Labour Snippets – November 2023

Supreme Court Directions to eradicate manual Scavenging
The Supreme Court has issued a slew of directions to ensure the complete eradication of manual scavenging, while noting that a large segment of population in bondage have been sytematically trapped in inhuman conditions. The Court also enhanced the compensation in case of manual scavenging deaths from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 30 lakhs.

Protests by Safai Karamcharis in Patna
1000s of safai Karamcharis employed by Patna Municipal Corporation went on a strike to demand regularisation of services, abolition of sham contract system and dignified wages. Instead of resolving the issues the PMC imposed Section 144 and warned of FIRs against protesters.  Workers who had been working for decades and maintaining hygiene are treated in an inhumane manner. Such protests are not limited to Patna – across the country, sanitation workers doing permanent workers have been guised as contract workers and paid meagre wages.

1.3 Lakh Primary teacher in Odisha  demand abolition of contract system!
The contractualisation of labour has extended to teachers across India. In September, 1.30 lakh Odisha primary teachers under the banner of the United Primary Teachers Federation took mass leave, seeking regularisation of their employment and restoration of old pension scheme. Instead of resolving the legitimate greivances of the workers, the government has formed a sub-committee to consider the issue, which many workers consider to be nothing but a dilatory tactic.

Relief to Hospital workers in Uttar Pradesh!
Allahabad HC stayed an Order of the UP Government suspending licence for Sanjay Gandhi Hospital in Amethi, on the 9th day of protest by workers and staff. Over 400 employees and their families faced economic death. The order of suspension of licence issued by the BJP government was purportedly on grounds of negligence of a doctor, resulting in death of a patient; however, the Congress has termed the action one of a political vendetta in the constituency of BJP MP Smriti Irani.

Strike by 3000 workers of Buxar Power Plant in Bihar
Over 3000 workers were forced to work 12 hour days on meager wages by management of Buxar Thermal Power Project. Workers are shown to be contract workers under L&T are not registered as per labour law and are denied statutory rights including overtime pay. Previously, hundreds of farmers who had been denied compensation though their lands had been acquired for the project had protested against the management. The project, which has a cost of 11,000 crores and whose foundation stone was laid by PM Modi, has converted farmers into paupers and not paid minimum wages to workers, which amounts to bonded labour.

Struggle of ASHA workers
More than 1 million Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA workers) have been on strike in various parts of India demanding recognition as workers. The government has defrauded these workers by terming their work as voluntary and their wages as honorarium, and thus denying these workers rights under labour law in an illegal manner. These workers are not even paid minimum wage, and are made to work-overtime. The government has also taken advantage of the structural discrimination against women. In this context, female health workers under the Banner of Public Services International (PSI) filed a common Charter of Demands in respect of workers  in India, Nepal and Pakistan  jointly.

Committee to study retrenchment of journalists in COVID and Raids on Working Journalists

Press Council of India has constituted a committee to examine the retrenchment of journalists during the period of the pandemic. However, it has been stated that the PCI has to power to grant any relief and is only towards collection of data. While there was rampant retrenchment of precarious employment of journalists during COVID, another serious issue plagues working journalists. Last month saw raids on media site NewsClick by the Delhi police, with seizure of laptops and electronic devises and arrest of Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty, which is seen as a vindictive action of the government to target independent journalism. These raids will have a serious impact on the rights of journalists to report independently and fearlessly and have been protested against across the country.

Mass unemployment,shows new Report
A recent report by  Azim Premji University’s Center for Sustainable Employment titled ‘State of Working India 2023’ shows mass unemployment. The report finds a massive number of 42.3% of graduate youths under 25 years old are unemployed. It also finds that gender norms are significant for women’s employment and lower caste entrepreneurship is rare.

Victory for contractual midwives – CGIT awards Regularisation
The CGIT, Delhi has directed for regularisation of 24 auxiliary nurse midwives on a regular payscale, while accepting the argument of the workers that the denial of regularisation, equal salary etc is an unfair labour practice and constitutionally unsound. With increasing contractualisation in permanent nature of work, such judgments give a glimmer of hope to workers.

Trade Unions Voice for Palestine
Several trade unions across the globe have come out in complete solidarity with Palestinian people in the on-going attack against them by Israel. Earlier, the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions had made an appeal for international solidarity. In pursuance of the same, several trade unions across USA, France, Turkey, Columbia, Lebanon, Denmark, Brazil, Morocco, Portugal, Syria, Greece, South Africa, Italy, Cyprus, India, Bangladesh, Argentina, Chile, Cuba and several other countries have expressed their unequivocal support to the people of Palestine. In the USA, United Electric, a union representing 35,000 workers, demanded an end to military aid to Israel, and passed a resolution earlier this year demanding that the US stops its military aid to Israel. The newly formed Starbucks Workers United also issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and called on other unions to stand with them. In New York City, the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, issued a statement condemning the massacre of Palestinians and calling for an end to US aid to Israel. Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers publicly released a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people, calling for the protection of individuals speaking in support of the Palestinian people and for the University to publicly acknowledge the pain, fear, and grief of Palestinians. New York Healthcare Workers Union has also issued a statement in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Some workers in Italy under the banner of SI Cobas, a union of dock workers in Naples, announced its refusal to help ship any weapons to Israel like they have in the past, i.e., in 2021. The International Trade Union Confederation, European Trade Union Confederation, Arab Trade Union Confederation, International Transport Workers’ Federation, Public Services International, Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the World Federation of Trade Unions have also issued statements in solidarity with Palestine.

