Workers in many different states and different sectors have been waging struggle in defence of their rights. Below we carry reports on their struggles.
Karnataka sanitation workers
Over 20,000 pourakarmikas (sanitation workers) working on contract, majority of them women, gathered with their broomsticks to protest in Bengaluru’s Freedom Park on 25th May 2017. The workers were demanding that the state government regularise their services. They had demonstrated for the same demand earlier this year on International Women’s Day. Even though the government had assured them at that time that their demand would be fulfilled, it has not done so.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has over 30,000 pourakarmikas of whom only around 4,000 are regular workers. Many of these workers have put in more than 30 years of service. They remain contract workers who have to work on all days of the week, including weekends and national holidays. They lack equipment to ensure safe handling of hazardous waste.
Last year, after a lot of struggle, the pourakarmikas had won a pay hike in August 2016 whereby their wages rose to Rs.14,400/month. However, the workers have still not got the arrears due to them.
The workers have given an ultimatum of 15 days to the state government to make good their promises and have threatened to intensify their protests further if the government does not meet their demands
Telengana sanitation workers
Over 5,000 contract sanitation workers working in Telengana’s government medical colleges called for an indefinite strike from 17th May 2017. They were demanding the implementation of a Government Order (GO 68) related to their wages. According to the workers' union, the GO mandated that the workers be paid a minimum salary of Rs 9,300. However, they were being paid between Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000. The strike was to force the authorities to implement the Government Order.
Faced with the prospect of a strike, the management of two hospitals agreed to the workers demands. Workers of Gandhi Hospital received hiked salaries of the past two months. Niloufer hospital authorities gave in writing that workers will receive their salaries as per the GO.
"We have called off the strike in both the hospitals. But we are continuing the strike in rest of the hospitals" said workers.
Tata Motors workers
Permanent workers of the Sanand plant of Tata Motors in Gujarat, have been negotiating with the management for a wage settlement since two years. The Tata management had agreed in April 2015 to effect a hike of Rs 2,500 per month. If implemented, it would have been the workers’ first raise since they began working at the plant when it was set up in 2009. At the same time, the company also declared that it would charge up to Rs 1,000 for the canteen and transportation facilities it provided to the workers - significant jump from the Rs 50 it had been charging for each service before then. In response, the workers rejected the wage hike offer and formed and registered their union, the Bharat Kamgar Ekta Sangh (BKES).
As soon as the workers announced the formation of their union, the management suspended two union activists. Workers went on strike demanding revocation of the suspension. In February 2016, over 400 permanent workers marched to the plant and demanded a response from the management on the status of the two suspensions. The management announced a list of another 26 workers who would be suspended with immediate effect. The union fought against this without let up. Ultimately, the management was forced to reinstate the workers. The workers are continuing their struggle for a just wage agreement which they have been denied thus far.
The Tata management is reported to arbitrarily suspend workers when they are about to get permanent positions (after they gain three years of work experience) and then hire a new set of people on contract in their place. The workers union has been fighting against the practice of deliberate hiring of large number of workers on contract in order to super exploit them.
Workers at BASF India’s Mangalore plant have been carrying out protest actions demanding that company stop discriminating against unionized workers and start complying with its own code of conduct. BASF workers in other plants located in Thane (Mumbai) and Ankleshwar (Gujarat) have also raised similar issues.
BASF, one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, claims to incorporate “globally applicable standards” of conduct including human rights, labour and social standards in dealing with employees. However the workers of BASF’s India plants are seeing that all these are empty words. They face attacks on their rights on a daily basis.
In an attempt to smash the union, the management recruits workers as “officers” who are not supposed to be members of the workers union. These non-union workers are promoted to posts with higher salaries, better employment benefits and fewer working hours, even though they do the same work as unionized workers. Pursuing this anti-union policy, the management has succeeded in reducing number of employees under the worker category from 138 to 78. If a worker demands his or her rights, he is issued warning letters.
Following various accidents at the Mangalore plant, the local union, which is affiliated to the BASF India Worker's Federation, is calling for investigation on the accidents and demanding to know the remedial measures taken by the management. The union has called on the company to stop deploying of short-term contract workers in dangerous work and demanded the company recruit more permanent workers. Using workers who are not adequately trained and have less experience to handle hazardous chemicals have led to serious accidents in which these contract workers have often become victims.
Women in garment industry decide to fight as one
Around 300 workers from SLAM Clothing factory in Mahindra City, Kanchipuram district, mostly women including tailors, operators, checkers, helpers and housekeeping struck work for four days on 16th May, demanding arrears from a 2014 minimum wage notification, annual increment and their social security.
The workers have formed a Works Committee in the factory. They had presented a charter of demands to the company in March 2017, with 20 demands. These included arrears to be paid as per the High Court Order, annual wage increase, ESI and PF to be paid properly.
Earlier, the workers struck work for two days in April 8th and 9th. In response, the management proceeded to lay off 50 workers. The workers struck work again April 11th-13th.
Through persistent efforts of the workers, the management finally agreed to hike the wages, promised to pay 38 workers whose wages are yet to be paid, and settle with 29 dismissed workers.
Gurgaon Workers demand reinstatement of colleagues
On 1st June, workers in Gurgaon district took out a protest against recent reducing of manpower in the industrial sector. The protestors alleged that companies are using demonetization as an excuse which has left thousands of workers across the district unemployed.
The workers held multiple marches around the old Railway Road and near Beriwala Bagh and raised slogans demanding justice for workers.The workers also had a dharna outside the Secretariat and raised their demands.
The workers pointed out that many companies have sent contract workers on long leaves, while salary cheques too bounced in some cases. Their demands included reinstating of workers from Amity International School in Sector 46, Napino Auto and Electronics Limited, Metro Ortem Limited in Sidhrawali, RGP Moulds in Binola, Ruskin Titus India Private Limited in Manesar and Senior India Private Limited from Manesar.
The workers also demanded an end to anti-labour practices in Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India and implementation of labour laws in Bhalla Chemical Works Private Limited.