Workers struggle for their rights

Rail workers protest against privatisation

Railway workers have been continuously organizing protest actions all over the country, opposing the privatisation of Indian Railways. On August 2, hundreds of rail workers protested outside the City Railway Station in Mysuru, Karnataka, against Indian government’s move to corporatise production units of Indian Railways and to privatise passenger trains. The demonstration was a part of a national campaign to halt privatization of the Railways. The demands raised were to immediately stop privatisation of Indian Railways in any form, introduction of private trains, sale or closure of railway stations, hospitals, workshops and other railway property, including land.

In the All-India strike called on August 9 by the ten central trade unions, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC, it was decided to continue a countrywide campaign against the government move on railway privatization along with the unions/federations of railway workers.

On August 10, workers of Indian Railways held demonstrations at stations throughout Kolkata, West Bengal to oppose government’s move of allowing 151 private train operations on 109 existing routes. The protest was organised by Eastern Railway Men’s Union and the All India Loco Running Staff Association. Workers protested at Howrah station, Liluah station and inside Farlie Place (Eastern Railway Headquarters). They condemned the government’s plan to cut down the workforce by 50%.

On the same day, workers of the Indian Railways Diesel Locomotive Works (DMW) manufacturing plant in Patiala, Punjab, demonstrated against privatisation. Their demands included withdrawing the new pension scheme and replacing it with the previously existing one, opposition to salary cuts, creation of new jobs, end to contract labour system, no outsourcing of services and full time appointment of existing contract workers.

Teachers of Delhi University agitate over non-payment of salaries

Thousands of teachers and non-teaching employees of the colleges of Delhi University which are fully or partially funded by the Delhi government have not been paid their salaries for the past 4 months. Retired teachers and staff have not received their pensions over the same period. The teachers have repeatedly appealed to the Delhi government as well as to the Delhi University authorities and even written to the President of the country – all to no avail. The agitated teachers held a protest action at Mandi House on August 21, to press for their demands. They demanded immediate payment of salaries and pensions.

The Delhi University authorities and the Delhi government have been engaged in a controversy for several months now, over the formation of governing bodies in 28 colleges fully or partially funded by the government. Both the BJP government at the Centre and the AAP government in Delhi are in contention for exercising greater control over these colleges. They are busy blaming one another and preventing the smooth functioning of the colleges. The Delhi government has given the flimsy excuse that governing bodies of these colleges have not been constituted, as a justification for withholding the grants-in-aid.  On August 6, the education minister of Delhi even accused the 12 fully government funded colleges of corruption, to justify the non-payment of grants. The DUTA has refuted these accusations as “unsubstantiated” and “false”.

As a fall-out of this, the Delhi government has not released the complete amount of money as grants in aid, for the payment of salaries to the teachers and staff.

According to the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) president, “For the past one year or more, the sanction of grants to the 12 colleges fully funded by the Delhi government has been sporadic and inadequate. Inordinate and unexplained delays in release of grant have had a crippling effect on institutions”. Most colleges have not paid teachers and staff their salaries from the month of May. In some colleges, employees only received a part of their salary for the month of April, he said. He further clarified that it has been repeatedly brought to the notice of the Delhi government that the grants sanctioned were highly inadequate and not enough to cover the salaries of the teachers. He added that “the colleges have not received any grant-in-aid for the month of June, July or August”. Moreover, the colleges have not been able to pay dues pending towards employees, including medical bills, arrears of the seventh central pay commission and vacation salary of ad-hoc teachers for 2019.

In the present conditions of the pandemic and lockdown, when the teachers and employees of Delhi University are battling concerns of health and livelihood as well as of conducting classes and exams online, the non-payment of salaries for the past 4 months amounts to cruel callousness by the government and authorities towards their plight.

Punjabi University staff demand salary increase

The Punjabi University Joint Action Committee (JAC), comprising of university professors and non-teaching B and C class employees, and Punjabi University Teacher’s Union (PUTA) have been protesting since August 10. They are demanding increment and timely disbursement of salaries.

Participating in the protest, professors of Punjabi University pointed out that even as they were protesting, they were continuing to hold online classes for the students. Although the University authorities had given them written assurances that salaries and arrears to promoted employees would be finalized by July 31 and paid on time, these have not yet been paid.

ASHA workers hold strike actions across India

Around 600,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers throughout India held a two-day national strike on August 7 and 8 to demand better pay, full-time jobs, payment of salaries at government employee levels and associated benefits.

They have also demanded status of regular government employees. They pointed out that the government has been absolutely callous towards them during the pandemic. Despite repeated requests for protective gear since March they have not been provided with basic PPE kits. Though ASHA workers were among the front line workers during the Covid-19 crisis, they were highly exploited and very poorly paid.

Many other trade unions supported their strike.

Transport and Delivery workers protest across the country
Swiggy delivery workers protesting in Chennai

The All India Coordination Committee of Road Transport Workers Organisations had called for a National Protest Day on August 5. In response to this call, transport workers in Delhi, Hyderabad and other parts of the country held protest actions to draw government’s attention to the loss of income and financial difficulties faced by app-based transport workers during the coronavirus lockdown.

Many organisations held protest actions in different parts of the country in solidarity to the call.

Their list of demands included:

  • Paying minimum wages of 7,500 Rs. Per month as per state labour laws
  • Government to force companies to bring down their commission rates to 5 per cent.
  • Provision of Social Security coverage and health insurance by companies
  • Roll back increased prices by oil companies since June 7 and enhanced excise duty on diesel/petrol
  • Waiver of Road Tax, Vehicle Tax, Border Tax, Toll, Permits etc. for the year 2020.

Along with transport workers, app-based food delivery workers have been striking in Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad to oppose the drastic cuts that Swiggy has announced in the incentives that delivery workers receive. The company has announced sharp cuts in 20 weekly and monthly incentives that the delivery workers got earlier, giving the excuse that the company’s income had reduced during the pandemic. Workers have reported that the delivery order fee has been reduced from Rs.35 to Rs.15.

On August 20, app based food delivery workers in Delhi protested by not logging in to the app to deliver orders. Protests have been going on in Chennai since August 14 and in Hyderabad since August 5.

Highlighting the difficulties faced by the app-based transport workers and delivery workers, the General Secretary of the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) said that “Over 25 lakh app-based transport and delivery workers in the country have been instrumental in the process of reopening after months of lockdown. But due to loss of livelihood, their own lives have suffered miseries and mounting debts. The app-based companies such as Ola, Uber, Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo also remained mostly apathetic and indifferent to the suffering of these workers.”

Maharashtra nurses protest
Nurses strike outside Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital in Pune

Nurses from Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital in Pune held a strike on August 6 to demand better pay and reduced working hours. The nurses explained that they are facing acute shortage of PPE kits and other safety equipment. They also complained about the poor quality of food being served to them.

Despite the promise of 6 hour shift in covid wards, the nurses end up working anything between 7 to 12 hours a day. They have not even received the increment in their salaries as was promised by the management.

They have accused the hospital management of harassing them mentally. A nurse reported, “Most of the staff members are from other states. The hospital management has threatened to dismiss us from the job, and asked us to vacate the hostel within 24 hours if we do not work as per their terms and conditions, which are unfair to us.”

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