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Irregular pay and exploitative work conditions may worsen: JNUTA

Bleak picture emerges for workers in the near future

26 Nov 2020

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association (JNUTA) has issued a statement, expressing solidarity with the strike call given by All India Trade Unions.  The JNUTA has stated that it “stands firmly in solidarity with the strike call given by All India Trade Unions on November 26”. The working people of the country have  faced an unprecedented assault on their livelihoods and rights over the last  nine months. It highlighted the “lack of planning and preparation by the government to deal  with the Covid pandemic, and a sudden imposition of 10-week-long  lockdown, resulted in a loss of employment and earnings for a vast number of workers”.

According to JNUTA, rather than provide relief, the government has “used the Covid 19 pandemic to withdraw some of the most fundamental rights enjoyed by  workers and introduced wide-ranging policy shifts in the agricultural sector.” It amplified that almost all the major unions of workers and peasant organisations, have pointed out that these changes have been brought about “at the behest of large corporate houses and will only profit them.” 

Even within the university, the JNUTA put on record that “a large number of support staff such as sanitation and  mess workers, technical assistants and clerical staff members, find themselves working in increasingly precarious conditions with contractual  engagements going on for years without any sign of them being made  permanent.” The three labour Codes approved by the Parliament: the Code on Social Security Bill, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code and the Industrial Relations Code 2020 “will all further increase the power of employers to freely hire and fire  workers as and when they like” stated the teachers union, adding that “the irregular pay and exploitative conditions of  work that have been seen during the pandemic, may worsen in the months ahead for workers.

The statement signed by JNUTA President Milap C Sharma, and all office bearers noted that “during this period, the  government has also done little to support students who are facing  unprecedented difficulties in continuing with their education because  educational institutions have been shut and nothing more than online  teaching, which in a country where availability of electricity, computers  and internet is a luxury enjoyed by a few,” the digital divide said the teachers “ensures  exclusion of many. Instead of providing support to students and teachers  on war-footing, the government has again used the opportunity to wreak  havoc on public education under the garb of the NEP.”

JNUTA called upon all its members to express their support with the striking workers in “whatever way they can” as this “nefarious agenda of the government can only be defeated by joint  struggles of working people.”

Related:

LIVE Updates on All India General Strike and Peasants' 
Right Wing media working overtime to discredit farmers?
We will stop your march at all cost: Political message to farmers?

 

Irregular pay and exploitative work conditions may worsen: JNUTA

Bleak picture emerges for workers in the near future

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association (JNUTA) has issued a statement, expressing solidarity with the strike call given by All India Trade Unions.  The JNUTA has stated that it “stands firmly in solidarity with the strike call given by All India Trade Unions on November 26”. The working people of the country have  faced an unprecedented assault on their livelihoods and rights over the last  nine months. It highlighted the “lack of planning and preparation by the government to deal  with the Covid pandemic, and a sudden imposition of 10-week-long  lockdown, resulted in a loss of employment and earnings for a vast number of workers”.

According to JNUTA, rather than provide relief, the government has “used the Covid 19 pandemic to withdraw some of the most fundamental rights enjoyed by  workers and introduced wide-ranging policy shifts in the agricultural sector.” It amplified that almost all the major unions of workers and peasant organisations, have pointed out that these changes have been brought about “at the behest of large corporate houses and will only profit them.” 

Even within the university, the JNUTA put on record that “a large number of support staff such as sanitation and  mess workers, technical assistants and clerical staff members, find themselves working in increasingly precarious conditions with contractual  engagements going on for years without any sign of them being made  permanent.” The three labour Codes approved by the Parliament: the Code on Social Security Bill, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code and the Industrial Relations Code 2020 “will all further increase the power of employers to freely hire and fire  workers as and when they like” stated the teachers union, adding that “the irregular pay and exploitative conditions of  work that have been seen during the pandemic, may worsen in the months ahead for workers.

The statement signed by JNUTA President Milap C Sharma, and all office bearers noted that “during this period, the  government has also done little to support students who are facing  unprecedented difficulties in continuing with their education because  educational institutions have been shut and nothing more than online  teaching, which in a country where availability of electricity, computers  and internet is a luxury enjoyed by a few,” the digital divide said the teachers “ensures  exclusion of many. Instead of providing support to students and teachers  on war-footing, the government has again used the opportunity to wreak  havoc on public education under the garb of the NEP.”

JNUTA called upon all its members to express their support with the striking workers in “whatever way they can” as this “nefarious agenda of the government can only be defeated by joint  struggles of working people.”

Related:

LIVE Updates on All India General Strike and Peasants' 
Right Wing media working overtime to discredit farmers?
We will stop your march at all cost: Political message to farmers?

 

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Farmers and workers gear up for November 26 protest!

Organisations report that the struggle may intensify and extend to the local village-level in an effort to repeal anti-farmer and anti-workers laws

25 Nov 2020

Image Courtesy:informalnewz.com

Farmers organisations, trade Unions and workers’ organisations across India have set the stage for the nationwide civic unrest planned from November 26, 2020 onwards.

During a press conference on November 25, coordinating members of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said all states were geared up for “Dilli Chalo” programme for November 26 and 27.

Similarly, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) on Wednesday strongly denounced government’s repression on peasants and workers since the last two days.

Both organisations and their coalitions asserted many times in recent days that peasant unrest will continue indefinitely if the central government does not accede to their demands.

“Farmers’ indefinite struggle with Dilli Chalo on November 26th onwards has been launched in full strength and we will intensify the struggle from here on”, said the AIKSCC.

Their main demands include a repeal of the three central farm Acts and a withdrawal of the Electricity Bill 2020. The farmers’ body called these legislations “anti-farmer and anti-people,” created mainly to facilitate the expansion of corporate control over agriculture and food systems.

Meanwhile, trade Unions demanded that the Union government abstain from privatising the public sector of India that serves as the backbone of the economy. They congratulated the working class and the peasantry for displaying such strong solidarity and determination to fight and warned the BJP-led government that the anger of the people against its disastrous and destructive policies will not be suppressed by dictatorial measures.

To illustrate this point, organisations referred and condemned arrests of several farmer and Trade Union leaders there since November 24. As many as 31 leaders have been detained or arrested in Haryana.

“Workers, employees and peasants in Haryana are jointly protesting against the repression and are sitting on dharna in many places demanding immediate release of the arrested leaders. The working class throughout the country has condemned these arrests,” said CITU.

To make matters worse, the Odisha government invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) that ensures the continuance of certain services. State workers have organised protest demonstrations in front of the state assembly against the decision.

Undeterred by the arrests, tens of thousands of peasants from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states are moving towards Delhi using different modes of transport. Hundreds of people will reach Delhi in vehicle convoys from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

In locations distant from Delhi, simultaneous protests will happen locally, at taluka, district and state levels. For example, 16 newly-elected MLAs in Bihar will protest outside the Legislative Assembly on Constitution Day while dharnas and demonstrations are observed at most districts of the state. Similarly, Jharkhand protesters will march to the Raj Bhavan.

Southern state Karnataka has created a thousand points to implement village-level bandhs with Jathas underway in different districts. Tamil Nadu will witness rasta roko and rail roko agitation in more than 500 places.

District and taluka level protests are planned in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The two southern states will also hold demonstrations at central government offices at all district centres on November 27.

Andhra Pradesh farmers will protest on Friday in front of power sub-stations across the state against the Electricity Bill and reforms while south Odisha will observe complete bandh.

Maharashtra farmers will close all Mandis as part of the Grameen Hartal and in 200 tehsils of 37 districts, tehsil level protests will be held. There is also a plan to have indefinite protests launched in some districts in parallel with the Delhi protest. In West Bengal, Grameen Hartal will be observed in all districts. More than 500 conventions and outreach programs have been held in the past few weeks in the state.

On Tuesday, trade Unions had said that workers from banks and insurance companies, coal sector, power sector, steam sector, oil sector, defence sector, railways sector, various central government employees, several state governments, even private transport sectors such as auto drivers, taxi driver unions promised to abstain from work. Leaders warned that some buses may not arrive early morning on Thursday. Further, scheme workers like anganwadi workers, ASHA personnel as well as hawkers, bidi workers, agriculture workers and construction workers will also join the strike.

The growing coalition warned the Union government not to use Covid-19 as an excuse to thwart the democratic right of citizens to protest against anti-people moves.

“Covid-19 care requires several medical and preventive steps, like distribution of masks, sanitizers, physical care of the needy and jobless, etc where the government’s performance is woefully wanting. The Government has rather imposed policing and fines which are counter-productive and meant to blame people and demoralize them. The Government of India should stop mis-utilising coronavirus threats to harm farmers,” said the AIKSCC in a press conference.

Related:

Adivasi Union to stand with peasants of country during nationwide protests
LIVE Updates on All India General Strike and Peasants' Protest 2020
Farmers, workers, trade unions prepare for nationwide unrest on November 26
Does GoI have 80,000 crores to buy, distribute Covid-19 vaccine?

Farmers and workers gear up for November 26 protest!

Organisations report that the struggle may intensify and extend to the local village-level in an effort to repeal anti-farmer and anti-workers laws

Image Courtesy:informalnewz.com

Farmers organisations, trade Unions and workers’ organisations across India have set the stage for the nationwide civic unrest planned from November 26, 2020 onwards.

During a press conference on November 25, coordinating members of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said all states were geared up for “Dilli Chalo” programme for November 26 and 27.

Similarly, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) on Wednesday strongly denounced government’s repression on peasants and workers since the last two days.

Both organisations and their coalitions asserted many times in recent days that peasant unrest will continue indefinitely if the central government does not accede to their demands.

“Farmers’ indefinite struggle with Dilli Chalo on November 26th onwards has been launched in full strength and we will intensify the struggle from here on”, said the AIKSCC.

Their main demands include a repeal of the three central farm Acts and a withdrawal of the Electricity Bill 2020. The farmers’ body called these legislations “anti-farmer and anti-people,” created mainly to facilitate the expansion of corporate control over agriculture and food systems.

