UP: With Starvation Threatening Households, Migrant Workers

UP: With Starvation Threatening Households, Migrant Workers

UP: With Starvation Threatening Households, Migrant Workers

Lucknow: Ram Achal Prasad, a factory worker who had been working in Mumbai, had left the city on bicycle with his wife and two children, promising never to return. However, with the situation worsening at home, the 50-year-old from Uttar Pradesh had no option but to return.

“I left for my village in April and braved many setbacks. We almost lost our lives while going home,” said Prasad. “However, I could not find any work that suited my skill-set in Bahraich district, and I could not keep sitting at home waiting for things to get back to normal. I had no money left and had to decide to return to Mumbai. But with the news of COVID-19 cases rising every day, I decided to leave my wife and two daughters behind,” he said.

Munna Kumar, another migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh who hails from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s hometown of Gorakhpur, echoed similar sentiments, saying that there were no jobs for them.

Kisko shauk laga hai pariwar chhod kar pardesh jane ka, agar hame yahan naukri ka avsar milta to hum kabhi bhi palayan nahi karte (Who is interested to go outside for employment leaving behind their family members? Had we got an employment opportunity here, we would never have migrated to any other place),” said Amresh Ojha. He used to work at a factory in Delhi, and was boarding a bus from Chinhat bus stop in Lucknow to New Delhi today.

NewsClick spoke to some migrant workers, many of whom blame the CM for failing to create jobs and forcing them to look elsewhere.

Rajeev Yadav, a social activist who works for migrant workers in Azamgarh, said that the BJP government has bombarded the airwaves with announcements for migrant workers. However, he said that policies have not been implemented on the ground and they are being forced to leave their respective villages amid the pandemic.

“The state government first said that migrant workers who do not have a ration card will be given a monthly ration. CM Adityanath said Rs 1,000 will be credited to the bank accounts of millions of migrant workers who have recently returned to the state, but it was merely lip service. In my district, a very small number of people have availed of such facilities by the government. The government was setting up a migration commission to provide jobs to migrant workers/labourers yet they are migrating again in search of jobs,” said Yadav, adding that migrants have been demanding the resumption of train services from Azamgarh to metropolitan cities so that they could return to work.

Accusing the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government of ”ignoring the plight of the migrant workers”, Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Award winner and social activist said: “I had gone for a survey in a village in Unnao district and found that out of 89 people, only one person received one thousand rupees and three persons got a ration kit,” said Pandey, calling it the government’s failure. “The government has failed at every stage, whether it was arranging buses for migrants, the pathetic condition of quarantine centres or creating jobs for them here. The BJP government at the Centre and the state have proved to be a failure,” he added.

The Uttar Pradesh government is looking to address the unemployment among migrant returnees by ramping up construction work in rural areas. It is looking to provide more people with job cards under MGNREGA and help them to “update their skills”. The state government has claimed that 51 lakh workers were given new jobs under MNREGA and that job cards have been issued, but many, including Prasad and Kumar, said that they were told that even existing card holders were struggling to find jobs.

Migrant workers have been running from pillar to post in search work in the bigger cities, but little is coming their way. Prasad and Kumar are among thousands who left Mumbai vouching never to return, but eventually felt forced to make the reverse journey to the city. However, most are going back alone, not ready to risk their families to the COVID-19 threat.

Among those that have returned is Abhinandan Maurya, who used to work at a construction site in Goregaon and had left for his home in Deoria district. He returned after he did not find work under MGNREGA. He said that if there were employment opportunities in Uttar Pradesh, “I would have never returned to Mumbai despite knowing of the high risk of infections.”

The company Maurya used to work for has not resumed operations but he is looking for whatever he can find. “It is better that I die rather than my children die of coronavirus,” Maurya told NewsClick adding that feeding his family in the village had become the biggest hurdle. “Had we stayed back for a few more days, we would have died of starvation,” said Maurya.

Sandeep Pandey said that despite the significant increase in the demand for MGNREGA work, the central government is not increasing the annual guarantee of work from 100 days per household. “One should get work under MGNREGA for a minimum of 100 days and if he needs work more then the goverment should provide them with it. But, unfortunately, after 100 days, there is no guarantee,” said Pandey, adding that the migrants who had left for their home states are facing an acute shortage of work.

According to the Maharashtra government, so far, 1.91 lakh migrants have returned to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh by trains and buses after the states gradually lifted travel restrictions.

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UP: 181 Women Helpline Worker Dies by Suicide; 351 Workers

UP: 181 Women Helpline Worker Dies by Suicide; 351 Workers

Lucknow: An employee with the Uttar Pradesh government’s 181 Women Helpline died by suicide on Friday evening. The woman jumped before a train in the Shyamnagar railway crossing area in Kanpur. She was one of many workers who have not received their salaries for the last eleven months.

