Attacks on livelihood of workers during the pandemic

Workers across sectors laid off without compensation

Workers of UP Women’s Helpline Service fired

Women workers of the UP Women’s Helpline Service – a service established by the state government in 2016 – have been told to resign or risk being fired.  These workers have not been paid their salaries for the past eleven months.

The women workers and the Uttar Pradesh Worker Front have written to the Additional Labour Commissioner of Lucknow that this is a gross violation of their rights, in a situation where they would not be able to secure any alternative source of livelihood. They demanded that the wages of all the 351 workers be released immediately.

The helpline has helped over 5 lakh women and rescued 3.5 lakh women until January 2020. Their work was already constrained since July 2019, due to the lack of funds. However, counselling work was still on at a few centres. All of a sudden, a discontinuance letter was served to all districts and the women were asked not to come to office. The letter did not have any mention of their salary arrears.

The women are pointing out that the Yogi Government talks about women’s empowerment on a daily basis. However, the reality is that it has not paid salaries to working women for eleven months and now they have been given a notice to quit their jobs, even though they helped destitute women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Haryana’s Physical Training Instructors agitate against unjust termination

Services of Physical training instructors (PTIs) across Haryana were terminated last month on the basis of a “procedural fault” committed by the Selection Committee. In April this year, the Supreme Court had cancelled the appointment of nearly 2000 PTIs in Haryana Schools 10 years after their recruitment, based on evidence of “arbitrariness” in the selection process.

A majority of the Instructors are past 40 years of age and have been teaching in the state government schools for 10 years. Now, in the middle of the lockdown and pandemic, their appointments have been cancelled based on the Court judgment.

The teachers have been staging relay hunger strikes and burning effigies across the state since 17th June.

On May 15, the state government released a fresh advertisement to initiate the selection process. Further, through orders dated May 27 and May 28, the training instructors, recruited in 2010, were sacked. According to the teachers, the Congress-BJP rivalry is the basis for this action. As one of the Instructors pointed out, “it is always the employees and workers who bear the brunt of the politics played by these parties.”

The sacked Instructors are determined to get the state government order reversed and have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Journalists and Media Workers laid off without notice

Media companies across the country have laid off more than 400 workers in May-June 2020. Salary cuts and layoff had begun soon after the lockdown. In all these cases, neither notice period was served nor any severance compensation offered. In a clear violation of the Industrial Disputes Act, the journalists were asked to leave without payment of the 3 month severance pay. In fact, many of the journalists had not received their salaries since February this year.

The Times Group, News Nation, The Quint, Hindustan Times, and Mint, The Indian Express and The Hindu are among those who have laid off workers. The method followed by all these companies has been the same. The HR department or the Executive Editors have called the employees on their phones without any prior notice and have verbally instructed them to submit their resignation. There has been no written communication yet to the affected journalists. Also, around 20 contractual employees of different departments have lost their jobs.

The Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists (MUWJ) and Nagpur Union of Working Journalists (NUWJ) have filed Public Interest Litigations against the sacking of the journalists. The PIL mentions that the employees of media houses have been working even during the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, and by terminating their services or refusing to renew their contracts, the media companies are indulging in inhuman and illegal practices. It says that several newspaper organisations are either terminating services of their employees or forcing them to resign in an “arbitrary manner”.

Besides the pay cuts, the media companies are using the situation to change the conditions of service of the regular and confirmed journalist/non-journalist employees by offering to reappoint them on contractual basis.

Earlier in April, The National Alliance of Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists and the Brihan Mumbai Union of Journalists had jointly filed a PIL at the Supreme Court, seeking immediate suspension of all such termination notices, wage reductions, resignation received pursuant to oral or written requests from the employers and directions to go on unpaid leave, which took place after the announcement of the lockdown.  The PIL has been filed against all such media companies who had laid off employees or forced them to take remuneration cuts. The PIL has pointed out that “In the backdrop of the lockdown, the media industry has affected job losses and wage cuts with impunity. Media houses have summarily shut down, in violation of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947”.