Meanwhile, trade Unions demanded that the Union government abstain from privatising the public sector of India that serves as the backbone of the economy. They congratulated the working class and the peasantry for displaying such strong solidarity and determination to fight and warned the BJP-led government that the anger of the people against its disastrous and destructive policies will not be suppressed by dictatorial measures.

To illustrate this point, organisations referred and condemned arrests of several farmer and Trade Union leaders there since November 24. As many as 31 leaders have been detained or arrested in Haryana.

“Workers, employees and peasants in Haryana are jointly protesting against the repression and are sitting on dharna in many places demanding immediate release of the arrested leaders. The working class throughout the country has condemned these arrests,” said CITU.

To make matters worse, the Odisha government invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) that ensures the continuance of certain services. State workers have organised protest demonstrations in front of the state assembly against the decision.

Undeterred by the arrests, tens of thousands of peasants from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states are moving towards Delhi using different modes of transport. Hundreds of people will reach Delhi in vehicle convoys from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

In locations distant from Delhi, simultaneous protests will happen locally, at taluka, district and state levels. For example, 16 newly-elected MLAs in Bihar will protest outside the Legislative Assembly on Constitution Day while dharnas and demonstrations are observed at most districts of the state. Similarly, Jharkhand protesters will march to the Raj Bhavan.

Southern state Karnataka has created a thousand points to implement village-level bandhs with Jathas underway in different districts. Tamil Nadu will witness rasta roko and rail roko agitation in more than 500 places.

District and taluka level protests are planned in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The two southern states will also hold demonstrations at central government offices at all district centres on November 27.

Andhra Pradesh farmers will protest on Friday in front of power sub-stations across the state against the Electricity Bill and reforms while south Odisha will observe complete bandh.

Maharashtra farmers will close all Mandis as part of the Grameen Hartal and in 200 tehsils of 37 districts, tehsil level protests will be held. There is also a plan to have indefinite protests launched in some districts in parallel with the Delhi protest. In West Bengal, Grameen Hartal will be observed in all districts. More than 500 conventions and outreach programs have been held in the past few weeks in the state.

On Tuesday, trade Unions had said that workers from banks and insurance companies, coal sector, power sector, steam sector, oil sector, defence sector, railways sector, various central government employees, several state governments, even private transport sectors such as auto drivers, taxi driver unions promised to abstain from work. Leaders warned that some buses may not arrive early morning on Thursday. Further, scheme workers like anganwadi workers, ASHA personnel as well as hawkers, bidi workers, agriculture workers and construction workers will also join the strike.

The growing coalition warned the Union government not to use Covid-19 as an excuse to thwart the democratic right of citizens to protest against anti-people moves.

“Covid-19 care requires several medical and preventive steps, like distribution of masks, sanitizers, physical care of the needy and jobless, etc where the government’s performance is woefully wanting. The Government has rather imposed policing and fines which are counter-productive and meant to blame people and demoralize them. The Government of India should stop mis-utilising coronavirus threats to harm farmers,” said the AIKSCC in a press conference.

Related:

Adivasi Union to stand with peasants of country during nationwide protests
LIVE Updates on All India General Strike and Peasants' Protest 2020
Farmers, workers, trade unions prepare for nationwide unrest on November 26
Does GoI have 80,000 crores to buy, distribute Covid-19 vaccine?

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Govt aims to eliminate manual scavenging by August 2021

With amendments to the Manual Scavenging Act and making mechanised cleaning mandatory, will it help restore dignity of sanitation workers?

20 Nov 2020

Image Courtesy:oneindia.com

The Government of India is undertaking some key measures to amend the manual scavenging laws, making the cleaning of septic tanks and sewers mechanised, replacing the word ‘manhole’ with ‘machine hole’ and setting up a dedicated national helpline to register complaints and provide solutions on desludging and overflow.  

On World Toilet Day (November 19), launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge at a webinar in New Delhi, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, said, "We are today setting another milestone by launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge which aims to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of hazardous cleaning.”

The Government announced that their aim is to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021. The Senior Minister ensured that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, “unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.”

To make sure that the challenge is efficiently implemented, he also announced that the actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on Independence Day and winning cities shall receive hefty prize money.

Manual Scavenging and the question of Caste

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to the 2013 Act set to be introduced by the Union Government in September this year planned to make the laws more stringent. It focused on provision of protective gears and compensation in cases of accidents but missed out on one major point- the sanitation worker’s rights.

The new Bill maintains silence on the issue of caste. Mechanising manual scavenging is a positive step but why a blinkered approach towards recognising that sanitation work remains a caste-based occupation? The provisions in the Act must be drafted in a way to undo their unjust history.

The 2013 Act recognises that manual scavenging is a ‘dehumanising’ practice which arises from continued existence of unsanitary latrines and a ‘highly iniquitous caste system’, but does very little to rectify it in the 2020 proposed bill.

The lack of proper facilities and water supply in public toilets in urban cities, force workers to manually scavenge human excrements and throw it in the nearby dumping grounds. Sullu, a Safai Karmachari from Begusarai (Bihar) told The Indian Express, “We get harassed by the police regularly for illegal dumping. I do not understand how I am liable for illegal dumping when there are no proper designated dumping points. If there is excrement that I have to clean from the toilets now how am I not a manual scavenger.”

The Act also fails to categorise the sanitation workers into faecal sludge handling workers, railway cleaners, workers in waste treatment plants, community and public toilet cleaning workers, school toilet cleaning workers, etc to set proper wage structures and entitlements. The definition of manual scavengers needs to be more evolved and inclusive.  

The National Safai Karamchari Commission had revealed that from 2010 to March 2020, 631 sewer and septic tank cleaners had lost their lives and the highest number of deaths was reported in 2019 at a whopping 115.

According to an assessment by the Social Justice Ministry, despite the enforcement of Manual Scavenging Act and Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, FIRs are seldom lodged in deaths caused by this practice, convictions are rare and the Supreme Court-mandated compensation of Rs 10 lakh is not provided to all families.

At present, engaging anyone for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both. The new Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging stricter by increasing both the imprisonment term and the fine amount.

However, Bezwada Wilson, co-founder and national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) told The Wire, “A judge will hesitate to convict an offender of this Act if the prison sentence is higher. So, this is counterproductive.” When the number of cases registered are so low, making the laws stricter will barely protect the workers and continue to fail them.

As recently as 2019, The News Minute had reported that Chennai had seen it’s first FIR under the Manual Scavenging Act, when a young 25-year-old worker choked on the toxic gas in a septic tank and died. He was employed by an independent agency to clean the septic tanks in the mall premises. The legislation must focus on doing away with the contractual employment system that forces workers to indulge in this filthy, thankless job of manual cleaning.

Despite Indian laws deeming manual scavenging illegal, it remains to do very little for the workers and most importantly their safety. So, the aim to eliminate manual scavenging should not be a proposed practice but the only practice.

The entire press release may be read here.

Related:

Sanitation & Justice: Classify Sanitation Workers as Health Workers

 

Govt aims to eliminate manual scavenging by August 2021

With amendments to the Manual Scavenging Act and making mechanised cleaning mandatory, will it help restore dignity of sanitation workers?

Image Courtesy:oneindia.com

The Government of India is undertaking some key measures to amend the manual scavenging laws, making the cleaning of septic tanks and sewers mechanised, replacing the word ‘manhole’ with ‘machine hole’ and setting up a dedicated national helpline to register complaints and provide solutions on desludging and overflow.  

On World Toilet Day (November 19), launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge at a webinar in New Delhi, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, said, "We are today setting another milestone by launching the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge which aims to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of hazardous cleaning.”

The Government announced that their aim is to eliminate manual scavenging across the country by August 2021. The Senior Minister ensured that no person needs to enter a sewer or septic tank, “unless absolutely unavoidable in the interest of greater public hygiene.”

To make sure that the challenge is efficiently implemented, he also announced that the actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on Independence Day and winning cities shall receive hefty prize money.

Manual Scavenging and the question of Caste

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to the 2013 Act set to be introduced by the Union Government in September this year planned to make the laws more stringent. It focused on provision of protective gears and compensation in cases of accidents but missed out on one major point- the sanitation worker’s rights.

The new Bill maintains silence on the issue of caste. Mechanising manual scavenging is a positive step but why a blinkered approach towards recognising that sanitation work remains a caste-based occupation? The provisions in the Act must be drafted in a way to undo their unjust history.

The 2013 Act recognises that manual scavenging is a ‘dehumanising’ practice which arises from continued existence of unsanitary latrines and a ‘highly iniquitous caste system’, but does very little to rectify it in the 2020 proposed bill.

The lack of proper facilities and water supply in public toilets in urban cities, force workers to manually scavenge human excrements and throw it in the nearby dumping grounds. Sullu, a Safai Karmachari from Begusarai (Bihar) told The Indian Express, “We get harassed by the police regularly for illegal dumping. I do not understand how I am liable for illegal dumping when there are no proper designated dumping points. If there is excrement that I have to clean from the toilets now how am I not a manual scavenger.”

The Act also fails to categorise the sanitation workers into faecal sludge handling workers, railway cleaners, workers in waste treatment plants, community and public toilet cleaning workers, school toilet cleaning workers, etc to set proper wage structures and entitlements. The definition of manual scavengers needs to be more evolved and inclusive.  

The National Safai Karamchari Commission had revealed that from 2010 to March 2020, 631 sewer and septic tank cleaners had lost their lives and the highest number of deaths was reported in 2019 at a whopping 115.

According to an assessment by the Social Justice Ministry, despite the enforcement of Manual Scavenging Act and Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, FIRs are seldom lodged in deaths caused by this practice, convictions are rare and the Supreme Court-mandated compensation of Rs 10 lakh is not provided to all families.

At present, engaging anyone for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both. The new Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging stricter by increasing both the imprisonment term and the fine amount.

However, Bezwada Wilson, co-founder and national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) told The Wire, “A judge will hesitate to convict an offender of this Act if the prison sentence is higher. So, this is counterproductive.” When the number of cases registered are so low, making the laws stricter will barely protect the workers and continue to fail them.

As recently as 2019, The News Minute had reported that Chennai had seen it’s first FIR under the Manual Scavenging Act, when a young 25-year-old worker choked on the toxic gas in a septic tank and died. He was employed by an independent agency to clean the septic tanks in the mall premises. The legislation must focus on doing away with the contractual employment system that forces workers to indulge in this filthy, thankless job of manual cleaning.

