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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.

1. 6 out of 8 Pricol workers released

In an incident similar to the Manesar Maruti factory one, eight workers at the Pricol factory in Coimbatore were given life sentences in a case riddled with loopholes -  a tampered FIR, CCTV cameras that didn’t work, policemen on the scene who didn’t see anything. On January 19, 2017, the high court of Madras overturned the conviction of six out of the eight Pricol workers. The truth of what happened that day of September 2009 is still murky.  

2. 55-year-old sugar factory seized, to be auctioned off

The factory of the five-decade-old Jeypore Sugar Company Limited, also known as Chagallu Sugars Limited, was seized by revenue officials on January 20 as the company had failed to pay dues to sugarcane farmers and wages to the workers for the last few months. It had been running at losses for the last few years and now owed 19 crore to farmers and 5 crore to workers. If the factory is shut down, 700 people will lose their jobs. The factory will be auctioned off so that the dues can be paid off.

3. Shock waves ripple across the economy even after three months into demonetisation

Reports suggest that Indian economy is still bleeding jobs due to the effects of demonetisation. An Indiaspend article records a sharp fall in demand in the textile sector post demonetisation with a cascading effect down the supply chain. The sector, which contributes 2% to our national economy, has been seeing partial shutdowns and job losses causing reverse migration from industrial centres to rural areas. This assessment by Indiaspend is confirmed in another study by India Development Foundation, which uses secondary data and a perception survey, to measure impact of demonetisation. It reports that production activity has been depressed in the last quarter of 2016 as against the same period a year ago, resulting in job losses in the cities. However, it maintains that the entire effect of negative growth cannot be attributed to demonetisation as the downward trend in investment and consumption demand predates demonetisation. A Livemint report on surging demand in MNREGS confirms the reverse migration phenomenon. In Bihar, demand for work under the scheme this year is more that even last year, which was a drought year.  Its data shows that allocation under MNREGS might reach its highest ever at Rs 58,000 crore as a result of reverse migration.

4. Five workers lose lives; many injured in three fatal industrial accidents.

Two contract workers lost their lives to poor maintenance and safety measures. One contract worker died and six were severely affected when carbon monoxide gas leaked through a drainage line, at Rourkela Steel Plant, asphyxiating the workers. It is reported that gas leaked from a drainage line into the work space as water that is used to prevent such leakages had entirely dried up. The lack of maintenance led to the oversight of this critical aspect leading to the accident. At BHEL, Bhopal, a contract worker operating a crane was crushed to death when a Iron plate weighing over a ton, fell on his head because a restraining rope snapped. The unions have blamed the death on poor maintenance and safety checks on machinery and demanded an enquiry to fix the issues. A series of explosions in a Chemical factory in Udaipur that manufactures chemical solvents for treating marble, gutted the entire factory, leaving 3 workers dead and 7 severely injured.

5. Tata Motors owned Jaguar Land Rover was fined for causing an ‘avoidable’ accident

Tata owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was fined £900,000 (Rs 7.7 crore) for a 2014 accident that caused a worker to lose his leg. An additional £50000 was also charged as legal expenses. The Court and the Health and Safety Executive have termed the accident completely avoidable. JLR has agreed to abide by the order and also has taken measures to avoid similar incidents in future.

6. Ola/Uber drivers strike

In Bangalore on January 23, “hundreds of drivers gathered at Freedom Park and at the Kempegowda International Airport. Many protesting drivers even resorted to booking cabs through the app and forcing the arriving drivers to join them in the strike. Trouble has been brewing for Ola and Uber, two of the largest cab hailing apps in the city, since last December. Drivers allege that commissions per ride — to be paid to the aggregator — were around 10% a year ago. It has been hiked to 30% in the recent past.”

