THE first joint trade union action, against the attempts of different state governments to nullify labour laws and push workers into slave like conditions, was held across the country on May 22, 2020. The leaders of the central trade unions who were available in Delhi decided to observe fast at Raj Ghat in New Delhi. But soon after they sat on fast they were taken into custody by the police and taken to the police station, from where they were released only in the evening. They included Hemalata, Tapan Sen, AR Sindhu, and Amitava Guha, president, general secretary and national secretaries of CITU, Vidya Sagar Giri, secretary of AITUC, Ashok Singh, secretary of INTUC, Harbhajan Sindhu, general secretary of HMS, Rajiv Dimri, general secretary of AICCTU, RK Sharma, secretary of AIUTUC and Lataben from SEWA. The other national leaders of the central trade unions who were stranded in different states participated in the demonstrations held in those states.
As per the decision of the central trade unions to observe the all India protest day, lakhs of workers all over the country participated in different forms of protest holding placards and their respective flags and shouting slogans, while maintaining physical distance. In 14 factories in Maharashtra, the workers went on two hour strike under the banner of the joint action committee of the trade unions. In Karnataka, Telangana, NCR etc workers in the factories and establishments that were working joined the protests. Coal workers in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the non coal mine workers in Odisha, steel workers in Bhilai, Rourkela etc, construction workers in Gujarat and many other states, anganwadi employees, ASHAs, midday meal workers etc in almost all the states participated in the protest at their houses, workplaces etc.
A memorandum addressed to the prime minister and signed by the ten central trade unions was submitted to the district authorities in some states. The programme was deferred to May 27, in West Bengal due to the cyclone Amphan, which inflicted serious devastation on five districts in the state. But it was observed in some districts in North Bengal.
In NCR Delhi, the police resorted to pre-emptive arrests. Gangeshwar, vice president of Delhi NCR committee of CITU was arrested by the UP (Noida) police early in the morning of May 22 from his house. Police also arrested the protesting workers in Siliguri in West Bengal and some other states.
Huge participation of the workers, particularly the industrial workers in the protests, and their mood reflected the anger against the attacks on their basic rights including the right to form unions, the right to collective bargaining, the increase in working hours and the freedom being given to the employers to ‘hire and fire’ workers as per their will.
The central trade unions consulted among themselves even when they were under detention and decided to meet again on June 3, to plan future joint actions. They were unanimous that the BJP government’s onslaught on workers at the behest of the employers’ class has to be defeated through united struggles of the workers.
The joint statement highlighting the issues on which the joint trade union movement decided for the May 22, joint country wide protest action is given below. The central trade unions also lodged a complaint with the ILO on the labour law amendments and total neglect of tripartism by the BJP governments. The ILO informed that the director general of ILO has written to the prime minister of India asking his intervention to ‘uphold the country’s international commitments’. CITU sent another complaint to the ILO with supporting documents.
JOINT STATEMENT OF CENTRAL TRADE UNIONS
The joint platform of central trade unions in their meeting held on May 14, 2020 took note of the critical situation for the working people in the country during the lockdown period and decided to enhance united actions to meet the challenge.
Taking shelter under the umbrella of Covid-19 pandemic, every day the government is taking one or other decision to attack the working class and common people of the country who are already in deep distress and miseries in the midst of lockdown in the country. The trade unions independently and unitedly have made several representations to the prime minister and labour minister in this regard as well as about the rampant violations of the government’s own directives/advisories in regard to payment of full wages to workers during lockdown and non-termination of employment, but in vain. Similarly all the announcements made by the government in regard to ration distribution, even meagre cash transfer to women and senior citizens, etc have failed at the ground level and did not reach the majority of the beneficiaries.