Despite Indian laws deeming manual scavenging illegal, it remains to do very little for the workers and most importantly their safety. So, the aim to eliminate manual scavenging should not be a proposed practice but the only practice.

The entire press release may be read here.

Related:

Sanitation & Justice: Classify Sanitation Workers as Health Workers

 

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Jharkhand Adivasis celebrate Birsa Munda Jayanti on Jharkhand formation day

Celebrating both the creation of Jharkhand state and the birth of Adivasi leader Birsa Munda, state MGNREGA coordinator addresses adivasis gathered at Putki neighbourhood.

16 Nov 2020

Image Courtesy:indianexpress.com

“Community” has always been at the core of Adivasi identity, said Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) Jharkhand coordinator Gurjeet Singh on November 15, 2020 the 145th birth anniversary of Adivasi freedom fighter Birsa Munda and the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the state of Jharkhand, at the Memorial Trust office in Putki area of Dhanbad district.

On Sunday, that was also celebrated as the Jharkhand foundation day, Singh said talked about tribal beliefs and sentiments that helped people retain their land and ownership rights.

Following proper rituals and a warm welcome from Memorial Trust President Bagi, his wife Meena Bagi and Secretary Baleshwar Bauri, Singh remembered the Adivasi movement led by Birsa Munda that led to the creation of the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act that prohibited the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people.

“Adivasis bestow the title of ‘mother’ to their land and believe that no one can hold ownership over their Mother. As a result, they did not believe in documenting a proof of their land. This led to the movement inspired by their eviction from ancestral land that ultimately gave them land, water and forest rights,” he said.

Speaking about Adivasis’ community sentiment, Singh said that Adivasis assumed equal land ownership rights to humans, birds, animals alike. Further Adivasis have always considered the water, jungle and land of Birsa Munda, a part of their heritage just as they consider cleanliness a traditional heritage.

“This priority to sanitation is the reason that not a single Adivasi has suffered from the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Birsa Munda was affectionately remembered as “Dharti Aaba” (Father of Earth) for his dedication to a healthy Adivasi community. Singh stated that Jharkhand could not become a truly independent state until Birsa Munda’s hope to reform the Adivasi community free of the belief of witchcraft came to fruition.

https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifRelated:

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Jharkhand Adivasis celebrate Birsa Munda Jayanti on Jharkhand formation day

Celebrating both the creation of Jharkhand state and the birth of Adivasi leader Birsa Munda, state MGNREGA coordinator addresses adivasis gathered at Putki neighbourhood.

Image Courtesy:indianexpress.com

“Community” has always been at the core of Adivasi identity, said Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) Jharkhand coordinator Gurjeet Singh on November 15, 2020 the 145th birth anniversary of Adivasi freedom fighter Birsa Munda and the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the state of Jharkhand, at the Memorial Trust office in Putki area of Dhanbad district.

On Sunday, that was also celebrated as the Jharkhand foundation day, Singh said talked about tribal beliefs and sentiments that helped people retain their land and ownership rights.

Following proper rituals and a warm welcome from Memorial Trust President Bagi, his wife Meena Bagi and Secretary Baleshwar Bauri, Singh remembered the Adivasi movement led by Birsa Munda that led to the creation of the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act that prohibited the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people.

“Adivasis bestow the title of ‘mother’ to their land and believe that no one can hold ownership over their Mother. As a result, they did not believe in documenting a proof of their land. This led to the movement inspired by their eviction from ancestral land that ultimately gave them land, water and forest rights,” he said.

Speaking about Adivasis’ community sentiment, Singh said that Adivasis assumed equal land ownership rights to humans, birds, animals alike. Further Adivasis have always considered the water, jungle and land of Birsa Munda, a part of their heritage just as they consider cleanliness a traditional heritage.

“This priority to sanitation is the reason that not a single Adivasi has suffered from the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Birsa Munda was affectionately remembered as “Dharti Aaba” (Father of Earth) for his dedication to a healthy Adivasi community. Singh stated that Jharkhand could not become a truly independent state until Birsa Munda’s hope to reform the Adivasi community free of the belief of witchcraft came to fruition.

https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifRelated:

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Chorus for Fr. Stan Swamy’s release gets louder
Kaimur firing: Fact-finding report makes startling revelations!
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Give us vending certificates then hold fresh surveys: FSS

Mumbai’s street vendors state that a new survey without issuing pending certificates would be a violation of their vending rights.

04 Nov 2020

street vendorsRepresentation Image


Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to order a fresh survey and to induct municipal officials in the Town Vending Committees (TVCs) is a violation of the Street Vendors Act, said leader of the Feriwala Sangharsh Samiti (FSS) Dayashankar Singh on November 4, 2020.

The President of Azad Hawkers Union, one of the organisations of the FSS, said that it is a violation of hawker’s rights as well as Supreme Court and Bombay High Court verdicts to start a fresh survey without awarding vending certificates to outstanding applicants from the 2014 survey.

Six years ago, the survey declared 17,641 street vendors out of 99,435 applicants eligible for a vending certificate. However, Thackeray decided on November 3 to hold a fresh survey in Mumbai due to discrepancies in the previous process. Accordingly, authorities also decided to include Brihanmumbai Corporation (BMC) officials in TVCs during a government meeting.

In response to this, Singh said, “Right now, all hawkers have returned to home states due to the coronavirus pandemic. Whom will the government survey on empty streets? This is a strategy to place favourable people in the streets while removing deserving vendors. Further, BMC officials don’t even give receipts to vendors while confiscating their stock. How will they contribute to TVCs?”

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 states that receipts of the fee levied on vendors for working on the streets serves as a valid document to prove their eligibility for a vending certificate. The law also calls for periodic surveys of vendors every five years. For this reason, Singh clarified that he did not oppose the need for a survey but demanded certificates for the already eligible candidates.

“We humbly ask the Chief Minister to declare as ‘hawing zones’ those streets where, between 1988 to 1999, the municipal corporation has collected revenues and given receipts. Further, we request that the 99,435 vendors be given a vending certificate to earn their livelihood. This process has been pending for the last six years,” said Singh.

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No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!

India's street vendors are micro-entrepreneurs, yet they struggle for freedom and rights

Give us vending certificates then hold fresh surveys: FSS

Mumbai’s street vendors state that a new survey without issuing pending certificates would be a violation of their vending rights.

street vendorsRepresentation Image


Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to order a fresh survey and to induct municipal officials in the Town Vending Committees (TVCs) is a violation of the Street Vendors Act, said leader of the Feriwala Sangharsh Samiti (FSS) Dayashankar Singh on November 4, 2020.

The President of Azad Hawkers Union, one of the organisations of the FSS, said that it is a violation of hawker’s rights as well as Supreme Court and Bombay High Court verdicts to start a fresh survey without awarding vending certificates to outstanding applicants from the 2014 survey.

Six years ago, the survey declared 17,641 street vendors out of 99,435 applicants eligible for a vending certificate. However, Thackeray decided on November 3 to hold a fresh survey in Mumbai due to discrepancies in the previous process. Accordingly, authorities also decided to include Brihanmumbai Corporation (BMC) officials in TVCs during a government meeting.

In response to this, Singh said, “Right now, all hawkers have returned to home states due to the coronavirus pandemic. Whom will the government survey on empty streets? This is a strategy to place favourable people in the streets while removing deserving vendors. Further, BMC officials don’t even give receipts to vendors while confiscating their stock. How will they contribute to TVCs?”

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 states that receipts of the fee levied on vendors for working on the streets serves as a valid document to prove their eligibility for a vending certificate. The law also calls for periodic surveys of vendors every five years. For this reason, Singh clarified that he did not oppose the need for a survey but demanded certificates for the already eligible candidates.

“We humbly ask the Chief Minister to declare as ‘hawing zones’ those streets where, between 1988 to 1999, the municipal corporation has collected revenues and given receipts. Further, we request that the 99,435 vendors be given a vending certificate to earn their livelihood. This process has been pending for the last six years,” said Singh.

Related:

Lockdown or Unlock: Hawkers struggle to remain 'Atma Nirbhar'

Why is the government still ignoring migrants’ lives?

No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!

India's street vendors are micro-entrepreneurs, yet they struggle for freedom and rights

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Migrant labourer’s mother kept on holy pedestal, yet migrants and women continue to suffer

Residents of Behala, Kolkata replace conventional idols of deities during Durga Puja with sculptures of a migrating labourer’s family in memory of the plight of migrant workers amidst the Covid-19 lockdwon.

15 Oct 2020

Migrant labours
Image: The Telegraph

A neighbourhood in Kolkata will replace the traditional goddess idol with a migrant mother’s statue for this year’s Durga Puja to acknowledge the hardships suffered by labourers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The artist Rintu Das sculpted an idol of a woman, carrying a shirtless toddler with two girls and a pot-bellied child with an elephant’s head in tow for the Barisha Club in Behala locality of the city. The organisation conducted many donation-drives during the lockdown to provide dry rations to low-income families in and around the city.

The graduate from the Government College of Art and Craft said the media coverage of the migrating labourers had left a deep impression in his mind especially the image of a mother looking for food, water and relief for her children. He said the migrating women were akin to goddesses at that point.

So, Das agreed to work on whatever budget the Club offered to create the weapon-less goddess who would also symbolise virtues of womanhood and motherhood that are celebrated every year during Durga Puja, West Bengal’s biggest celebration.

The artwork also went hand in hand with the Club’s annual theme of Tran (relief.) Thus, for the thirty-second year of the Club’s Puja celebration he decided to narrate the labourers’ crisis brought down by the Modi-government’s sudden lockdown announcement.

Meanwhile, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) crime report of 2019 stated that crimes against women have been as high as ever in India. As per the report, 286 women were murdered with sexual assault, 7,162 suffered dowry deaths while 156 women survived acid attacks last year. It also stated that 4,05,861 cases of crime against women were registered in 2019, indicating a 7.3 percent increase in cases over 2018 which reported 3,78,236 cases.

