A joint platform of central trade union organisations sent a letter to the Union Home Minister on Monday asking for the withdrawal of FIRs filed against workers who during a two-day strike voiced the grievances of the Covid fighters.
The letter signed by 10 central workers unions – the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), the Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) and the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) – deplored the police reports against peaceful protesters who were dissenting against the labour policy, disinvestment and privatisation of public sector enterprises such as hospitals and schools.
During the two-day strike that began from August 7, community-level scheme workers protested against the non-availability of PPE kits, insurance as well as risk allowance.
The protest raised genuine issues of the frontline Covid-19 warriors like the medical and technical staff, municipality workers as well as ASHA workers, workers from anganwadis and mid-day meal workers. However, despite their relentless assistance in mitigating and controlling the spread of coronavirus, many of them contracted the virus. Yet, allegedly, no safety kits came from the government.
Accordingly, the unions’ letter alleged that the people were compelled to protest during the pandemic because of persistent and accumulating problems created by the Central government. The letter even questioned the charges under which the FIRs were filed.
“Mask wearing and physical distancing was strictly practiced while organising the protests. Even then that has been made the ground for filing the said FIRs. It smacks of vindictive attempt at muzzling the democratic rights of the unions to represent the grievances of the workers, the wealth producers and the service givers. This is unacceptable,” said the letter.
Other than the demands for PPE kits, the workers also wanted to make centrally sponsored schemes like ICDS, NHM and MDMS permanent with adequate budget allocation.
For example, while discussing the public sector, the people asked that six percent of the GDP be allocated to the health sector. This would ensure adequate facilities in quarantine centres and hospitals.
The protesters were against any pro-employer-change in Labour Laws – increase in working hours or freezing of Labour laws – under the guise of a Covid-19 Crisis.
Moreover, they wanted free ration for the needy and demanded Rs.7,500 per month for non-tax-paying families for the next six months. They also asked for frequent, random and free Covid-19 tests of all frontline workers. In the same vein, people above 60 years or those suffering health problems should not engage in Covid-19 duty.
Regarding insurance, the workers suggested an insurance of Rs. 50 lakhs for all frontline workers and pensions or jobs for the dependants of the workers.
Similarly, they demanded an additional Covid risk allowance of Rs.10,000 monthly for contract and scheme workers engaged in pandemic responsibilities, especially ASHA and anganwadi workers. Mid-day meal workers must be paid Rs.10,000 every month even when schools are closed.
The workers said that all the scheme workers should be given their pending dues of wages and allowances immediately. Those were infected on-duty should receive a compensation of minimum Rs. 10 lakhs.
Existing insurance schemes namely, the Pradhan Mantri Jivan Jyoti Bima Yojana, the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and the Anganwadi Karyakarti Bima Yojana must be implemented properly with universal coverage applicable to all scheme workers.
They also demanded that projects such as the “Central Vista Project” be scrapped. They argued that the super-rich should be taxed to recover the dues from willful defaulters for resources.