As the mass of the working people have been subjected to inhuman sufferings owing to loss of jobs, loss of wages, eviction from residences etc, reducing them to hungry non-entities in the process of 48 days lockdown, the government of the day at the centre is aggressively moving to push the working people into virtual slavery. In desperation, the migrant workers have been walking for several hundreds of miles on roads, on railway tracks, through fields and jungles to reach their homes with several precious lives having been lost on the way due to hunger, exhaustion and accidents. But even after three spells of lockdown, all announcements of government including the latest one on May 14, 2020 did nothing for relieving the common people and workers from the miseries they are suffering except making tall talks and misleading statements, displaying cruel insensitivity to the miseries and distress of majority of the populace. Now the government at the centre, in the most dubious manner, taking the advantage of prolonged lockdown period, has been targeting the rights of the workers and the trade unions towards virtual elimination of all labour rights. It has taken the strategy of letting loose their pliant state governments to take such anti-worker and anti-people autocratic measures and many other state governments are being made to follow the same path to the detriment of the rights and livelihood of workers. The advisories to this effect are being sent to the state governments.
UP government has brought a draconian ordinance titled “Uttar Pradesh temporary exemption for certain labour laws ordinance 2020” under the guise of facilitating economic activities. With one stroke 38 laws are made defunct for 1000 days (almost three years) and the remaining are only section 5 of Payment of Wages Act 1934, Construction Workers Act 1996, Compensation Act 1993 and Bonded Labour Act 1976 which remain functional. Those laws made defunct include Trade Union Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Act on Occupational Safety and Health, Contract Labour Act, Interstate Migrant Labour Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Maternity Benefit Act etc.
Madhya Pradesh government has brought drastic changes in Factories Act, Contract Act and Industrial Disputes Act in a manner where the employers will be empowered to hire and fire the labour at their will; right to dispute raising and grievance redressal will be put on ban; the contractors will not be required to obtain license for supplying labour up to 49 persons and hence will function without any regulation and control; inspection will be virtually withdrawn and the entire enforcement machinery is put under freeze – making whatever law is in vogue and basic rights of the workers on wages, compensation, safety etc absolutely meaningless. Not only that, the employers are also exempted from payment of Rs 80 per labourer to Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board. The Shop and Establishment Act is amended to let the shops function from 6 am to 12 at night that means 18 hours at a go by MP government.
Gujarat government has blatantly taken an illegal decision of increasing working hours from 8 to 12 hours but no payment for extra working hours and it now desires to go the UP government way to suspend several laws for 1200 days. The governments of Assam and Tripura and several others have been actively preparing to take the same route.
This retrograde anti-worker move came in the second stage after eight state governments have enhanced the daily working hours from eight hours to 12 hours through executive order in violation of the Factories Act, taking advantage of the lockdown situation.
These draconian measures are not only to facilitate more brutal and cruel exploitation of workers without their rights for collective bargaining, dispute over proper wages, safety at work place and guarantee of social security etc, but also to throw them into conditions of slavery, in the interests of more profiteering despite continuing economic slowdown.
All this means that the workers are to be used as bonded labour without any rights for sheer exploitation in the interest of capital without any guarantee of wages, safety and healthcare, social security and above all human dignity only to benefit those who maximise their profits on the blood and sweat of workers. This is against the basic tenets of human rights.
Indian working class is sought to be pushed back into British Era. The trade union movement cannot accept such nefarious design lying down and resolves to fight back unitedly with all their might with determination to defeat the anti-worker, anti- people policies, of which these are a part. We have to mount resistance against such designs of imposing slavery through countrywide struggle in the days to come.
The CTUs note with satisfaction that already protests have been organised jointly by the workers and trade unions against such brutal and draconian anti-people and anti-worker measures in numerous states and industries, reflecting the fighting mood of the working people.
In this background, to begin with, the joint platform of central trade unions has decided to observe nationwide protest day against the anti-worker and anti-people onslaughts of the government on May 22, 2020.
In the meanwhile the state wise and sector wise issue based ongoing actions have to be intensified with the determination and perspective of heightening the united struggle to halt the retrograde policies of trampling the hard won labour rights by the government through nationwide strike action in the days to come.
The CTUs have also decided to send joint representation to ILO in regard to the violations being committed by the government of India in regard to all the international commitments on labour standards and human rights.