When asked about government measures to address this issue, Union Minister Smriti Irani dismissed it saying law and order were the state government’s concern.

On the other hand, informal sector labourers keep glancing off government records ever since the Centre declared during the Parliament’s monsoon session that it does not maintain data on migrant labourers deaths. This despite the fact that the Union Minister of Labour and Employment reported over one crore unemployed labourers in India.

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) worked closely with such migrants, providing them rations and essentials. SabrangIndia too reported extensively on the huge internal migration of the labourer families. 

According to the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) as many as 972 workers died till July 4. Yet, the Centre during the monsoon session declared it would offer no compensation to this section of society because they had kept no record of deaths during the lockdown.

In view of this, the attempt made by the Barisha Club to portray the labourer families’ mothers as ‘goddesses’ seems feeble. Nonetheless the idols influenced Club members who resolved to create a pandal that will have elements of a relief distribution camp while adhering to social distancing norms.

A founding member of the Club Debaprosad Bose told newspersons that the artist’s concept encouraged them to show empathy towards the workers’ situation. The idols will reach the Barisha Club pandal on October 15 from Diamond Harbour Road in Behala Sakherbazar. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate the event on October 16.


Related:

No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!

India Unsafe: The escalating heinous crimes against women

Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach To Find Out Baby's Gender

Public order a state subject: Smriti Irani on gov't measures against gendered crimes

Migrant labourer’s mother kept on holy pedestal, yet migrants and women continue to suffer

Residents of Behala, Kolkata replace conventional idols of deities during Durga Puja with sculptures of a migrating labourer’s family in memory of the plight of migrant workers amidst the Covid-19 lockdwon.

Migrant labours
Image: The Telegraph

A neighbourhood in Kolkata will replace the traditional goddess idol with a migrant mother’s statue for this year’s Durga Puja to acknowledge the hardships suffered by labourers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The artist Rintu Das sculpted an idol of a woman, carrying a shirtless toddler with two girls and a pot-bellied child with an elephant’s head in tow for the Barisha Club in Behala locality of the city. The organisation conducted many donation-drives during the lockdown to provide dry rations to low-income families in and around the city.

The graduate from the Government College of Art and Craft said the media coverage of the migrating labourers had left a deep impression in his mind especially the image of a mother looking for food, water and relief for her children. He said the migrating women were akin to goddesses at that point.

So, Das agreed to work on whatever budget the Club offered to create the weapon-less goddess who would also symbolise virtues of womanhood and motherhood that are celebrated every year during Durga Puja, West Bengal’s biggest celebration.

The artwork also went hand in hand with the Club’s annual theme of Tran (relief.) Thus, for the thirty-second year of the Club’s Puja celebration he decided to narrate the labourers’ crisis brought down by the Modi-government’s sudden lockdown announcement.

Meanwhile, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) crime report of 2019 stated that crimes against women have been as high as ever in India. As per the report, 286 women were murdered with sexual assault, 7,162 suffered dowry deaths while 156 women survived acid attacks last year. It also stated that 4,05,861 cases of crime against women were registered in 2019, indicating a 7.3 percent increase in cases over 2018 which reported 3,78,236 cases.

When asked about government measures to address this issue, Union Minister Smriti Irani dismissed it saying law and order were the state government’s concern.

On the other hand, informal sector labourers keep glancing off government records ever since the Centre declared during the Parliament’s monsoon session that it does not maintain data on migrant labourers deaths. This despite the fact that the Union Minister of Labour and Employment reported over one crore unemployed labourers in India.

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) worked closely with such migrants, providing them rations and essentials. SabrangIndia too reported extensively on the huge internal migration of the labourer families. 

According to the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) as many as 972 workers died till July 4. Yet, the Centre during the monsoon session declared it would offer no compensation to this section of society because they had kept no record of deaths during the lockdown.

In view of this, the attempt made by the Barisha Club to portray the labourer families’ mothers as ‘goddesses’ seems feeble. Nonetheless the idols influenced Club members who resolved to create a pandal that will have elements of a relief distribution camp while adhering to social distancing norms.

A founding member of the Club Debaprosad Bose told newspersons that the artist’s concept encouraged them to show empathy towards the workers’ situation. The idols will reach the Barisha Club pandal on October 15 from Diamond Harbour Road in Behala Sakherbazar. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate the event on October 16.


Related:

No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!

India Unsafe: The escalating heinous crimes against women

Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach To Find Out Baby's Gender

Public order a state subject: Smriti Irani on gov't measures against gendered crimes

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Save BSNL: Why Bengal workers are taking to the streets?

Sabrangindia 14 Oct 2020

BSNL contractual workers in Bengal are protesting against non-payment of dues amongst other major grievances like getting fired arbitrarily and reduction of salaries of contracual employees. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) are also organising hunger strikes protesting against the “systematic destruction” of the telecom service.

Save BSNL: Why Bengal workers are taking to the streets?

BSNL contractual workers in Bengal are protesting against non-payment of dues amongst other major grievances like getting fired arbitrarily and reduction of salaries of contracual employees. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) are also organising hunger strikes protesting against the “systematic destruction” of the telecom service.

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SC quashed Guj government’s anti-worker notification

In a victory for the principle of a dignified wage, the Court quashed the Notification that denied humane working conditions and overtime wages, while stating that it was an affront to the workers Right to Life and the right against forced labour.

10 Oct 2020

Labour Rights

On October 1, 2020 a three-Judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Indu Malhotra, DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, quashed a Gujarat government notification exempting factories from paying overtime wages to workers and providing ideal working conditions to them amid the Covid-19 lockdown, on grounds of public emergency in Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha & Anr. v. State of Gujarat. Mr. Sanjay Singhvi and Ms. Aparna Bhat represented the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and Trade Union Centre of India (Petitioners). Ms. Deepanita Priyanka represented the State of Gujarat (Respondent).

The court, under Article 142 of the Constitution also directed the Respondent to pay overtime wages to all workers who had been putting in additional labour since the issuance of the notification, i.e., April 17, 2020. Article 142 states that:

The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe.”

Ms. Deepanita Priyanka, appearing for the Government submitted by the support of Mr. Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India that the notification issued invoking section 5 of the Factories Act, is not unconstitutional and that the Covid-19 pandemic is a ‘public emergency’ defined in Section 5 of the Act. She argued that this has caused “extreme financial exigencies” in the State and the lockdown caused a slowdown in economic activities, leading to an ‘internal disturbance’ in Gujarat within the meaning of Section 5 of the Act. Section 5 of the Factories Act states that:

“In any case of public emergency the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, exempt any factory or class or description of factories from all or any of the provisions of this Act except section 67 for such period and subject to such conditions as it may think fit: Provided that no such notification shall be made for a period exceeding three months at a time.”

The Court disagreed with her submissions and noted that even though they were conscious about the adverse financial circumstances of factories due to the lockdown, the onus cannot be shifted on to the labourers. The court ruled, “This Court is cognizant that the Respondent aimed to ameliorate the financial exigencies that were caused due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. However, financial losses cannot be offset on the weary shoulders of the labouring worker, who provides the backbone of the economy".

 

Background

The impugned notification exempted all factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948 from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, intervals for rest, etc of adult workers under certain provisions of the Act from April 20, 2020 to July 19, 2020 to provide “certain relaxations for industrial and commercial activities.” While granting such exemptions to factories, the Gujarat Government also put an end to the requirement of payment of double wages for overtime and allowed for overtime hours to be compensated at normal working wages per hour. At the lapse of this notification, the Government issued a similar notification on July 20, 2020 that extended the exemption granted to factories from July 20, 2020 till October 19, 2020.

Hence, this notification was challenged on the grounds that:

  • The State had acted ultra vires the Factories Act. Section 5 of the Act only allows for exemption in cases of public emergency and that Covid19 has never been declared as one.

  • Section 5 also allows exemption to one factory or class of factories owing to ‘exceptional pressure of work’ and not a blanket exemption.

  • The notification does not categorically exempt the application of Section 59 of the Factories Act which mandates payment of double the wages for overtime and yet they make overtime wages proportionate to the existing wages. This violates the spirit of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and amounts to forced labour violating the workers’ fundamental rights under Article 23, 21 and 14.

 

The Supreme Court concurred with these arguments and stated, "Section 5 of the Factories Act could not have been invoked to issue a blanket notification that exempted all factories from complying with humane working conditions and adequate compensation for overtime, as a response to a pandemic that did not result in an ‘internal disturbance’ of a nature that posed a ‘grave emergency’ whereby the security of India is threatened. In any event, no factory/ classes of factories could have been exempted from compliance with provisions of the Factories Act, unless an ‘internal disturbance’ causes a grave emergency that threatens the security of the state, so as to constitute a ‘public emergency’ within the meaning of Section 5 of the Factories Act."

The Bench appreciated the objective of the Factories Act to safeguard the health and safety of all workers serving as “a bulwark against harsh and oppressive working conditions.” They also agreed that the notifications issued stood in contravention of the Factories Act legislation by increasing the daily limit of working hours from 9 hours to 12 hours, weekly work limit from 48 hours to 72 hours, an interval of rest every 6 hours, as opposed to 5 hours and payment of overtime wages proportionate to ordinary rate of wages, instead of overtime wages at the rate of double the ordinary rate of wages as provided under Section 59.

In a significant breakthrough for the principle of a fair and dignified wage that are the cornerstone of labour rights, this judgment of the Supreme Court, recognises the constitutional rights of workers such as welfare of the people, eliminating unequal status, facilities and opportunities, right to an adequate means of livelihood, health and strength of workers, securing just and humane conditions of work including maternity relief and legislations ensuring a decent standard of life for all citizens. “The Factories Act is an integral element of the vision of state policy which seeks to uphold Articles 38, 39, 42, and 43 of the Constitution”, they said. The Bench also acknowledged that no Constitution has any meaning if its basic tenets dwindles a person’s dignity at the hands of economic pressure. “Ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ in the Fundamental Rights recognized by the Constitution are but hollow aspirations if the aspiration for a dignified life can be thwarted by the immensity of economic coercion,” observed the Bench. The pandemic has rendered the already vulnerable workers powerless and the impugned notifications delegitimizes their demand for stable working conditions.

