Workers struggle for their rights

Medical workers strike in Bihar

On 23rd August, around 20,000 paramedical workers in Bihar employed under the National Health Mission (NHM) had struck work along with junior doctors associated with AIIMS- Patna and other state run medical colleges. The striking workers were demanding their long overdue revision of wages. They also demanded measures for social security like insurance and provident fund.

“The government has not revised our salary since 2011. Besides, we do not even have life insurance cover. We have also been kept out of the state government incentive to give one-month basic salary to healthcare workers on Covid-19 duty. Demand for Employees Provident Fund is also among our 17-point charter of demands,” said the secretary of the Bihar State Contractual Health Employees Federation,.

The junior doctors are demanding a hike in stipend and relaxation in clauses of the government bond for post-graduate medicos.

President of the Resident Doctors Association of AIIMS-Patna said, “The government and authorities concerned must hear and solve all the genuine concerns of doctors and residents of the state. All the health professionals are working tirelessly day and night in times of Covid-19. We will not ever withdraw our services as we are responsible for the lives of patients. But where do we go if no one will hear our genuine concerns?”

Junior nurses at Kerala on strike since last two weeks

Junior nurses in the government medical college hospitals (MCH) across the state have been on an indefinite strike since 21st August. They are demanding a rise in their pay to bring them at par with the other staff nurses.

The junior nurses, who have completed BSc Nursing and are registered under the Kerala Nurses and Midwives Council, were deployed in the MCHs on one-year duty. There was an increase in their stipend from Rs 6,000 to Rs 13,900 to match the basic salary of staff nurses in 2011. However, they started receiving the revised wages only from 2016. In that year the wages of staff nurses was further revised to Rs. 27,800. “We have been demanding the hike for over a year, but have received only promises in return. There is even a Supreme Court order that says registered nurses working in hospitals having over 200 beds should be given the same salary as that of confirmed employees,” said Arjun B P, state president of Compulsory Nursing Service Staff Association.

“We may be doing our compulsory internship. But we are at the forefront, too. We are on duty at COVID ICUs, at COVID wards, transition wards. But we get paid only ₹ 450 per day. We want pay parity for the work we do,” a nurse intern said.

“We work wearing PPE kits for around 6 hours. We attend to COVID patients, provide for their physical needs and psychological support. This is our duty and we stand by it, but we have repeatedly asked authorities to give us salaries equivalent to the work we do, like the other nurses,” another 22-year-old junior nurse said.

Even after two weeks of protests, the government has not responded to the demands of the striking nurses. In fact the striking nurses were threatened that they if they do not return to work their registrations would stand canceled and they may be evicted from their hostels. The government also attempted to make final year Nursing BSc students perform the duties of the striking nurses However, the nurses have been continuing their protests fearlessly.

Karnataka medical workers protest over low salaries and lack of benefits

On August 13th, nurses and other workers from the Institute of Medical Sciences in Belagavi, Karnataka wore black bands to work in protest. They protested against low salaries, poor working facilities and lack of social security benefits. They also demanded the filling of all vacancies, permanent jobs for all temporary staff and better working conditions and facilities. They demanded facilities such as health insurance, pension and other retirement benefits.

“We are working with over 30 % vacancy at every level. For example, there is only one technician for three wards and one nurse for 100 beds. This has to be reduced by filling the sanctioned vacancies,” said the president of BIMS Workers Association. They explained that the working conditions are unbearable.

Most of the support staff, attenders, para-medical and technical staff and nurses are on temporary contract. The demand for regularisation of services is a long standing demand.

Sanitary workers in Tirupur went on strike demanding two months of pending salary
Sanitation workers protest outside zonal office in Tirupur

Sanitation workers in Tirupur district of Tamil Nadu held a protest action in front of the zonal office on August 25 demanding immediate payment of their unpaid salaries for last two months. Around 300 sanitation workers from 40 wards demonstrated in three corporation zones.

They explained how they have been working continuously during the Covid-19 crisis without taking any holidays. The striking workers said over 500 contract workers were not paid in July. They also pointed out that they have not been provided with any safety equipment even after several requests were made.

They explained the difficulties they have been facing due to the current crisis and that it has badly affected their livelihood. Many of them have been working for more than 7 years,  yet they still remain  contract workers.