The deceased has been identified as Ayushi Singh. She was from the Shyamnagar area of Kanpur and had been staying with her husband and their five-year-old daughter in a rented room. Her colleagues revealed that the 32-year-old had been “frustrated” over the past few months as she had not received her salary from her employer, GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI), for the last eleven months. She was employed as a rescue van facilitator in Unnao.

Her brother, Shubhendra Singh, has alleged that his sister died in penury and demanded action against those responsible for not releasing her salary.

“Her salary had not being paid for the past year. They were called to work even during the COVID-19 emergency and were made to toil. Instead of paying them their pending salaries and rewarding their hard work, they were served a termination letter and asked not to come to work from June 5. If the Chief Minister (Yogi Adityanath) starts a scheme which does not pay people, then what is the benefit of such a scheme?” asked Shubhendra, mentioning that Ayushi’s daughter was dependent on her earnings.

Shubhendra is seven years younger to Ayushi. He tutors children at home and used to set aside some money for his sister, “so that she could at least pay rent, as her husband cannot work due to a health issue. Even her in-laws depended on my sisters’ earnings,” he told NewsClick.

The death sparked a protest, with locals demanding justice for Ayushi. Her family and colleagues alleged that she was constantly harassed by her employer who didn’t pay her.

Surendra Singh, her father, said that Ayushi left their house on Friday. She told him that was going out to make a resume to apply for another job and would return soon. When she did not return, her father dialled her number but no one received the call. “Chakeri police station informed us that my daughter killed herself,” he said.

Salma, her colleague, also posted in Unnao as a facilitator, said that Ayushi was a “workaholic” and not the kind that would get bogged down easily. “The uncertainty over her future due to financial distress was triggered by the non-payment of eleven months’ salary, which forced to end her life. Not just Ayushi, all 351 women working with 181 Women Helpline in Uttar Pradesh are facing financial distress. We could not have imagined that she would take this step,” said Salma.

Sub-Inspector Ashok Yadav from Chakeri police station refused to comment on the incident, telling NewsClick that he was not aware of any such occurence.

According to her colleagues – Salma, Ranjana Shrivastava and Deepti Singh – Ayushi was upset about her unpaid salary and the termination letter served by her employer. The police have registered it as an accidental death case and said that further investigation in the matter is underway.

“Ayushi called me 24 days ago and discussed her financial problems with me. She was the lone breadwinner of the family as her husband is ill and does not have any work due to the lockdown. She was worried for her daughter and wanted to make some money for her sake,” said Deepti Singh, another colleague of Ayushi who is posted in Kanpur, told NewsClick.

According to 181 Women Helpline employees, a Memorandum of Understating (MOU) was signed between the state government and GVK EMRI for a period of five years, beginning November 18, 2015. Its term was to be over in November 2020, but before it ended, they were handed over a termination letter.

Ruchi Pratap, a team leader of the sugamkartas, based in Lucknow, told NewsClick that they have recently received a letter from GVK-EMRI that they would have to discontinue their services from June 5. “All of a sudden, we have been told that our dues would be paid only after the government releases funds, and were asked not to come to office,” she said.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s 181 helpline for women, launched on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) in 16 districts by then CM Akhilesh Yadav, was later extended to 64 districts by current CM Yogi Adityanath. The key objective of the helpline was to help women in distress.

The women have been employed by the Hyderabad-based public-private partnership firm GVK EMRI. The company operates the helpline, and workers have been demanding pending salaries for all 351 workers across the state, who have not been paid for the past eleven months.

After organising several protests, a group of women and Dinkar Kapoor, president of Uttar Pradesh Worker Front, met V.K. Rai, the Additional Labour Commissioner of Lucknow, and briefed him about their problems. He assured them that their salaries will be released within a week.

After Ayushi’s death, Kapoor met Rai again on Saturday afternoon.

Rai passed two subsequent orders; he asked GVK EMRI to clear all pending dues of the 351 women workers till July 10. Under the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923, he ordered that a sum of Rs 5,15,400 be given to Ayushi’s family before July 19.

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Jammu: Ten Months on, PDD Workers Still Await Minimum Wage

Jammu: Ten Months on, PDD Workers Still Await Minimum Wage

Thirty-six year old Dev Lal was electrocuted to death while repairing an 11kV transmission line at Sub-Division II, Division III in the Anand Nagar area of Bohri, Jammu city, at five p.m. on Thursday. Lal, a native of Bihar, was a private need-based labourer who had settled in Jammu long ago, doing odd jobs to survive with his family.

One of these jobs was repairing transmission lines for the Power Development Department (PDD), without safety gear, whenever the need arose. Yesterday, while on duty, Lal came in contact with live electricity supply and dropped dead on the spot.