 

Constitutional Rights

Article 14 of the Constitution of India explains the concept of Equality before law. Judicial interpretations in the past have also expanded on this fundamental right to say that this right can be enforced in cases of unequal scales of pay through the principle of equal pay for equal work. The socio-economic structures of India draw a division between people who live comfortably and majority of them who live below the poverty line. Keeping this in mind, the framers of our Constitution crafted such provisions to offer equal protection. In M.G. Badappanavar vs. State of Karnataka (2001) 2 SCC 666, the Supreme court said "Equality is a basic feature of the Constitution of India and any treatment of equals unequally or unequal as equal will be violation of basic structure of the Constitution of India.”

On May 18, 2020 the Supreme Court judgment against a writ petition filed by Karnataka-based company Ficus Pax Private Limited, which had challenged the constitutional validity of government notifications mandating full wage payments during lockdown held that, “It is implicit in the fundamental right of an employer to trade or business that there is an obligation to pay when work is actually done and there is no obligation if no work is done."

Article 21 of Constitution of India assures among other aspects, the right to live with human dignity and free from any exploitation. State has obligatory duty to protect all Indians irrespective of their social and economic background, from the violation of fundamental rights especially to the weaker section of the society. This is a mandatory and obligatory philosophy of the Constitution.

Article 23 of the Constitution of India, recognizes the fundamental right of the citizens of this country not be compelled to work without wages, a right emphasised by the Supreme Court in Ram Niwas vs Uoi & Ors, on February 15, 2010, W. P (C) No. 7415 of 2008.

Article 41 of the Constitution of India under the Directive Principles of State Policy lays down the principle of a dignified living wage. “The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.”

 

Implications for other states

Excuses of financial exigency have led to other states like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh issuing similar notifications revising maximum weekly work hours, maximum daily work hours, overtime pay, etc. Pankaj Kumar Yadav, a journalist from Jharkhand, filed a Public Interest Litigation through advocate Nirmal Kumar Ambastha in the Supreme Court seeking directions to quash these notifications issued by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on May 14, 2020.  Rajasthan, the first State to increase the work limit of labourers from 8 to 12 hours withdrew this order on May 24, 2020. Rajasthan Principal Secretary (Labour) Niraj Kumar Pawan, while justifying this move, told Business Standard, “The shortage of workers is no longer a concern with the revised lockdown guidelines by the Central government. Companies are no longer bound to cap workers in factories and many units have opened up in Rajasthan. There are no restrictions on the movement of workers, too. Hence, the order has been withdrawn”.

On May 15, Uttar Pradesh withdrew its notification in response to a Public Interest Litigation in Allahabad High Court challenging the validity of the same. The Hindu reported that after the court issued the State a notice in the matter, Suresh Chandra, Principal Secretary, Labour Department, in an order dated May 15, 2020 directed the Chief State Counsel to inform the court that the notification to increase work hours was withdrawn.

Since the Madhya Pradesh notification is still in operation, the PIL is not entirely infructuous. On May 20, 2020, another PIL was filed by a law student, Nandini Praveen through Advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker, assailing relaxation of labour laws in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Assam, for having been issued without any authority of the law and contended that Central labour laws cannot be abridged by way of executive orders issued by the states.

In the light of the judgment delivered on October 1, 2020 the workers could benefit manifold. With the Supreme Court quashing a similar notification in Gujarat, the workers hailing from other states could be compensated for all the additional labour they’ve been putting since the lockdown and not suffer at the hands of their employers. The three-Judge Bench has already taken it upon themselves and claimed, “Judges must constantly remind themselves of its value through their tenures, if the call of the constitutional conscience is to retain meaning. The ‘right to life’ guaranteed to every person under Article 21, which includes a worker, would be devoid of an equal opportunity at social and economic freedom, in the absence of just and humane conditions of work.”

An important precedent has been set where the Judiciary recognizes the need to balance a public health crisis and labour welfare. The State cannot be allowed to make alterations in welfare legislation unless they can establish a link between inequity in the workplace and security of the state. “It cannot be interpreted to provide a free reign for the State to eliminate provisions promoting dignity and equity in the workplace in the face of novel challenges to the state administration, unless they bear an immediate nexus to ensuring the security of the State against the gravest of threats,” they observed.

The unemployment rate shot up to 27.1 per cent in the week ended May 3. This is the highest unemployment rate so far and the unemployment rate in the month of April 2020 was 23.5 per cent.[1] The CMIE report paints a grim picture of what lies ahead for India and 100 million Indians are being pushed back below the poverty line due to the impact of the unscheduled lockdown and pandemic. The Government is expected to step in with welfare measures like Africa where attention is being paid to programs like universal basic income amongst other multilateral institutions and global NGOs focusing on poverty reduction and inequality in low income countries especially in Sub Saharan Africa, as reported by Quartz Africa.[2]

On March 23, 2020 the German Government announced a comprehensive economic package of 750 billion euros. This included subsidies for small companies and freelancers, stabilisation measures for large companies, and welfare measures for families. The government recognized the economic pain that its people would have to endure in the fight against the virus, and it was willing to even go into debt to help as reported by Observer Research Foundation.[3]

The decision officials of the Supreme Court that empowers workers and their rights to a wage and a dignified wage is not just part and parcel of humane governance but is enshrined in the Indian Constitution and their rights enshrined under various labour statutes. This can be done by assuring them of stable working conditions, minimum wages and payment for the extra labour they dispense. Desperate groups, under unfavourable monetary situations have a tendency to provide service at lower rate. The Apex Court, in Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v Union of India 1982 AIR SC 1473, stated that “the compulsion of economic circumstance which leaves no choice of alternatives to a person in want and compels him to provide labour or service” was no less a form of forced labour than any other, and its remedy lay in a constitutional guarantee of the minimum wage.

Reasserting a similar importance of the unorganized sector through labour welfare legislations and appropriate judicial decisions will go a long way in protecting the flag bearers of economic activity.   

The complete judgment may be read here.


Related:

SC quashes Gujarat notification extending work hours without overtime pay

Battle against dilution of labour laws to culminate in Supreme Court?

Labour laws and rights in peril in India?

 

 

SC quashed Guj government’s anti-worker notification

In a victory for the principle of a dignified wage, the Court quashed the Notification that denied humane working conditions and overtime wages, while stating that it was an affront to the workers Right to Life and the right against forced labour.

Labour Rights

On October 1, 2020 a three-Judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Indu Malhotra, DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, quashed a Gujarat government notification exempting factories from paying overtime wages to workers and providing ideal working conditions to them amid the Covid-19 lockdown, on grounds of public emergency in Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha & Anr. v. State of Gujarat. Mr. Sanjay Singhvi and Ms. Aparna Bhat represented the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and Trade Union Centre of India (Petitioners). Ms. Deepanita Priyanka represented the State of Gujarat (Respondent).

The court, under Article 142 of the Constitution also directed the Respondent to pay overtime wages to all workers who had been putting in additional labour since the issuance of the notification, i.e., April 17, 2020. Article 142 states that:

The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe.”

Ms. Deepanita Priyanka, appearing for the Government submitted by the support of Mr. Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India that the notification issued invoking section 5 of the Factories Act, is not unconstitutional and that the Covid-19 pandemic is a ‘public emergency’ defined in Section 5 of the Act. She argued that this has caused “extreme financial exigencies” in the State and the lockdown caused a slowdown in economic activities, leading to an ‘internal disturbance’ in Gujarat within the meaning of Section 5 of the Act. Section 5 of the Factories Act states that:

“In any case of public emergency the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, exempt any factory or class or description of factories from all or any of the provisions of this Act except section 67 for such period and subject to such conditions as it may think fit: Provided that no such notification shall be made for a period exceeding three months at a time.”

The Court disagreed with her submissions and noted that even though they were conscious about the adverse financial circumstances of factories due to the lockdown, the onus cannot be shifted on to the labourers. The court ruled, “This Court is cognizant that the Respondent aimed to ameliorate the financial exigencies that were caused due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. However, financial losses cannot be offset on the weary shoulders of the labouring worker, who provides the backbone of the economy".

 

Background

The impugned notification exempted all factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948 from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, intervals for rest, etc of adult workers under certain provisions of the Act from April 20, 2020 to July 19, 2020 to provide “certain relaxations for industrial and commercial activities.” While granting such exemptions to factories, the Gujarat Government also put an end to the requirement of payment of double wages for overtime and allowed for overtime hours to be compensated at normal working wages per hour. At the lapse of this notification, the Government issued a similar notification on July 20, 2020 that extended the exemption granted to factories from July 20, 2020 till October 19, 2020.

Hence, this notification was challenged on the grounds that:

  • The State had acted ultra vires the Factories Act. Section 5 of the Act only allows for exemption in cases of public emergency and that Covid19 has never been declared as one.

  • Section 5 also allows exemption to one factory or class of factories owing to ‘exceptional pressure of work’ and not a blanket exemption.

  • The notification does not categorically exempt the application of Section 59 of the Factories Act which mandates payment of double the wages for overtime and yet they make overtime wages proportionate to the existing wages. This violates the spirit of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and amounts to forced labour violating the workers’ fundamental rights under Article 23, 21 and 14.

 

The Supreme Court concurred with these arguments and stated, "Section 5 of the Factories Act could not have been invoked to issue a blanket notification that exempted all factories from complying with humane working conditions and adequate compensation for overtime, as a response to a pandemic that did not result in an ‘internal disturbance’ of a nature that posed a ‘grave emergency’ whereby the security of India is threatened. In any event, no factory/ classes of factories could have been exempted from compliance with provisions of the Factories Act, unless an ‘internal disturbance’ causes a grave emergency that threatens the security of the state, so as to constitute a ‘public emergency’ within the meaning of Section 5 of the Factories Act."

The Bench appreciated the objective of the Factories Act to safeguard the health and safety of all workers serving as “a bulwark against harsh and oppressive working conditions.” They also agreed that the notifications issued stood in contravention of the Factories Act legislation by increasing the daily limit of working hours from 9 hours to 12 hours, weekly work limit from 48 hours to 72 hours, an interval of rest every 6 hours, as opposed to 5 hours and payment of overtime wages proportionate to ordinary rate of wages, instead of overtime wages at the rate of double the ordinary rate of wages as provided under Section 59.

