and have called them ‘baseless’. Now we have solid proof that the intrusion of foreign vessels has adversely affected both traditional fishermen and mechanised boats.”

The All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association is also trying to meet with government leaders to get them to pay attention to these problems.

Child exploitation rampant in potato chips industry

Farmers in north Gujarat have started to employ Adivasi children as labourers in their potato fields. The young workers put in about eight to 10 hours of work in the blazing hot fields and are often required to dig soil with bare hands while pulling out potatoes from the earth. The farmers who employ them have no misgivings about using children, a The Wire report noted. They collect and sort around 8,000 kg of potatoes a day for a promised daily salary of Rs 200 a day. However, after contractors’ fees are deducted, they earn around Rs 130, which comes as a huge relief to their poor families. While it is easy to blame the farmers or the contractors, or the families that send their kids to work, the article rightly points out that we have to look at the system that necessitates such exploitation of children.

Freshers’ salaries in IT sector stagnant for 7 years

An interesting article by Moneycontrol cites statistics from research about the tech sector. According to BetterPlace, ‘a digital platform for management of blue-collar workforce’, 10-15% of the workers entering the gig economy are graduates, many from the field of engineering. This includes delivery executives for apps like Zomato, Amazon or Swiggy. The article also compares salaries of two graduates, one from 2019 and one from 2010, and finds that they virtually have the exact same starting income. The numbers offer insight into the kind of jobs that are being offered by the sector and what actually lies behind the many jobs that this industry is supposed to create every year.

Construction workers oppose govt move to subsume labour laws into 4 codes

The coordinator of the National Campaign Committee for Construction Workers has written to the prime minister about the effect of repealing the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act of 1996 and subsuming it under the four proposed labour codes. “The closure of BOCW boards will lead to cancellation of lakhs of pensions which are being paid to older workers and disabled workers in different states and the cancellation of millions of freeships being paid as education assistance to the children of construction workers, besides the cancellation of several other benefits including maternity benefits,” he said.

Currently, a cess is collected from developers of around 1% of their project cost by state-level boards which then distribute these funds through various social security schemes to construction workers. These boards have been criticised for not distributing these funds and there are allegations that thousands of crores are locked up with them. 

Under the existing political constraints, achieving a universal basic income at a reasonable minimum level will be a big step forward. Credit: Reuters

The coordinator of the National Campaign Committee for Construction Workers has written to the prime minister. Photo: Reuters

Govt revives ‘compulsory retirement’ plan for central employees, unions protest

Outlook has reported that the government recently revived a premature retirement plan for Central government employees who have completed 30 years in service or have reached 50 years of age. The government will recommend them for ‘compulsory retirement’ after reviewing their performance on a regular basis, it has been reported. This has understandably received a lot of pushback from unions who see it as a part of a plan to transfer work from the Central government to the private sector. 

Chhattisgarh government to raise retirement age of industrial labourers to 60

Based on requests from trade unions, the Chhattisgarh government has decided to raise the retirement age for industrial labourers from 58 to 60. The employer will now also have the option of raising the age further to 62 if they want. The law has not been passed yet and the government is currently seeking comments from stakeholders.  

International news

Unions present road map for ‘just transition’ to low carbon economy 

Trades Union Congress (TUC) has published A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy, a road map for a low carbon economy that does not penalise working class communities. This effort reveals the commitment of the unions affiliated with TUC to the need to address the climate emergency, while acknowledging the need to do so without harming the working communities. It calls for a worker centric, participatory process that does not leave workers without jobs, or necessary skills for new jobs or lower employment standards. While this road map has come from the unions with the active support of the Labour Party in the UK, a similar effort called the ‘Green New Deal’ is gaining popularity in the US.  

EVA Air cabin crew end 17 day strike after securing stipend hike

The cabin crew of Taiwan’s largest private airlines, EVA Air, ended their 17-day strike after the company agreed to their demands for a hike in flight stipends. The strike had caused severe disruption in air services and more than $97 million in lost revenues. The management has not only agreed to increase stipends but will also not take any punitive action against employees for the strike. This marks a major success for workers of a company that has a history of strict labour control.