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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.

We apologise for this week's edition having been delayed by an hour.

Women in work

1. “Why are no women workers working on the Metrorail Construction sites?”

A delegation of American tradeswomen, including “electricians, carpenters, operating engineers, a sheetmetal worker, a painter, a regional labor leader, a contractor, a health and safety educator and a young logistics assistant” visited India to understand the working conditions of women construction workers here; the visit was coordinated by Fulbright Scholar Susan Moir’s project “Building bridges: A comparative study of women working in the construction industry in India and the US”. Her research proposal points out that “India has the largest concentration of women working in the construction industry in the world...but they are often subject to dangerous and desperate working conditions. This is in sharp contrast to the systematic exclusion of women from good-paying jobs in the construction trades in Western economies.”

Thozhilalar Koodam reports, “… the delegates asked if there were any skilled women workers in the construction sector. To this, one of the Tamil workers who had been trained in masonry discussed her learning trajectory. She is a wife of a mason, and she had accompanied him to work as a construction labourer. When Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh (NMPS) had organised a training session for women, she had participated and gained skills in masonry. She was then employed by her husband as a mason, but only paid the wage of an unskilled labourer. After the Tsunami, when NMPS along with another NGO decided to construct temporary houses for the fisher families who had lost their homes, she was at the forefront of the project, completing the construction of 62 houses. This experience established her as a mason. She continues to take up work, even after her husband passed away a few years ago, but she can’t find many jobs because no one is willing to pay a mason’s wage to a woman.” Explaining that the situation was not too different in the US, one of the delegates says, “We picket the biggest employer in a city, and once we get them then things change to a new normal, and other employers also begin to hire more women workers.”

2. Contract nurses on strike at Hyderabad

Fighting for regularisation and ‘equal work for equal pay’, contract nurses at Hyderabad’s Gandhi Nagar hospital have been on strike since 28th Jan. Some of these nurses have been working at the hospital for over a decade but because of their contract worker status receive Rs 17,500 as against Rs 28,000. The police ‘swooped in’  and arrested 90 of them during the early hours of January 30th but more than 120 nurses are still agitating.

3. Women in IT forced to work late night shifts

Days after the murder of Rasila Raju at the Pune office of Infosys, complaints are emerging from women employees about forced night and weekend shifts, according to Indiatimes: “Most of our projects involve working with teammates in different parts of the country or the world. It isn’t as if one can shirk work sitting at home. We have to be online and the progress of work is constantly monitored. Moreover, before calling it a day, we have to submit a report of tasks accomplished to our managers. It is really weird that an IT giant is allergic to letting their employees work remotely,” said another female worker from Infosys.

4. Why women quit working

CNBC reports that women in the US, unlike those in other industrialised countries, are dropping out of the workforce because they continue to be primary caregivers in a country with little family support policy to fall back on:

"I think the only reason anyone is talking about missing male workers is because there's so many missing female workers," said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan (and no relation to Krystin). "Male participation was declining for a very long time, and no one seemed to care about it because household incomes were rising because women's participation and hourly earnings were increasing."

What Eberstadt calls the "care chasm" would seem to explain the stark contrast between working women in the United States and in other advanced industrialised countries with comprehensive family support policies. In most European nations, for example, women's labor force participation has increased significantly since 2000 instead of faltering.

Occupational Health and Safety

1. 7 killed, over 30 injured as under-construction building collapses in Kanpur

Hindustan Times reports that, “The building, adjacent to the famous Allah-o-Akbar Masjid, was being constructed for the last one year. It is part of a housing project of former district Samajwadi Party president Mehtab Alam.” Army and National Disaster Response Force have been called in and the numbers of dead and injured are expected to rise.

2. 9 workers found dead in a tank in Latur, Maharashtra

Nine workers have died in Latur, Maharashtra, while cleaning a chemical tank in an oil mill. They were found dead by the police who had arrived following an alarm raised by mill authorities. The cause of the death has not been ascertained but is widely suspected to be a case of asphyxiation or electrocution. The mill authorities have been booked under culpable homicide charges.

3. 4 die as crane collapses in Hindustan Zinc’s mine in Rajasthan

The Times of India reported, “The incident had taken place at an ongoing construction site of a plant at the Sindusar Khurd mine which belongs to Hindustan Zinc. However, the building work was being carried out by LNT company who is responsible for the mishap, sources claimed. The machine which collapsed due to some unknown reasons too belonged to the company. One of the belt of the equipment snapped and the crane fell on the ground where many labourers had been working. The Directorate of Mines and Geology has initiated an inquiry in the case.”