In a significant breakthrough for the principle of a fair and dignified wage that are the cornerstone of labour rights, this judgment of the Supreme Court, recognises the constitutional rights of workers such as welfare of the people, eliminating unequal status, facilities and opportunities, right to an adequate means of livelihood, health and strength of workers, securing just and humane conditions of work including maternity relief and legislations ensuring a decent standard of life for all citizens. “The Factories Act is an integral element of the vision of state policy which seeks to uphold Articles 38, 39, 42, and 43 of the Constitution”, they said. The Bench also acknowledged that no Constitution has any meaning if its basic tenets dwindles a person’s dignity at the hands of economic pressure. “Ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ in the Fundamental Rights recognized by the Constitution are but hollow aspirations if the aspiration for a dignified life can be thwarted by the immensity of economic coercion,” observed the Bench. The pandemic has rendered the already vulnerable workers powerless and the impugned notifications delegitimizes their demand for stable working conditions.

 

Constitutional Rights

Article 14 of the Constitution of India explains the concept of Equality before law. Judicial interpretations in the past have also expanded on this fundamental right to say that this right can be enforced in cases of unequal scales of pay through the principle of equal pay for equal work. The socio-economic structures of India draw a division between people who live comfortably and majority of them who live below the poverty line. Keeping this in mind, the framers of our Constitution crafted such provisions to offer equal protection. In M.G. Badappanavar vs. State of Karnataka (2001) 2 SCC 666, the Supreme court said "Equality is a basic feature of the Constitution of India and any treatment of equals unequally or unequal as equal will be violation of basic structure of the Constitution of India.”

On May 18, 2020 the Supreme Court judgment against a writ petition filed by Karnataka-based company Ficus Pax Private Limited, which had challenged the constitutional validity of government notifications mandating full wage payments during lockdown held that, “It is implicit in the fundamental right of an employer to trade or business that there is an obligation to pay when work is actually done and there is no obligation if no work is done."

Article 21 of Constitution of India assures among other aspects, the right to live with human dignity and free from any exploitation. State has obligatory duty to protect all Indians irrespective of their social and economic background, from the violation of fundamental rights especially to the weaker section of the society. This is a mandatory and obligatory philosophy of the Constitution.

Article 23 of the Constitution of India, recognizes the fundamental right of the citizens of this country not be compelled to work without wages, a right emphasised by the Supreme Court in Ram Niwas vs Uoi & Ors, on February 15, 2010, W. P (C) No. 7415 of 2008.

Article 41 of the Constitution of India under the Directive Principles of State Policy lays down the principle of a dignified living wage. “The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.”

 

Implications for other states

Excuses of financial exigency have led to other states like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh issuing similar notifications revising maximum weekly work hours, maximum daily work hours, overtime pay, etc. Pankaj Kumar Yadav, a journalist from Jharkhand, filed a Public Interest Litigation through advocate Nirmal Kumar Ambastha in the Supreme Court seeking directions to quash these notifications issued by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on May 14, 2020.  Rajasthan, the first State to increase the work limit of labourers from 8 to 12 hours withdrew this order on May 24, 2020. Rajasthan Principal Secretary (Labour) Niraj Kumar Pawan, while justifying this move, told Business Standard, “The shortage of workers is no longer a concern with the revised lockdown guidelines by the Central government. Companies are no longer bound to cap workers in factories and many units have opened up in Rajasthan. There are no restrictions on the movement of workers, too. Hence, the order has been withdrawn”.

On May 15, Uttar Pradesh withdrew its notification in response to a Public Interest Litigation in Allahabad High Court challenging the validity of the same. The Hindu reported that after the court issued the State a notice in the matter, Suresh Chandra, Principal Secretary, Labour Department, in an order dated May 15, 2020 directed the Chief State Counsel to inform the court that the notification to increase work hours was withdrawn.

Since the Madhya Pradesh notification is still in operation, the PIL is not entirely infructuous. On May 20, 2020, another PIL was filed by a law student, Nandini Praveen through Advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker, assailing relaxation of labour laws in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Assam, for having been issued without any authority of the law and contended that Central labour laws cannot be abridged by way of executive orders issued by the states.

In the light of the judgment delivered on October 1, 2020 the workers could benefit manifold. With the Supreme Court quashing a similar notification in Gujarat, the workers hailing from other states could be compensated for all the additional labour they’ve been putting since the lockdown and not suffer at the hands of their employers. The three-Judge Bench has already taken it upon themselves and claimed, “Judges must constantly remind themselves of its value through their tenures, if the call of the constitutional conscience is to retain meaning. The ‘right to life’ guaranteed to every person under Article 21, which includes a worker, would be devoid of an equal opportunity at social and economic freedom, in the absence of just and humane conditions of work.”

An important precedent has been set where the Judiciary recognizes the need to balance a public health crisis and labour welfare. The State cannot be allowed to make alterations in welfare legislation unless they can establish a link between inequity in the workplace and security of the state. “It cannot be interpreted to provide a free reign for the State to eliminate provisions promoting dignity and equity in the workplace in the face of novel challenges to the state administration, unless they bear an immediate nexus to ensuring the security of the State against the gravest of threats,” they observed.

The unemployment rate shot up to 27.1 per cent in the week ended May 3. This is the highest unemployment rate so far and the unemployment rate in the month of April 2020 was 23.5 per cent.[1] The CMIE report paints a grim picture of what lies ahead for India and 100 million Indians are being pushed back below the poverty line due to the impact of the unscheduled lockdown and pandemic. The Government is expected to step in with welfare measures like Africa where attention is being paid to programs like universal basic income amongst other multilateral institutions and global NGOs focusing on poverty reduction and inequality in low income countries especially in Sub Saharan Africa, as reported by Quartz Africa.[2]

On March 23, 2020 the German Government announced a comprehensive economic package of 750 billion euros. This included subsidies for small companies and freelancers, stabilisation measures for large companies, and welfare measures for families. The government recognized the economic pain that its people would have to endure in the fight against the virus, and it was willing to even go into debt to help as reported by Observer Research Foundation.[3]

The decision officials of the Supreme Court that empowers workers and their rights to a wage and a dignified wage is not just part and parcel of humane governance but is enshrined in the Indian Constitution and their rights enshrined under various labour statutes. This can be done by assuring them of stable working conditions, minimum wages and payment for the extra labour they dispense. Desperate groups, under unfavourable monetary situations have a tendency to provide service at lower rate. The Apex Court, in Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v Union of India 1982 AIR SC 1473, stated that “the compulsion of economic circumstance which leaves no choice of alternatives to a person in want and compels him to provide labour or service” was no less a form of forced labour than any other, and its remedy lay in a constitutional guarantee of the minimum wage.

Reasserting a similar importance of the unorganized sector through labour welfare legislations and appropriate judicial decisions will go a long way in protecting the flag bearers of economic activity.   

The complete judgment may be read here.


Related:

SC quashes Gujarat notification extending work hours without overtime pay

Battle against dilution of labour laws to culminate in Supreme Court?

Labour laws and rights in peril in India?

 

 

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Remembering T Peter: Trade unionist and leader of India’s fishworkers

The man who helped stranded fishermen get home amidst the Covid-19 pandemic succumbs to the disease himself

09 Oct 2020

Image Courtesy:thehindu.com

T Peter, General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), had used the Covid-19 lockdown to work even more than humanly possible for those he called “my people”. Thanks to him, and the NFF, information about stranded fishworkers along the coast of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the Gulf Countries reached the national media. Many returned home to their waiting family, thanks to the man who worked day and night, collecting, translating, disseminating information about the fishworkers, and preparing documents with his team to be shared with the authorities and media.

This, in addition to the scores of reports and policy papers he would read and with the eye of an editor and the soul of the trade unionist, pick out any anti-worker policy that the authorities may have hidden in jargon. Ever the gentleman, he would always return missed calls from reporters, including the SabrangIndia team, with an apology. “Sorry I did not take your call, I was in a webinar,” was the reason he would start with, “but I want to thank you for your report. No one listens and shares the voice of fishworkers like SabrangIndia does,” he would say and patiently proceed to decode some jargon filled policy the Union Ministry would have just passed. He would then send a detailed press note the next day, “just in case I missed anything”. “We should write a book on the struggles of the Fishworkers sir,” this writer once told him. “Yes yes, let the lockdown end, we at NFF must meet with team SabrangIndia”. 

T Peter passed away on October 8, succumbing to Covid-19 related complications in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was 62 years old. The video of his last journey sent by a friend shows the pallbearers observing full Covid protocol, of protective body suits, and physical distancing of the mourners, however one can hear the wails and cries of the men and women T Peter fought for all his life. As the ambulance bearing his mortal remains drove through the streets of the state capital, towards the designated graveyard, a eulogy of the man who the fishworkers called their ‘chettan’ or big brother, was broadcast on loudspeaker.

Peter fought for more than three decades, as a full time activist and union organiser, to empower India’s fishing communities, stated his colleagues, and comrades in a statement. He played a critical role in advancing their struggles from  the margins into the political mainstream. They shared his work live bio stating that he joined the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation (KSMTF) in the early 1980s as a  young organiser in the “fight against trawlers which were destroying both the fragile  coastal ecosystems and traditional livelihoods”. 

He rose through the union ranks, became a district-level leader and then the state president, he was a cultural activist long before he became well known as a socio- political activist. Even after he passed on the state leadership mantle to the next generation, Peter spent his next years playing a creative and active role at the national and international levels. 

After he became the General Secretary of National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), Peter was immersed in organising  fishworkers’ unions across the coastal states, and working towards protecting the livelihoods of traditional and  small-scale fishworkers from the destructive impacts of large development projects and market driven globalisation.

He was an executive member of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), and was instrumental in raising fisher concerns at global fora. As shared by his NFF colleagues, Peter was central to the organising of the 7th General Assembly of WFFP in New Delhi in November 2017 which drew participants from across the  world.  

Peter believed “in solidarity amongst various social, workers and environmental  movements” he constantly worked to forge alliances across a number of people’s platforms in India. He played an active role in the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and  worked closely with groups such as the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Coalition for Environment Justice in  India (CEJI) and Forum for Trade Justice, stated his colleagues.  