Healthcare Workers Protest Outside UN Office
Lakhs of healthcare workers are on the verge of leaving their employment due to the overwork since the pandemic. Inadequate appointment of staff has rendered them with an overload of work. Under the banner of Public International Services (PSI), hundreds of workers staged a protest outside the United Nations office in Geneva, seeking appointment of adequate staff in the sector, since there is a shortage of 15 lakh health workers all over the world. At the protest, a global survey of over 2,000 healthcare workers spanning 50 countries was released which showed that a majority of the workers are considering resigning from their jobs. The protestors stated that due to the work burden on healthcare workers, patients are dying simply because they aren’t receiving adequate care. This was attributed to under-funding for health sector and rampant privatization.

Gig workers of cab aggregators – Ola and Uber – and delivery apps held a 24-hour strike on October 18th seeking better working conditions, higher wages, and improved labour laws. They also sought the implementation of the Centre’s 2020 aggregator guidelines, creation of offices in Mumbai where gig workers can file their grievances, framing of rules to protect the rights of delivery workers, creation of a welfare board for gig workers, creation of a regularised parking system for app-based taxis near the airport, reduction in the penalties levied by traffic police, among other demands. They have also sought for more rights and promulgation of the ‘Cab Aggregators Act’. The cab aggregators also protested against the ban imposed by the local transport authorities on app-based autorickshaw services. Maharashtra App-Based Transport Workers Union, Baghtoy Rickshawaala Union and others took part in the protest.

Durgapur Steel Plant Union Leaders Suspended Amid Protests
Several unions together were protesting for a full-salary agreement for the past one and a half months. During such agitation, two union leaders in Durgapur Steel Plant were temporarily suspended from their jobs. Workers across ASP, Rourkela, Vilai, Salem, RINL and SAIL's integrated and steel plants protested against the same. The workers in steel plants have been facing hardships and were protesting jointly seeking wage agreement, including night-shift allowance, house rent allowance, etc., and bonus claims. They are also protesting against the biometric/RFID attendance system that has been introduced.

Conservancy Workers’ Protest in Tamil Nadu
In Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, around 450 conservancy workers who clean roads, septic tanks, sewers, private latrine cleaning, railway track cleaning, disposal of solid waste, etc., who are employed on contractual basis with the Coimbatore Corporation staged a protest, led by AICCTU and another union, seeking a daily wage of Rs. 712/- as fixed by the District Collector. The workers whose wages stand at Rs. 648/- per day were only paid Rs. 486/- for the past nine months, thus depriving them of their rightful share. Even the permanent workers joined the protest as many of those workers who retired have not been paid their pension for the past 20 months. Some of the workers stated that even though the corporation promised compassionate appointment for a few, they have been employed on contract basis. The workers have also complained about the harassment they face at the hands of the contractor and demanded that action be initiated against him.    

‘Maternity Rights a Fundamental Right’
The Delhi High Court has observed that maternity rights are an integral part of the right to life of a woman, and when maternity rights are denied, it is in violation of social justice. The Petitioner, who was appointed on an ad hoc basis as a woman attendant in Delhi University hostel, was deprived of her salary during the period and also suddenly terminated from employment when she reported to work post her maternity leave. The Court said that maternity benefits cannot be denied to women employees because of the nature of employment that is contractual. The court also ordered that the petitioner be reinstated into employment, her maternity benefits paid and additionally ordered for compensation on account of illegal termination of employment.

Citation: Neelam Kumari v. The University Of Delhi & Ors., WP (C) 2959/2023, High Court of Delhi

Appoint District Officers for Implementation of  POSH Act : Supreme Court
A division bench of the Supreme Court has made a slew of directions for the effective implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Apex Court has directed the state government must identify a nodal officer to oversee the implementation of the POSH Act, as also a district officer in compliance of Section 6(2) of the Act. The Supreme Court observed that the rules under the Act must be amended to ensure reporting authority, who will also levy fines in case of violations, and that monitoring of the functioning of the internal committees and the compliance of employers is ensured. The Court also directed that training, capacity building and awareness on the Act be made more rigorous and mandatory. Similarly, directions were made to hospitals, nursing homes, sports institutes, stadiums, sports complexes, or competition or games venues to set up ICCs.
Citation: Initiatives For Inclusion Foundation v. Union of India, WP(Civil) No. 1224 Of 2017, Supreme Court of India, judgment dt. 19.10.2023 n