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Your weekly labour roundup
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Welcome to this week's The Life of Labour!

This newsletter was compiled by Venkat T., Srividya Tadepalli and Thomas Manuel on behalf of The Wire. For more such news, visit our labour section.

Strikes across Tamil Nadu over Cauvery Management Board

Workers across sectors in Tamil Nadu went on a day-long strike on April 5 demanding that the central government constitute the Cauvery Water Management Board as mandated by the Supreme Court in its February 16 order. Commuter travel was hit hard with most state and private buses, autos and taxis staying off the roads in support of the strike. Most shops also downed shutters with the traders’ organisations joining the strike. Factory workers and IT employees also joined the protests without going on strike. While the protests affected normal life across Tamil Nadu, the strike was near total in the delta regions.

On February 16, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered that the central government constitute a Cauvery Water Management Board to implement the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal award. It had also slightly modified the tribunal award by increasing the share of water for Karnataka by 14.5 TMCft at the cost of Tamil Nadu. While the reduction of Tamil Nadu’s share caused resentment, it was hoped that the CMB would at least make the rest of the water available on time as against the will of Karnataka. But even after the stipulated 6 weeks’ time, the central government failed to constitute the CMB, instead preferring a ‘clarification’. This led to a massive upheaval in Tamil Nadu leading to the strikes on April 5. More protests are planned for the coming weeks if the central government continues to delay the process.

Sexism in Indian job recruitment: World Bank study

The Ladies Finger reports on a new research by the World Bank that analysed 800,000 online job recruitment ads. They write, “Researchers found that in Indian online job portals, companies mentioned an explicit preference for a gender, either male or female, in one-third of all the job ads. Of these, 60 percent were targeted at men, and 40 percent were targeted at women. Naturally, they also found that if the ad targets women, they necessarily offer lower salaries to them in all professions but clerical positions.” This is the kind of entrenched sexism that most people who have browsed the classified section might have just glanced over without even noticing.

PSBs taking the brunt of Jan Dhan accounts: Bank unions

Bank unions are trying to draw attention to the fact that as public sector banks are responsible for about 80% of all accounts opened Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) scheme, they are the ones bearing the cost of the government scheme. These costs include account opening charges, insurance cover and Rupay cards. They’ve asked the government to reimburse them but the centre has not been very accommodating. These are the sort of facts that seem to get overlooked when the financial performance of the PSBs versus private banks are being discussed.

Garment factory workers trashed for joining trade union

12 workers of a garment factory in Bangalore were allegedly beaten up for unionising. Deccan Herald quotes police reports saying “the HR staff of Shahi Exports Pvt Limited Unit-8 took away the 12 factory workers…a warehouse area, where they were callously thrashed. Two of them - Thayamma, a woman in her 40s, and Ameen, a production writer - were severely injured in the attack. A worker said Thayamma's spine was damaged and she was taken to the hospital.” A complaint has been registered against the company.

Jobs and Indian economy

One of the major issues in the last election was of creating jobs for an expanding young workforce. However, the lack of growth in quality jobs has led to severe distress among the working population, at times boiling over in protests. Last week, Mumbai witnessed a massive rail rokko by young apprentices who demanded jobs in the railways which had provided them training. Scroll.in spoke to some of the protestors about their protests where the young apprentices explained the underlying issues. The lack of quality jobs with assured tenure and benefits have forced workers to seek employment in sectors that could provide such jobs. The training that workers receive in one industry is often not considered critical by employers in other industries. Thus, a certificate of training in railways is not very helpful outside the sector. This leads to a situation in which young workers with years of training find it hard to gain remunerative employment even as their working age is flying by.

The unpredictable oscillations in industrial growth due to international economic stagnation as well as radical policy shifts in India has only complicated this problem. Thus, quick estimates by private entities suggest that job growth was minimal or negative in March of this year in spite of claims of recovery and 7% growth. But there are grave structural reasons beyond short-term business cycles that have kept employment and remunerative jobs out of the hands of the growing population of young workers. An article in Outlook examines the correlation between neoliberal reforms and widening inequality and suggests that the deepening crisis of employment should be understood in this context.