According to his friends Peter was politically astute, and had worked with leaders like Fr. Thomas Kochery, Harekrishna Debnath, Matanhy Saldanha and Ram Bhau  Patil. His vision was to always protect the rights of fisher  folk of India, and to protect India’s coastal areas. He ensured that the NFF and KSMTF were active participants in many joint struggles against special economic zones, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), free trade agreements  (FTAs), industrial corridors, nuclear parks and port expansion. Peter was also chief editor of  ALAKAL, a fortnightly magazine published by KSMTF since 1985. 

Peter even used the Covid-19 lockdown for upgrading his own technical skills, and was soon online researching, connecting with people the world over, and his latest love of international webinars was becoming well known by the fact that he would send a text or email in the wee hours, almost as if he was running on an international clock. Of course, with all attention on the job at hand he would not take calls whenever a webinar was on. Perhaps he was just too polite to use the mute button online

Few knew that when his home Kerala was hit by floods in 2018, Peter played a pivotal role in mobilising fishworkers and  their boats in rescue and relief operations. A fact just shared by his colleagues. Peter would never ever talk about his own achievements.  According to his colleagues, just before he fell ill he was busy mobilising the community to oppose the  pro-corporate draft of the 2020 National Fisheries Policy and the West Coast Shipping Corridor  being pushed unilaterally by India’s Central Government.  

His colleagues, today, fondly remembered the unassuming man who  “would unhesitantly walk into any Ministry to push the public cause, just as he would walk  into any fisher home to extend solidarity or lead a protest or a rally asserting traditional fisher  rights.” 

“His trademark all weather light blue half-sleeve shirt and white mundu (dhoti) with a  cotton cloth bag on the shoulder, is how we will always remember Peteretan- as he was known  to his younger friends,” stated his colleagues. Many of whom lined the streets to pay their last respects. 

Peter’s sudden passing is indeed an irreparable loss to people's movements in India and globally. His colleagues state that Peter's life’s mission “to work with commitment and for solidarity action towards  justice and equality for all”  will continue in their actions now. “Peteretan will always be with us to inspire us in our struggles for a better world,”  the statement were signed by National Alliance of People Movements (NAPM), Delhi Forum, Delhi Solidarity Group, Chennai Solidarity Group,  Coastal Action Network, SNEHA, LAW Trust,  Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), Third World Network, Environment Support Group, Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, Programme for Social Action (PSA), Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), Focus on the Global South, and Forum for Trade Justice among others.

The National Fishworkers Forum [NFF] in a separate statement deeply mourned  the demise of “our beloved leader and one among the tall stalwarts of the fishworkers movement – Comrade T Peter”. They recalled that he, the son of Thomas and Clarie Bell hailing from a fishing village, “dedicated his life and defined his role of engaging with and for the struggling communities.”

Narendra R Patil NFF Chairperson stated, “As we all are coming to terms with this untimely loss, NFF also stands with Peter’s family and  remembers them for their dedication in giving us Peter to take forward the aspirations of the fishing  communities. It will be from Peter’s energy, optimism and politics of ‘a new world is possible’ that  will lead and help us to carry the aspirations and vision of the fishworkers forward.” 

Related:

EXCLUSIVE: 820 TN fishermen trapped in Iran send SOS videos
If fish dies it is GDP, if fisherman dies it is ex-gratia
Gov't risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture rough seas
Fishing for trouble, or troubling the fishworkers?
I don't have 100 dollars to reach the port: Indian fisherman in Iran

Remembering T Peter: Trade unionist and leader of India’s fishworkers

The man who helped stranded fishermen get home amidst the Covid-19 pandemic succumbs to the disease himself

Image Courtesy:thehindu.com

T Peter, General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), had used the Covid-19 lockdown to work even more than humanly possible for those he called “my people”. Thanks to him, and the NFF, information about stranded fishworkers along the coast of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the Gulf Countries reached the national media. Many returned home to their waiting family, thanks to the man who worked day and night, collecting, translating, disseminating information about the fishworkers, and preparing documents with his team to be shared with the authorities and media.

This, in addition to the scores of reports and policy papers he would read and with the eye of an editor and the soul of the trade unionist, pick out any anti-worker policy that the authorities may have hidden in jargon. Ever the gentleman, he would always return missed calls from reporters, including the SabrangIndia team, with an apology. “Sorry I did not take your call, I was in a webinar,” was the reason he would start with, “but I want to thank you for your report. No one listens and shares the voice of fishworkers like SabrangIndia does,” he would say and patiently proceed to decode some jargon filled policy the Union Ministry would have just passed. He would then send a detailed press note the next day, “just in case I missed anything”. “We should write a book on the struggles of the Fishworkers sir,” this writer once told him. “Yes yes, let the lockdown end, we at NFF must meet with team SabrangIndia”. 

T Peter passed away on October 8, succumbing to Covid-19 related complications in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was 62 years old. The video of his last journey sent by a friend shows the pallbearers observing full Covid protocol, of protective body suits, and physical distancing of the mourners, however one can hear the wails and cries of the men and women T Peter fought for all his life. As the ambulance bearing his mortal remains drove through the streets of the state capital, towards the designated graveyard, a eulogy of the man who the fishworkers called their ‘chettan’ or big brother, was broadcast on loudspeaker.

Peter fought for more than three decades, as a full time activist and union organiser, to empower India’s fishing communities, stated his colleagues, and comrades in a statement. He played a critical role in advancing their struggles from  the margins into the political mainstream. They shared his work live bio stating that he joined the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation (KSMTF) in the early 1980s as a  young organiser in the “fight against trawlers which were destroying both the fragile  coastal ecosystems and traditional livelihoods”. 

He rose through the union ranks, became a district-level leader and then the state president, he was a cultural activist long before he became well known as a socio- political activist. Even after he passed on the state leadership mantle to the next generation, Peter spent his next years playing a creative and active role at the national and international levels. 

After he became the General Secretary of National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), Peter was immersed in organising  fishworkers’ unions across the coastal states, and working towards protecting the livelihoods of traditional and  small-scale fishworkers from the destructive impacts of large development projects and market driven globalisation.

He was an executive member of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), and was instrumental in raising fisher concerns at global fora. As shared by his NFF colleagues, Peter was central to the organising of the 7th General Assembly of WFFP in New Delhi in November 2017 which drew participants from across the  world.  

Peter believed “in solidarity amongst various social, workers and environmental  movements” he constantly worked to forge alliances across a number of people’s platforms in India. He played an active role in the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and  worked closely with groups such as the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Coalition for Environment Justice in  India (CEJI) and Forum for Trade Justice, stated his colleagues.  

According to his friends Peter was politically astute, and had worked with leaders like Fr. Thomas Kochery, Harekrishna Debnath, Matanhy Saldanha and Ram Bhau  Patil. His vision was to always protect the rights of fisher  folk of India, and to protect India’s coastal areas. He ensured that the NFF and KSMTF were active participants in many joint struggles against special economic zones, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), free trade agreements  (FTAs), industrial corridors, nuclear parks and port expansion. Peter was also chief editor of  ALAKAL, a fortnightly magazine published by KSMTF since 1985. 

Peter even used the Covid-19 lockdown for upgrading his own technical skills, and was soon online researching, connecting with people the world over, and his latest love of international webinars was becoming well known by the fact that he would send a text or email in the wee hours, almost as if he was running on an international clock. Of course, with all attention on the job at hand he would not take calls whenever a webinar was on. Perhaps he was just too polite to use the mute button online

Few knew that when his home Kerala was hit by floods in 2018, Peter played a pivotal role in mobilising fishworkers and  their boats in rescue and relief operations. A fact just shared by his colleagues. Peter would never ever talk about his own achievements.  According to his colleagues, just before he fell ill he was busy mobilising the community to oppose the  pro-corporate draft of the 2020 National Fisheries Policy and the West Coast Shipping Corridor  being pushed unilaterally by India’s Central Government.  

His colleagues, today, fondly remembered the unassuming man who  “would unhesitantly walk into any Ministry to push the public cause, just as he would walk  into any fisher home to extend solidarity or lead a protest or a rally asserting traditional fisher  rights.” 

“His trademark all weather light blue half-sleeve shirt and white mundu (dhoti) with a  cotton cloth bag on the shoulder, is how we will always remember Peteretan- as he was known  to his younger friends,” stated his colleagues. Many of whom lined the streets to pay their last respects. 

Peter’s sudden passing is indeed an irreparable loss to people's movements in India and globally. His colleagues state that Peter's life’s mission “to work with commitment and for solidarity action towards  justice and equality for all”  will continue in their actions now. “Peteretan will always be with us to inspire us in our struggles for a better world,”  the statement were signed by National Alliance of People Movements (NAPM), Delhi Forum, Delhi Solidarity Group, Chennai Solidarity Group,  Coastal Action Network, SNEHA, LAW Trust,  Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), Third World Network, Environment Support Group, Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, Programme for Social Action (PSA), Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), Focus on the Global South, and Forum for Trade Justice among others.

The National Fishworkers Forum [NFF] in a separate statement deeply mourned  the demise of “our beloved leader and one among the tall stalwarts of the fishworkers movement – Comrade T Peter”. They recalled that he, the son of Thomas and Clarie Bell hailing from a fishing village, “dedicated his life and defined his role of engaging with and for the struggling communities.”

Narendra R Patil NFF Chairperson stated, “As we all are coming to terms with this untimely loss, NFF also stands with Peter’s family and  remembers them for their dedication in giving us Peter to take forward the aspirations of the fishing  communities. It will be from Peter’s energy, optimism and politics of ‘a new world is possible’ that  will lead and help us to carry the aspirations and vision of the fishworkers forward.” 

Related:

EXCLUSIVE: 820 TN fishermen trapped in Iran send SOS videos
If fish dies it is GDP, if fisherman dies it is ex-gratia
Gov't risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture rough seas
Fishing for trouble, or troubling the fishworkers?
I don't have 100 dollars to reach the port: Indian fisherman in Iran

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Why is the government still ignoring migrants’ lives?