Mysuru: Mid-day meal workers protest against delayed payment of wages
Midday meal workers strike outside ZP office in Mysuru

On 20th August, school midday meal workers protested outside the district administration office in Mysuru, demanding unpaid wages during the lockdown. The workers said that the government has not paid them for last five months. The strike was organised under the banner of All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) along with the Karnataka Rajya Samyuktha Akshara Dasoha Karmikara Sangha.

The protesting workers explained that they were under a severe financial crunch and could not adequately provide for their families during the lockdown because they had not received their wages for the past several months. They raised slogans and urged the government to immediately release their unpaid salaries. Other demands included continuation of payment of wages till the schools re-open and distribution of ration kits.

West Bengal tea estate workers on hunger strike

More than 1,252 workers at the 506-hectare Longview Tea Estate in the Kurseong sub-division of Darjeeling, West Bengal, went on a hunger strike on August 19th to demand immediate payment of their dues, including a part of last year’s bonus. The workers also demanded payment of provident fund and festival bonus. Instead of finding a solution, the management suspended work of the tea estate from 21st August citing ‘lawlessness’ as the problem.

The protests by workers at Longview Tea Estate inspired tea garden workers in other regions like Kohinoor, Rahimabad and Naya Sailee. Workers in these tea gardens subsequently staged protests too and demanded distribution of unpaid bonus and other benefits.

Gujarat railway workers protest against privatisation
Rail workers protesting against privatisation in Vadodara

On 25th August, rail workers in Gujrat protested against privatization of the railways, outside the divisional railway manager’s office at Pratapnagar, Vadodara city. The protest was organised by Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh and the Western Railway Employees Union.

The main demands of the protesting rail workers were:

  • Stop the privatisation of  151 mail trains and 23 Western Railway services
  • Withdraw the management’s decision to eliminate line boxes of locomotive and traffic-running staff
  • Restore previous pension scheme
  • Put limits on night duty work
  • Stop the forced retirement of employees with 30 years in service or when they turn 55.
  • 20 lakh pandemic assistance for all railway workers.
Militant protest held by power distribution company workers against privatisation

On 18th August, around 15 lakh power workers held a country wide protest against the ‘anti-employee’ and ‘anti-consumer’ amendments proposed in the Indian government’s Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020. Protesters explained that the amendments are being used by the government to allow privatisation of power distribution companies (discoms). They demanded that it should be immediately withdrawn.

“The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is anti-farmer. In totality, it is nothing but nationalisation of losses and privatisation of profits,” the members of the AP Power Employees Joint Action Committee said.

Protests were held against the bill earlier, in the month of July, after which the Power Ministry had promised to modify the draft of the Bill. But violating that promise, the Government of India is going ahead with its plan of privatisation of power distribution. To express opposition to this, a call to observe ‘national protest day’ on August 18 was given by the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEEE).

Protesters explained that the privatisation has already begun. The Odisha state government has already handed over Central Electricity Supply Undertaking (CESU) to Tata Power and plans to privatise three other discoms—NESCO, WESCO and SOUTHCO.

Protests waged by government workers across sectors in Punjab over the last few weeks

On 14th August, Punjab state public sector workers protested across the state over job, wage and allowance cuts. They were protesting against the four year delay in payment of dearness allowance, recruitment of  newer employees at lower wages, reduction of mobile allowances to half, dismissing vacant posts instead of filling them, etc.

Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) and Punjab State Transmission Corporation Limited (PSTCL) workers held protest actions in Mandi, Ahmedgarh and Pohir Road. The protesting workers demanded revocation of the government’s decision to dismiss 40,000 vacant posts. The sanctioned strength of posts in the PSPCL is 75,757 and 40,483 posts are lying vacant for the past few years. Instead of focusing on filling these seats the government decided to cut down the job positions. The state government also announced that there will be a 20% reduction in the posts of daily wagers, contract employees and other employees.

Punjab Subordinate Services Federation (PSSF) members took out a protest march to condemn the state government for not releasing their dearness allowance installments.

Protests held by teachers in Karnataka demanding relief package

School teachers and guest lecturers held protests in Bengaluru on August 19 demanding a relief package from the State government. The teachers explained how the government has been turning a deaf ear to their demand for a special package for unaided school teachers and guest lecturers.

They reported that the government has not released RTE reimbursements of Rs.1,025 crore. It was also pointed out that the appointments of teachers recruited in March were still kept on hold.  Teachers said some schools have cut salaries, claiming that parents cannot afford to pay fees. While the government had promised payment of salaries till April 2021, no actions have been taken on the front. On the contrary teachers in some schools have experienced wage cuts.

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