Arrests mark a nationwide Protest Day observed by Central Trade Unions

Hunger strike, demonstrations, processions and arrests at several places. Unions demand withdrawal of draconian changes in labour laws, send petitions to Prime Minister


To say it was a hot afternoon in Delhi on May 22, would be an understatement. Yet senior trade unionists braved the heat and gathered near Rajghat, the national memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, which is a symbol of human rights and peace, to protest the draconian new policies that have stripped workers across the country of a number of basic rights. 

The protests were held simultaneously at multiple locations across the country in response to a call oven by ten Central Trade Unions. The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) have also emailed a joint petition listing their urgent demands to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The CTUs have demanded that the government provide urgent relief to the lakhs of stranded workers who are still trying to return to their homes. Horrific scenarios of the stranded migrant workers have been reported from across the country, and it is often citizen groups who have come to help with food and water to the people. The CTUs have demanded that the government ensure that food supplies are made available to everyone and that there is a “universal coverage of ration distribution without conditions,” they have also asked that the government “ensure wages to all of the entire lock down period, cash transfer of Rs.7500/- to all non-income tax paying households.” According to the joint statement, this must include all unorganised labour force, including those unregistered or self employed, and payments must be given for April, May and June, at least.

The CTUs have also raised the issue of DA freeze of central government employees & CPSEs and DR freeze of pensioners, and have asked that this order be withdrawn. They have asked that the government put a  complete halt to any changes/dilutions in the labour laws. They want that the government must strengthen the inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act 1979 “to ensure compulsory registration of migrant workers,” which is crucial as they face an unprecedented crisis having lost jobs, and homes due to the sudden lockdown which has extended for almost two months now.  

The CTU protests in Delhi were held at various places but the most poignant one was the  powerful gathering at Gandhi Samadhi, Rajghat where some of the national leadership of the Central Trade Unions sat on hunger strike, and were subsequently arrested, along with the leaders of Delhi units of CTUs. Those arrested included HMS General Secretary Harbhajan Sidhu, CITU General Secretary Tapan Sen, CITU President Hemlata, AICCTU General Secretary Rajeev Dimri, AITUC National Secretary Vidya Sagar Giri, Vice President of INTUC Ashok Singh, National Secretary of AIUTUC R K Sharma as well as Jawahar Singh of LPF, Lata Ben and Usha from SEWA, Trilok Singh national leader from General Insurance, A R Sindhu and Amitav Guha, secretaries of CITU and Rajender Singh of HMS. 


Other participants and leaders from across India included INTUC President Sanjeeva Reddy (Hyderabad), AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur (Ludhiana), General Secretary LPF Shanmugam (Tamil Nadu), TUCC national leaders G Shivshankar (Karnataka), Devrajan (Kerala), General Secretary, SEWA, Ms Manali (Gujarat). Some leaders were even arrested at Siliguri in West Bengal.

According to information shared by CTU, trade union leaders were arrested the previous day, in some areas including in Noida in Uttar Pradesh, in an attempt to end the labour protest before it even begins. However, workers did join the peaceful protest on May 22.

The unions have demanded that the government “halt the  policy of wholesale privatization of PSUs and government departments through multi-pronged routes like corporatization, outsourcing, PPP,  and liberalized FDI.”  These plans had been a part of the many announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her speeches from May 13 to May 17. 

As has been reported for days now, it is during this prolonged National lockdown period, that crucial labour rights have been attacked. In Uttar Pradesh, the government brought an ordinance titled “Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption for certain labour laws ordinance 2020” under which 38 laws are made defunct for almost three years. Those laws made defunct include Trade Union Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Act on Occupational Safety and Health, Contract Labour Act, Interstate Migrant Labour Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Maternity Benefit Act etc.

Madhya Pradesh Government too brought drastic changes in Factories Act, Contract Act and Industrial Dispute Act in a manner that employers can now hire and fire the labour at will; right to  dispute raising and grievance redressal is now banned and contractors will not have to obtain a license to supply a labour batch of upto 49 persons. According to trade unions this allows the contractors to function practically “without any regulation and control; inspection will be virtually withdrawn and the entire enforcement machinery is frozen.” This endangers the basic rights of the workers on wages, compensation, safety. “Not only that, the employers were also exempted from payment of Rs 80/- per labourer to Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board. The Shop and Establishment Act is amended to let the shops function from 6 am to 12 at night, which means 18 hours at a go by the MP government,” the unions stated. 

The Gujarat government has also increased working  hours from 8 to 12 hours and may also suspend several laws for the next couple of years, fear the Unions.  

Civil society leaders have also expressed their solidarity with the central trade unions. They said that the “anti-labour virus has spread all over, as shown by the fact that Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha and Assam have made changes in the labour laws.”

The civil society leadership also expressed concern that the recent changes in labour laws also takes away the right of workers to “form trade unions, to be associated with them and to represent their cases collectively with the employer or with the governments.”

Civil Society and People’s Movements in India have stated, “We are extremely concerned that these changes are being made while the whole country is going through the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, which is a health emergency situation, which has hugely affected the income of the lives and livelihoods for millions of workers in India.” They have reiterated that “labour rights are embodiments of civil and democratic rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of India and are within India’s commitment to international human rights covenants.”

The CTUs have stated that they will also send a joint representation to ILO about the “violations being committed by Govt of India in regard to all the international commitments on labour standards and human rights.” 



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