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.
17 workers killed in blaze at firecracker storage unit in Delhi
Seventeen people were killed and two injured in a massive blaze at a firecracker storage unit in outer Delhi’s Bawana industrial area this evening, a Delhi Fire Services official said, even as the city government ordered an enquiry into the incident.” Read the full report on The Wire.
Scheme workers protest across India demanding an end to discrimination
Lakhs of workers across India participated in a day-long protest on January 17 against the discrimination in government employment. Over 50 lakh workers are engaged on a contractual basis by Central and State governments in various departments. They are recruited under various schemes ranging from public health, education and municipal services. They are not considered as government employees even though they are in perennial and essential occupation. They are severely underpaid and have no job guarantee and other perks. Workers have been agitating against these measures and demanding regularisation of their tenure at various levels. This time all central trade unions have come together in organising a national level protest, bringing together the disparate sections of the workers together.
News Click reports that there have been attempts to force workers from participating in these protests. Officers have sent intimidating letters and notices warning workers from participating in the protests. Yet, the protests were largely successful and the central trade unions are contemplating intensifying their agitation by ‘jail bharoa’ (fill the prisons) andolan to press their demands. More protests are planned for the following week in Chennai.
National Employability Enhancement Mission: A ploy to get free labour?
Over 100 permanent workers at the Ashok Leyland factory in Chennai went on a gate protest on January 10 demanding that the management stop employing trainees in production. While many institutions had been employing workers as ‘trainees’ for up to 3 years, this classification was not part of the legal terminology. But since 2013, in the name of improving employability among the youth, the central government has been amending the AICTE act to allow companies to employ trainees in full production activity while paying below minimum wage and benefits. The recent amendments in 2017 have further relaxed regulations such that a ‘trainee’ appointed under NEEM would not be the responsibility of the company but a middle ‘agent’. This effectively institutionalises contract labour system in the guise of improving skill and employment. With Ashok Leyland signing into this network, the apprehensions of the permanent workers have increased.
Victimisation against Gurgaon workers for forming union
10 workers have been suspended or transferred by SPM automotive ltd in Gurgaon after the workers filed an application to form a union. While the charges are framed differently, the timing of the suspensions suggests that the action has been taken against the union leaders for attempting to form a union. SPM automotive is an auto parts manufacturer in the Gurgaon industrial belt. Over 40 workers of the company went on a silent protest outside the labour commissioner’s office in Gurgaon demanding justice for their fellow workers. They also allege grave threats from the goons employed by the company to break their efforts to form a union. The Haryana government has taken strong ‘anti-labour’ positions in the past, leading to major conflicts between workers and the state police.
Indefinite strike by contract workers of thermal power plant in Bathinda continues
It’s been 13 days since contract workers went on an indefinite strike against the planned closure of the Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant in Bathinda. Even while the workers have the support of the local community which is providing material support to the struggle, the workers fear that if the government goes ahead with the closure they will suffer severely. In this situation, the workers observed a ‘Black Lohiri’.
IT Union registered in Pune
IT workers’ stride to form unions to weather the ongoing retrenchments in the sector got another boost with the Pune chapter of FITE (Forum for IT Employees) getting registered in Maharashtra. While IT unions had been registered in early 2000s, many had gone defunct. The present wave of unionisation began with mass layoffs in TCS in 2014-15. That was when FITE was formed in Chennai and initiated chapters in various cyber hubs in India including Pune. Recently, KITES in Bangalore and the FITE chapter in Chennai had received registration in their respective states taking the number of states with Unions for IT employees to three.
50,000 Indian telecom workers to lose jobs in 2018
Quartz reports on how the telecom sector is still reeling from the entry of Reliance Jio and that further job losses are expected in the sector. In November 2017, Economic Times had reported that, “The telecom sector lost a fourth of its workforce, or some 75,000 employees, in the last one year as operators, tower firms and vendors consolidate to remain afloat in the severely competitive industry.”
International news
Public sector workers strike in Benin over right to strike
As events in the state of Tamil Nadu show, the right to strike is a pressing concern for the working class in India. In Benin, civil servants went on strike against a new law that takes away that right. New24 reports, “Benin's parliament last month approved the controversial law to prevent the military, police, health and justice workers from going on strike.” This is not the first free-market reform that Benin has passed recently and protests have erupted multiple times over the past year. This time, the strike went on for three days as public sector employees tried to stop the constitutional court from accepting the law.
Privatisation plans of the Sao Paulo metro halted after strike
A partial strike by the employees of the Sao Paulo metro led to a city court granting an injunction against the bidding and privatisation of two lines of the metro. “Basically, it can be said that this is a privatisation funded with public resources”, said the Judge who made his decision. Riotimesonline reports, “Judge Laroca considered the minimum established amount to be paid by the winner of the auction, approximately R$180 million, low in relation to the costs of the construction of the two metro lines of R$7 billion.”
German industrial worker strikes continue, Opel affected
Reuters reports, “Wednesday’s strikes mean around 468,000 industrial workers have taken part in action since last week, the union said, with further walkouts planned for Wednesday afternoon and evening.”

Weekend reading
  • China Labour Bulletin’s report on worker safety: “In the three decades since the infamous Zhili Toy Factory fire in Shenzhen in 1993, which killed 87 young migrant women workers and injured 47 others, the government’s approach to work safety has remained basically the same: Reacting to major disasters with heavy-handed and coercive measures that do little to get to the heart of the problem or create a genuine safety culture in the workplace. Accident and death totals have declined from the horrific peaks of the early 2000s, however that has as much to do with economic factors as government policy.”
  • The Bombay textile workers strike of 1982-83: Libcom has uploaded a pdf of Rajni Bakshi’s book on the nearly 250,000 strong movement in Bombay by mill workers. The majority of the mills were shut down and most of the workers lost their jobs in this pivotal moment of Indian working class history.
  • Watch: ‘They Respect Their Pets More Than Labourers’Informal workers engaged in various occupations shared their stories at an event in Delhi highlighting various issues and challenges that they face in India.
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