The Covid-19 lockdown is almost over, but its impact, economic and otherwise, still affects migrants in the most dangerous ways

09 Oct 2020

migrants

Well into yet another ‘unlock’ with politicians repeatedly saying that the economy is back on track, the lakhs of migrant workers, who were among the worse affected due to the sudden lockdown in March, continue to suffer. India still does not have a working system to absorb migrants under the public distribution system, stated an extensive report in The Telegraph, stating that the average income had plummeted 85 per cent by mid-August among returned migrant workers.

Around 35 percent of them have had no work at all, the report based on a survey, stated that two-thirds of the migrants who had returned to their villages, now want to return to the cities they worked in. They do not have a choice even though they may have planned to stay home for longer as Covid-19 crisis in the cities continues. When they had come back after the arduous journey from workplaces like Mumbai, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, and Delhi, many had vowed they would never return. 

After the lockdown, many migrant labourers were forced to choose between two extremely difficult options; continue to stay in expensive cities where expenses kept mounting and income sources dried up, or go back home to their families in their villages, but face an uncertain economic future. Citizens for Justice and Peace,  supplied rations and essentials to thousands of migrant labourers who both stayed on, and some of those who left. SabrangIndia and CJP series Migrant Diaries had chronicled the ordeals they were forced to face as they took an arduous journey back home. 

Some like Tinku Sheikh had quickly realised the hardships were only to get worse even at home, “There is no work here. I have heard that MNREGA work has started in our village but I do not have a job card. My parents used to have one but I don’t have one. Now the offices are shut because of this lockdown, how will I get one for myself? I don’t know from where I will earn money for my and my family’s sustenance? What I do know is that if the lockdown continues then poor people will starve to death,” Tinku Sheikh had told team CJP back in June. 

He was right, and now the continuing hardship is forcing the millions who had walked home in initial days of the lockdown, to return to the cities. The Telegraph reported that a telephone survey of returned migrants across six states conducted between June 30-August 15 has emphasised the lockdown’s continuing impact.

The report “Migrant workers: A study on their livelihood after reverse migration due to lockdown” by the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation, a body of retired Indian Statistical Service and Indian Economic Service officials, was released on Thursday. The survey spoke to  “2,917 returned migrants from 505 gram panchayats in 34 districts in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand,” its principal investigator B.B. Singh told the media, and found that the worker’s “average monthly income had, after their return, fallen from Rs 13,683 to Rs 2,045 – a drop of 85 per cent,” this has prompted 67.64 per cent to plan a return to their workplaces in the cities.

The Telegraph noted that Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar had told the Lok Sabha on September 14 that “80 crore people were being provided 5kg wheat or rice and 1kg of pulses free every month” in addition to their usual entitlements under the National Food Security Act. The minister added that “20.65 crore women Jan Dhan account holders had been given a cash assistance of Rs 500 a month for three months, while three crore pensioners had received a one-time ex-gratia assistance of Rs 1,000.” The government stated an additional allocation Rs 40,000 crore under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which promises every rural household up to 100 days’ work a year. 

However, the survey found that while the job scheme was supposed to absorb a substantial number of the returned migrants, it provided employment to just 3.53 per cent, stated the news report  While many of the returned migrants did casual work for an average of 4.59 days a week, nearly half were paid less than the minimum wage. About 35 per cent had no work. According to the report even though some states had started giving free rations to stranded migrants in the early days of the lockdown, it was too little, “only 4 per cent received the free rice and less than 2.57 percent received free wheat and dal.”

The Telegraph quoted P.C. Mohanan, former acting chairperson of the National Statistical Commission who attended the report’s web release, that the survey had “found that there was hardly any support for sustaining their income or rations at their place of work,” he said. Mohanan highlighted that the “country currently has no system to absorb migrants under the public distribution system.” He added that for the two-thirds of the migrants who want to return to their work sites, “The central and state governments should ensure they can go back to their workplaces without any financial burden,” as even train travel was now expensive. Ashok Gulati, former commissioner for agricultural cost and prices, told The Telegraph that, “the income loss is the most alarming aspect.”

Behera says he is happy that he has reached home safely but is aware that the financial struggle will begin afresh. “We are going to face a lot of difficulty due to unemployment and ultimately we will have financial issues. But I am with my family now which is most important to me. I am thankful to all the people who helped us during this crisis. I hope that things get back on track, and the state government provides us with some opportunity for work, so that we can at least earn for our daily living,” says Behera. 

His optimism, backed by his will to work hard, will help him brave this storm too. Hopefully, the government of Odisha is looking out for the workers who have always sent money, money that was also added by their families’ spending, right into the state’s coffers.

As Hrudanand Behera, a skilled repairman, who had returned from Mumbai to his village Biripali, in Bolangir district of Odisha, told CJP, and SabrangIndia that their financial struggle will begin afresh, even after 20 years of working in the big city. “We are going to face a lot of difficulty due to unemployment and ultimately we will have financial issues…” he had predicted months ago.

 

Related:

http://sabrangindia.in/migrant-diaries

No data to check unemployment rate in last 12 months?

National Unemployment Day: Youth demand jobs, financial security

SC quashes Gujarat notification extending work hours without overtime pay

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Labour Codes Issues: Spelling out the ABCs

Why is the government still ignoring migrants’ lives?

The Covid-19 lockdown is almost over, but its impact, economic and otherwise, still affects migrants in the most dangerous ways

migrants

Well into yet another ‘unlock’ with politicians repeatedly saying that the economy is back on track, the lakhs of migrant workers, who were among the worse affected due to the sudden lockdown in March, continue to suffer. India still does not have a working system to absorb migrants under the public distribution system, stated an extensive report in The Telegraph, stating that the average income had plummeted 85 per cent by mid-August among returned migrant workers.

Around 35 percent of them have had no work at all, the report based on a survey, stated that two-thirds of the migrants who had returned to their villages, now want to return to the cities they worked in. They do not have a choice even though they may have planned to stay home for longer as Covid-19 crisis in the cities continues. When they had come back after the arduous journey from workplaces like Mumbai, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, and Delhi, many had vowed they would never return. 

After the lockdown, many migrant labourers were forced to choose between two extremely difficult options; continue to stay in expensive cities where expenses kept mounting and income sources dried up, or go back home to their families in their villages, but face an uncertain economic future. Citizens for Justice and Peace,  supplied rations and essentials to thousands of migrant labourers who both stayed on, and some of those who left. SabrangIndia and CJP series Migrant Diaries had chronicled the ordeals they were forced to face as they took an arduous journey back home. 

Some like Tinku Sheikh had quickly realised the hardships were only to get worse even at home, “There is no work here. I have heard that MNREGA work has started in our village but I do not have a job card. My parents used to have one but I don’t have one. Now the offices are shut because of this lockdown, how will I get one for myself? I don’t know from where I will earn money for my and my family’s sustenance? What I do know is that if the lockdown continues then poor people will starve to death,” Tinku Sheikh had told team CJP back in June. 

He was right, and now the continuing hardship is forcing the millions who had walked home in initial days of the lockdown, to return to the cities. The Telegraph reported that a telephone survey of returned migrants across six states conducted between June 30-August 15 has emphasised the lockdown’s continuing impact.

The report “Migrant workers: A study on their livelihood after reverse migration due to lockdown” by the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation, a body of retired Indian Statistical Service and Indian Economic Service officials, was released on Thursday. The survey spoke to  “2,917 returned migrants from 505 gram panchayats in 34 districts in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand,” its principal investigator B.B. Singh told the media, and found that the worker’s “average monthly income had, after their return, fallen from Rs 13,683 to Rs 2,045 – a drop of 85 per cent,” this has prompted 67.64 per cent to plan a return to their workplaces in the cities.

The Telegraph noted that Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar had told the Lok Sabha on September 14 that “80 crore people were being provided 5kg wheat or rice and 1kg of pulses free every month” in addition to their usual entitlements under the National Food Security Act. The minister added that “20.65 crore women Jan Dhan account holders had been given a cash assistance of Rs 500 a month for three months, while three crore pensioners had received a one-time ex-gratia assistance of Rs 1,000.” The government stated an additional allocation Rs 40,000 crore under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which promises every rural household up to 100 days’ work a year. 

However, the survey found that while the job scheme was supposed to absorb a substantial number of the returned migrants, it provided employment to just 3.53 per cent, stated the news report  While many of the returned migrants did casual work for an average of 4.59 days a week, nearly half were paid less than the minimum wage. About 35 per cent had no work. According to the report even though some states had started giving free rations to stranded migrants in the early days of the lockdown, it was too little, “only 4 per cent received the free rice and less than 2.57 percent received free wheat and dal.”

The Telegraph quoted P.C. Mohanan, former acting chairperson of the National Statistical Commission who attended the report’s web release, that the survey had “found that there was hardly any support for sustaining their income or rations at their place of work,” he said. Mohanan highlighted that the “country currently has no system to absorb migrants under the public distribution system.” He added that for the two-thirds of the migrants who want to return to their work sites, “The central and state governments should ensure they can go back to their workplaces without any financial burden,” as even train travel was now expensive. Ashok Gulati, former commissioner for agricultural cost and prices, told The Telegraph that, “the income loss is the most alarming aspect.”

Behera says he is happy that he has reached home safely but is aware that the financial struggle will begin afresh. “We are going to face a lot of difficulty due to unemployment and ultimately we will have financial issues. But I am with my family now which is most important to me. I am thankful to all the people who helped us during this crisis. I hope that things get back on track, and the state government provides us with some opportunity for work, so that we can at least earn for our daily living,” says Behera. 

His optimism, backed by his will to work hard, will help him brave this storm too. Hopefully, the government of Odisha is looking out for the workers who have always sent money, money that was also added by their families’ spending, right into the state’s coffers.

As Hrudanand Behera, a skilled repairman, who had returned from Mumbai to his village Biripali, in Bolangir district of Odisha, told CJP, and SabrangIndia that their financial struggle will begin afresh, even after 20 years of working in the big city. “We are going to face a lot of difficulty due to unemployment and ultimately we will have financial issues…” he had predicted months ago.

 

Related:

http://sabrangindia.in/migrant-diaries

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