Ola/Uber drivers have been striking in other cities as well - the strike beginning on New Year’s eve in Hyderabad went on for over 10 days, with commuters still complaining that the app is still not fully functional. After the companies had ‘blocked’ drivers who had participated in the strikes, on 21st January, one blocked Uber driver attempted to take his own life when his employers refused to let him get back to work.

7. Labour reforms back on government agenda

Speaking to reporters, the union minister for labour said that the government would introduce legislations to amalgamate 38 different labour laws into four labour codes in order to simplify labour legislation. This announcement comes after the repealing of four labour laws. While industry bodies had welcomed this move earlier, it could not proceed due to opposition from political parties and trade unions who fear dilution of legislative protection to workers. They had even gone on a national strike in opposition to these amendments

8. Nurses go on hunger strike demanding improved benefits and filling vacant posts

Nurses from many government hospitals in Chandigarh, went on two day hunger strike demanding improvement in benefits, allotment of housing as well as filling vacant posts. They have decided to go on an indefinite strike from 1st Feb if their demands or not met, according to the Indian Express. “They have demanded creation of promotional posts according to the SIU norms that are applicable in all government major hospitals in the country, restoration of gazetted holidays and national holidays that were ceased owing to the shortage of nursing staff in 2014, 100 per cent promotion policy for nursing personnel that is adopted by the Chandigarh administration, filling of vacant posts of staff nurses, allotment of Type 4 houses for nursing personnel in GMCH house pool and implementation of central pay scale.”

9. Police brutality in Chennai: Painter subjected to torture for 11 years + violence unleashed on fishing hamlets after the jallikattu protests

More than a decade after a youth in Chennai was allegedly subjected to third degree investigation in a police station  leading to amputation of nine fingers and failure of both kidneys, an inquiry has confirmed the police torture and recommended suitable compensation to the victim,” The Hindu reports. G. Arun, now 32 years old, was taken into custody at the Mambalam police station on account of an alleged theft (which has to date never been proved) in December 2006, after which his pregnant wife was beaten in the same police station and suffered a miscarriage. Since he couldn’t afford a lawyer, he spent 11 years in custody being tortured, during which time his parents died and his wife left him. Today the torture has left him debilitated, unemployed, and unable to pay for medical treatment. Without legal aid from People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he might have continued to be held without evidence or hope for justice. The case against 7 police officers who were responsible for the brutal torture and of the question of how much compensation G. Arun will receive will be be heard on 23rd February.

Chennai has also seen large scale police brutality this week towards the end of the Jallikattu protests in Chennai. Thozhilalar Koodam writes, “Nadukuppam, a fishing hamlet with road access to marina beach,  was vandalized by the police. Their fish market, with lakhs of rupees worth of fish, vending trays, scales and even electric ice boxes, were set ablaze by the police. They chased the vendors, predominantly women, and even broke down house doors in the attempt to catch protesters. This was in retribution for the residents having helped the students evade capture by police. Videos shot by the residents of police personnel setting fire to autos have gone viral. Yet again, the fishing community and the Dalit community have borne the brunt of the police violence.”

International News

Two workers stripped and whipped in Qatar

Two Indian workers have alleged through a video sent over internet that they have been stripped and whipped by their Qatari employer. They have pleaded to be rescued. They had migrated to Qatar through a pune based agent four months back. In the video, “injuries and blood on their backs, hands, thighs and legs” of Parvez Ahmad (24) and Mohammed Akram (27) from Uttar Pradesh can be seen. They went to Qatar about four months ago on a Pune agent's promise of a decent job there. This comes in the backdrop of a workers being killed in police action in Bahrain.

Workers in Argentina occupy printing factory which declared mass lay offs

Unionized workers decided to occupy a printing factory owned by Gruco Crain, a media group, after the company declared a lock out and fired all the workers. Local union leaders quickly called an assembly, and workers unanimously decided to occupy the plant to demand their jobs back. The union says that Grupo Clarín is not in financial trouble, did not follow the steps the law requires for layoffs, and simply wants cheap labor.

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