4. 26 boys rescued from jeans factory in Delhi

According to Hindustan Times: “Forced to work for 22 hours at a stretch with just one meal a day and brutalised for six months with hammers and cutters, 26 boys, in the age group of 8 to 13, have been rescued from a jeans making factory in northeast Delhi’s Seelampur. Indicating towards a trafficking ring, all boys are from Motihari district of Bihar and were brought to Delhi around six months ago. Six of them are from the same village.”

5. Special Squads to monitor safety at worksites in Kerala

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala has set up special squads within the factories and boilers department to monitor safety and check chemical hazards in industries in the wake of rising incidence of accidents caused by leakage of chemicals from industrial units. “The majority of the industrial accidents are caused by lack of proper safety measures. In every district, the respective squads will visit at least six factories on a weekly basis and prepare reports. Show-cause notice will be issued to industrial units that do not adhere to the norms stipulated in the safety manual. If they fail to rectify the shortcomings, the Department would serve stop memo,” said Factories and Boilers – Ernakulam inspector Nitheesh Devaraj. This development stands in stark contrast to the national trend of deregulating industries from inspections and audits.

In other news

1. Economic Survey: Labour migration at an all time high

The Economic Survey 2017-18 that precedes the Annual Budget, has reported that labour migration has increased significantly with female labour migration growing at twice the rate of male migration. Inter-state labour mobility averaged 5-6.5 million people between 2001 and 2011, yielding an inter-state migrant population of about 60 million and an inter-district migration as high as 80 million.

The Economic Survey also discussed labour law reforms saying, “Another area of reform relates to labour. Given the difficulty of reforming labor laws per se, the thrust could be to move towards affording greater choice to workers which would foster competition amongst service providers. Choices would relate to: whether they want to make their own contribution to the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO); whether the employers’ contribution should go to the EPFO or the National Pension Scheme; and whether to contribute to the Employee State Insurance (ESI) or an alternative medical insurance program. At the same time, there could be a gradual move to ensure that at least compliance with the central labour laws is made paperless, presenceless, and cashless.”

2. Fish workers severely affected by Oil spill along Chennai Coast

Fishing came to a halt once again in Chennai after over 20 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea when two ships carrying hazardous petroleum products, collided near Kamarajar Port, Chennai. While fishermen could not venture into the sea to catch fish, The News Minute reported that those fishermen who had volunteered to clean up the coast were also suffering from the effects of toxic elements in the oil. 

3. Kashmiri coal workers call off fast unto death

Coal mine workers at Moughla mines, Rajouri in Kashmir, won a major victory when a high level team authorised by the state government agreed to address their demands of regularisation of tenure, increasing wages to a minimum of Rs 18000 a month (from Rs 150 a day) and enhancing safety conditions inside the underground coal mine. Greater Kashmir reported that 15 workers had sat on a hunger fast deep within the mine on 30th Jan. On the 1st of Feb, nearly 400 workers joined them. With the strike intensifying the state government sent a high level team that has given a written assurance to fulfil their demands in six months. Following this agreement, the workers called off their agitation and returned to work.

On a related note, the Indian Express had an interesting report on the day-to-day life of workers in “the hub of coal production for the entire country.” Many of the miners haven’t been paid since demonetisation was announced but the article goes beyond the economic and paints an interesting picture of the facilities available at the site along with the opinions of workers there.

4. Manual scavenging in Bangalore

On December 27, two labourers were spotted manually cleaning a 15 ft deep septic tank at a guesthouse at Yeshwantpur. Talking to The Hindu, Venkatesh M. of the Dalit Bahujan Movement who filed a criminal complaint, said that the sewage from more than 60 houses in the area was being let out into the tank. “This has been going on for years, but came to our notice only a week ago. The two labourers were being made to enter the tank, but had no gloves or boots. They had to stand in the faecal matter and use their bare hands,” he said. The article also reports that “the city has already witnessed the death of more than 18 manual scavengers since 2013. In April 2016, four labourers died while cleaning a pit on Doddaballapur Road.”

According to the Indian Express, “the Delhi High Court on Wednesday came down on the AAP government over its “failure” to frame rules regarding rehabilitation of manual scavengers in the national capital despite a law prohibiting the practice.”

Extra links

The hidden agenda of benevolence – G. Sampath criticises proposals for a Universal Basic Income

5,000 sacked for demanding higher wages: The human cost of Bangladesh's $27-billion garment industry

Cashless and demonetised: Meet three Indians who once had jobs

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