The attempts to ‘ease businesses’ by diluting labour regulations and implementing contractual work through terms such as ‘Fixed Term Employment’ and Skill India does not help improve the conditions of work or the security of jobs that the working class demands.

Prisoners in Bangalore’s Parapana Agrahara to get paid after a year and half

These prisoners work for daily wages of about Rs. 30-50 but haven’t been paid since September 2016. The final outstanding amount was more than Rs. 80 lakhs. The only explanation offered for the delay is “some technical issue”. There seems to be no system in place for the timely transfer of wages. An unnamed source told the The New Indian Express that there is no “separate head of accounts” or fund for the payment of wages. The article makes no mention of any effort being taken to rectify the same.

Other news

Kerala shuts down over Fixed Term Employment

The central order instituting fixed-term employment has sparked protests from trade unions across the country. In Kerala, the central trade unions called for a state-wide shutdown to protest against the order. Deccan Herald reports that the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh did not participate.

Kerala Nurses to get a hike in minimum wage

Private clinics in Kerala have been arguing that increasing the minimum wages of nurses would put them out of business. It's an old argument that almost every industry has made prior to agreeing to a wage hike. But as a Supreme Court judge once said, “No industry has a right to exist unless it is able to pay its workmen at least a bare minimum wage.” Ref: Messrs. Crown Aluminium Works vs Their Workmen. In a completely unsurprising twist, most industries manage to survive minimum wage hikes. Thankfully the Kerala High Court has acknowledged this and supported the demand that nurses have put forth.

Tea garden workers in four states will get interim relief of unpaid wages

The Supreme Court has granted some temporary relief to the tea garden workers in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. They directed the governments of these states to pay half the dues owed to the tea garden workers. This order was passed in relation to a contempt petition filed by the International Union of Food Agriculture along with 3 other unions. The contempt petition itself was filed regarding a 2010 order of the Supreme Court which had directed the union government to carry out its obligations under the Tea Act, 1953.

The non-payment of wages, though serious, is only one of the travails faced by these workers who suffer poor conditions of work. An article in The New Indian Express discusses the lack of toilets for plantation workers in Idukki, famous for its tea. This has forced them to defecate in unsanitary and dangerous conditions.

International news

Google workers against drone strikes

Gizmodo reported last month that Google has been working with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence technologies to enable drone warfare. This might be for the analysis of imagery, the identification of targets, etc. In response to this, more than 3000 employees of the tech giant have signed a petition to the company to not engage in the technology of war and death.

Women workers push for rights in Bangladesh’s garment industry

The working conditions in the garment sector in Bangladesh have been deplorable. After the Rana Plaza fire incident that caused major loss of lives, these labour practices have come under greater scrutiny and criticism. This transformative role is being played by organised women workers who are in the lead to push for reforms within the sector to improve the working conditions. An article by Anuradha Nagaraj in Reuters captures these incremental shifts in the power equations inside the shop floors that is beginning to provide concrete relief to the workers.

Weekend reading

Understanding India’s agrarian crisis: an EPW reading list

With agrarian distress becoming acute, leading to rural unrest spilling to the political and financial capitals of India, there seems to a range of policy prescriptions that address the issue in superficial levels. There is a need for a deeper and more critical understanding of the roots of the crisis rather than addressing the symptoms. The Economic and Political Weekly has put out a list of articles published in its pages that allows a critical assessment of the crisis and evaluate policies from this vantage point.

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr, 50 years since his assassination

This week marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, arguably America’s greatest civil rights activists. His leadership of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, while costing him his life, led to great changes in the socio-political fabric of USA, throwing a challenge to the era of discrimination and segregation. Jacobin published an interview with Brandon Terry and Tommie Shelby, who recently published an edited volume on MLK’s political philosophy. The article goes into a range of subjects including the ideas that MLK championed regarding economic justice and class equality. An article in HuffPost looks more thoroughly into this aspect of MLK’s politics. MLK had begun to spearhead a movement of ‘poor people’ and was in Memphis to lead a march of sanitation workers for the dignity of labour and rights. He was assassinated before the march.

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