The Life of Labour: Zohra Bibi Rescued, TCS Commits Not to Fire 2000 Employees

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Domestic worker held captive by employer is rescued by fellow workers in Noida

Zohra Bibi, a domestic worker, was held captive overnight by her employers in their gated community in Noida for demanding two months’ pending salary. When her husband, a construction worker, went to the apartment complex to find out if Zohra Bibi was still being held there, the security officers at the gate prevented his entry. When he returned with his neighbours, matters quickly descended into a riot-like situation. The issue also took a xenophobic and communal turn when residents of the complex accused the workers of being ‘Bangladeshis’. The police had to be called to de-escalate the situation. But the police have filed two different FIRs, one against the employer and another against the domestic worker (on the complaint of the employer). It is also being reported that the police have resorted to further detentions and arrests within the bastis (low income neighbourhoods) where Zohra Bibi resides and from where her neighbours had come to rescue her.

The incident is one of numerous other reported cases where domestic workers have been subjected to harassment, abysmal wages and humiliation. An article in The Ladies Finger, while chronicling many such incidents, argues that the exploitation and de-humanising actions are a symptom of a deep seated class and caste discrimination that lies at the heart of Indian society.

GST Impact: Job losses feared in powerloom, fireworks industries

Protests were held in Surat and Sivakasi against the deleterious effects of GST. “For the power loom sector, the GST is levied at multiple stages. The new taxation policy is likely to affect the employment of over one crore people, directly and indirectly involved in cottage and small-scale industries,” said Rajya Sabha MP T.K. Rengarajan, a member of the CPI(M), at a rally in Sivakasi. Workers from match and fireworks factories were also protesting. In Surat, around 1,200 powerloom units located in Anjani industrial estate downed their shutters.

Fish workers take coastal yatra demanding conservation of fisheries, coast and their livelihood

Several groups including People’s Movement against ICTT, National Fishworkers Forum, Coastal Action Network, Aazhkadal Meenpidi Thozhilaalar Sangham, Vangakadal Meenpidi Thozhilaalar Sangham, Ramanathapuram Fishworkers Trade Union (RFTU), National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) and People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) have launched a yatra that has already visited more than 60 villages across the coast of Tamil Nadu. At the yatra, fisherfolk are calling for the repeal of additional GST on fishing equipment, the new port in Enayam in Kanyakumari and the return to a strong CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zones) norms.

Deep sea fishing seems to have received support from the current BJP government but a number of fishing communities oppose the move as they feel it would lead to a faster depletion of fish. At the same time, multiple ports are being developed across the country as a part of the Sagarmala project with many of them, including the port coming up at Enayam, involving eviction of local communities or environmental damage.

TCS commits not to fire 2000 employees in Lucknow branch

With TCS planning to close their Lucknow operations, there was fear that over 2000 software engineers might lose their jobs. The fear gained credence with the company posting lower than previous year’s profit growth. TCS has assured that it was not planning any such terminations. It has also stated that it would be accommodating the software engineers in other locations across India.

Tech Mahindra forced to apologise after exit interview goes viral on social media

Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra group, added his personal apology to Tech Mahindra’s apology to one of their employees for the manner in which the company terminated his service. The audio of the exit interview in which he was given just one day to quit his job went viral on social media and came under severe criticism from all sides including from other IT workers.

Even though the company said that layoffs will continue in accordance with their strategic requirements, the management offered their apologies for the manner in which the termination was dealt and also assured to take action so that such incidents don’t happen in the futureThe layoffs are being challenged in various labour departments and courts in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Telengana.

Partial prohibition and highway liquor ban renders thousands jobless in Tamil Nadu

According to district president of the Tamil Nadu TASMAC Employees Association, K. Muruganandam, about 20,000 salesmen and assistants have lost their jobs after the government closed 4,321 shops. He goes on to say that many of the workers had served 14 years. Due to their contractual employment status, these workers seem to have received no compensation or any other alternative employment from the state.

A comparison between two government pension schemes for unorganised workers

A paper in the Economic and Political Weekly describes the successes and failures of the ‘National Pension System-Lite’ and ‘Atal Pension Yojana’ in their attempt to provide a working pension scheme for the poor and the elderly. In their extensive literature review, they cite a study that estimates about 18 million elderly people are living below the poverty line in India. Other studies showed that in Rajasthan, pension was the primary source of income for the majority of elderly people and that they mainly spent it on food and medical care. NPS-Lite was one of the first pension schemes and after very limited success was replaced by the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) by the current government. The APY was specifically targeted at unorganised workers and promised them a fixed monthly remuneration after retirement if they made the necessary contribution for at least 20 years. While it has been registering high growth in subscribers and contributions, the authors point out a number of flaws with the scheme including stringent default penalties, limited government co-contribution, poor agent incentivisation, lower flexibility in exit and withdrawal and the fact that benefits are not indexed to inflation.

International News

Norway’s largest trade union federation endorses full boycott of Israel to advance Palestinian human rights

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which made Palestine’s fight against the Israeli occupation an international non-violent movement, turned 12 this week! They celebrated by announcing that the largest union in Norway, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), “had endorsed a full ‘international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel’ as a necessary means to achieve Palestinian fundamental rights, including the right of return for the refugees and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel… LO joins some of the world’s most important trade union federations, including South Africa’s COSATU, Brazil’s CUT, Quebec’s CSN and the Irish ICTU, in calling for meaningful BDS pressure on the corporations and institutions that have enabled decades of Israeli occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

In the USA, student labour movements grow and scientists turn activists

After a 2016 federal ruling that overturned 13 years of precedent to give graduate teaching and research assistants in private universities the right to collectively bargain, students on both sides of the issue are mobilising. In Columbia and Yale, the students voted to unionise while at Duke University, they voted against the idea. Students at Yale undertook a hunger strike after their union wasn’t recognized by the university management. But the management held out and after one of the students was hospitalized for dehydration, the strike was called off. The students primarily want to improve medical coverage, grievance redressal and increased pay.

Weekend Reading:

  • What happened when Walmart left: “In West Virginia, the people of McDowell County can’t get jobs, and recently lost their biggest employer – the local Walmart store. They describe the devastating loss of jobs, community and access to fresh food”. Read more.
  • Special Economic Zones and a history of capitalist exceptionalism to labour legislation: In These Times enquires into the condition of workers and their constitutionally guaranteed rights within Special Economic Zones in the countries of the global south. Since the 1960s, the World Bank has been coaxing countries of the third world to create zones of exception for western capital to invest without suffering the cost of taxation, regulation and labour organising. In the past two decades, SEZs have spread throughout the global south as these economies race to secure investment. Using Cambodia as a case study, the article documents the extreme exploitation of workers by the corporations within these special enclaves. It also exposes the nexus between the political elite and corporate capitalists that incentivise the spread of such zones in the garb of economic development.