A month of unrest in Kerala’s fishing sector
Kerala’s fishing sector is in deep turmoil following the attempts to curb ‘juvenile fishing’. In November 2017, the Kerala fisheries department had expanded the ban on fishing juvenile fish. The threat to coastal ecosystems and sustainable fishing because of juvenile fishing had been raised multiple times over the years. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) had recommended similar actions in order to protect the depleting stock of fish in India’s coastal waters. The issue had been deeply divisive within the fishing community on class lines with the traditional fishers demanding a strict enforcement of the ban on juvenile fishing and the mechanised fishers claiming undue harassment by the government in the name of regulation. The simmering tension blew up early last month when the Kerala fisheries department began confiscating trawlers that had violated the ban on fishing ‘juvenile fish’. On February 3, when the fisheries department officials confiscated two trawlers in the Munnambam harbour at Vypin, Kerala, a mob of 200 men led by boat owners attacked the officials, released the boats, dumped the fish in the sea and left. The two sea guards suffered minor injuries while the property on the fishing station, including an information board, was damaged.
Following this altercation and police action, the Kerala fishing boat owners association announced protest actions if the government did not stop confiscating boats and levying fines. But traditional fishers, who use non-mechanised modes of fishing, led by the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikiya Vedi and National Fishworkers Forum, demanded the implementation of the ban to protect sustainable fishing.
With no resolution to the issue, the mechanised boat owners began an indefinite strike on February 16. While the issue of juvenile fishing and confiscation of boats was the trigger, the demands also included concessions on fuel, compensation for damage from cyclone Ockhi and other issues. With the concerned minister being indisposed, the boat owners suspended their strike after a week.
Though the strike has been lifted, the protests and counter-protests have continued in Kerala, keeping the fishing community on the edge. The traditional fishers went on a three-day protest last week, demanding among other issues, a strict enforcement of the ban on juvenile fishing. The issue also was the central theme in a more recent protest march by traditional fishers. On the other hand, the mechanised boat operators have warned of further protests and strikes if the issue is not resolved amicably. Some have suggested a joint meeting between the three interested parties to bring forth a consensus as was done in 2015. It is important that such a consensus is reached to end the present conflict within the sector, but it is also essential that coastal ecosystems and the sustainability of the fishing in Indian waters are not compromised at the table.
Fixed Term Contracts: Central Government promises to protect existing workers
Business Standard reports that “The Union government is planning to take measures to ensure companies do not convert their full-time workers into contract employees by misusing the proposed fixed-term contract framework.” These protective provisions will apparently be included in the executive order on the fixed-term contract framework that is due in March. In a framework that appears to be intent on eliminating job security for the sake of aligning with the ‘realities of the market’, this looks like a half-hearted gesture.
Workers’ rights in India: Actions fail words
The latest edition of the India Responsible Business Index (IRBI) 2017 has been released. The report assessed the performance of the biggest companies in India on the following criteria—inclusive supply chain, community as stakeholders, community development, employee dignity and human rights and non-discrimination at the workplace. LiveMint reports that the results are poor: “Only 14 companies have explicitly committed to respecting and paying minimum wages with just five gone a step further to recognise “fair living wages”. Likewise, only six companies have recognised providing benefits such as PF and medical insurance to its contractual employees. Just eight companies disclosed on assessing the situation of worker rights and labour issues in core businesses.”
PUDR statement on the illegal cancellation of the LG Workers Union
In January 2016, the workers of an LG factory in Noida decided to form a union. As has been well documented in numerous instances across the country, this is no easy task. The management and the state bureaucracy do their best to put as many obstacles as possible before the workers. Their first application for union formation as rejected in July 2016. The workers earned formal registration only in December 2017. As per the statement by the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, “Immediately, the management wrote an application to the Registrar, replete with misrepresentations to cancel the registration of the Union. Without following due process, or issuing a show cause notice to the workers, the Registrar went ahead and cancelled the registration certificate on 23.01.2018!” This was done without even giving the union an opportunity to be heard. The cancellation was done on a technicality - the union was registered as an all-India organisation while the management argued that they were limited only to the Greater Noida area. PUDR correctly points out that the union needs the right to organise in every location that LG has a factory in - including UP and Maharashtra. Especially since the management has resorted to tactics of transferring union leaders to other factories as punishment for organising.
Government nod for UGC formula to hit SC/ST, OBC faculty numbers
In October 2017, The Indian Express reported that the UGC was looking to switch reservations for SC/ST lecturers from a quota calculated on the entire university to quota calculated department-by-department. This week, the MHRD has signed off on the proposal. The move is based on an Allahabad High Court judgement but some experts are claiming that it will actually reduce the number of positions open to SC/ST lecturers. According to The Indian Express, “a department with only one professor cannot have reserved posts as reservation cannot be applied in case of a single teaching position. But if all posts of professors across different departments are clubbed together, then there is a better chance of positions being set aside for SC, ST and OBC.”
Thousands of UK lecturers go on strike
On February 22, members of the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike against a proposed overhaul of the pension system for university lecturers. UCU, the largest higher education union in the world, consists of lecturers from 65 universities across the UK. The strike had a participation of tens of thousands of students and even some administrators turning out to support the action. In Jacobin, Steven Parfitt writes, “The underlying reason for this anger is a vicious circle that has closed at UK universities over the past 20 years: students pay much more for their education, teachers get paid less to give it to them.” Parfitt’s analysis goes into the historical transformation of the higher education industry in the UK and the roots of this massive strike. Read it here.
School teachers on strike in West Virginia
Despite a deal between the union and the government, school teachers from West Virginia continued to strike, unhappy with the deal negotiated by their representatives. Jacobin speaks to one organiser about their system of understanding their members’ views.
After 136 years, L.A. Times journalists win their union
While many of the biggest newsrooms in the US are already unionised, the LA Times has managed to survive for 136 years without allowing their employees to unionise. With the newspaper going through tough times, a new effort was launched and 85% of the staffers voted in a landslide victory to unionise. “Instead of being afraid for our futures, we’re optimistic about helping steer the Times in a better direction,” Sue Worrell, a news copy editor, told LaborNotes. “We trust and genuinely care about colleagues we didn’t even know a few months ago.”