Unpaid wages and the lack of regularisation of their jobs, coupled with the Minimum Wage Act not being implemented, is hurting casual labourers in Jammu and Kashmir, especially those in the PDD.

“He had climbed the pole from which he was fixing the wire. He received an electric shock, fell down and died on the spot. He is survived by his two young kids and his wife,” said Kuldeep, Dev’s brother-in-law.

In 2018, Fareed Ahmed, 34, a casual worker, received an electric shock while carrying out repairs on an electric pole in the Kunjwani area of Jammu. Ahmed braved the shock but lost his ability to work for a lifetime. He cannot straighten his arm and needs support to walk. “I received serious injuries in the upper part of my body and have not been able to resume work since then,” he said.

Fareed ended up selling his ancestral farm land to pay for his treatment, and has not fully recovered yet. Fareed lamented that no one from the power department ever came to his aid. “I was given Rs two lakh as compensation for treatment which cost more than Rs ten lakhs. No one from the power department ever approached me thereafter,” said Fareed. He is jobless and surviving on the debt taken from his neighbours.

Sham, another worker who joined the PDD with the dream of being regularised one day, salary in tow, lost his arms to an electric shock. With both of his arms amputated, Sham has been dependent on his wife who works as a house-maid. He said his wife’s work has also been affected on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Akhil Sharma, president of the Jammu chapter of the PDD Workers Union, said that around 150 workers have lost their limbs while working as linemen in the power department. “Many causal workers have lost their lives at work. Around 70 workers have lost their lives and 90 have lost their limbs in the last five years. Others have committed suicide due to the non-payment of wages,” said Sharma.

The men who lost their lives and limbs were causal labourers working on a temporary employment contract, rendering daily services to the PDD with no entitlements and benefits.

Around 3,169 casual workers, mostly working as linemen – daily wagers and need-based – in the PDD have been demanding regularisation of jobs and the release of pending salaries.

In November 2019, close to 2,707 workers started receiving their salary after a gap of between six to ten years, but the remaining 462 workers are still unpaid.

“The rest (462 workers) could not get themselves registered because of a fault in the registration process. There were issues like their Aadhaar cards were not being approved, but it is not the fault of the workers,” said Akhyar Chaudhary, Vice-President, PDD Workers Union.

PDD workers have been demanding the implementation of SRO 381 (part of Recruitment Rules) which promises the regularisation of daily wagers who have completed seven years in the department. The SRO 381 was issued as part of recruitment rules on August 26, 1981, and stands unimplemented.

Around one lakh casual labourers – daily wagers, need based workers and others – have been engaged in different departments including PHE, PDD, PWE, Agriculture, Estate Departments, Forticulture Department and others, across Jammu and Kashmir, for the smooth functioning of the government machinery.

“The workers have been apprising the government of the problems they are facing in terms of regularisation and payment of wages, but in turn, the authorities have been delaying justice by constituting one committee after another with no desirable results,” said Tanveer Hussain, President, J&K Casual Workers United Front.

A person employed as a casual labourer is entitled to receive a meagre amount of Rs 225 as their daily wage. The labourers said that they have not received the amount for several years. Meanwhile, the government’s promise of implementing the Minimum Wage Act in the UT of J&K has not seen the light of day.

The Minimum Wage Act, yet to be implemented in J&K, promises an amount of Rs 520 on a daily basis to the workers.

“It has been 10 months since the state of Jammu and Kashmir was turned into a Union Territory but nothing seems to have changed for us. We are still protesting. The high-handedness of the government, coupled with a callous approach towards poor workers by withholding their wages and not regularising them is an issue of concern and will invite serious repercussions,” said Tanveer.

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Amid Lockdown, Lakhs of Coal Workers Begin 3-Day Strike

Amid Lockdown, Lakhs of Coal Workers Begin 3-Day Strike

New Delhi: All coal sector trade unions and federations began a three-day country-wide strike from Thursday, hitting production across coal-bearing states, to protest against the government’s decision to allow commercial mining of coal, including by foreign entities. Around 5.3 lakh permanent and contractors employees are said to be participating in the strike.

Unions claimed the strike was a ‘resounding’ success in public sector Coal India Ltd (CIL) and its subsidiaries, Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL), Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL), Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL), Northern Coalfields Ltd (NCL), Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL),

“In North Eastern Coalfields Ltd (NECL) and CMPDIL and also in Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) strike was near total,” said a press release by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which has supported the strike along with other central trade unions, such as INTUC, AITUC, HMS. Incidentally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) also joined the strike, pushed by the seething anger among coal workers.

The three-day strike by coal workers is the first big industrial action during the lockdown period against the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government’s move to push through its “wholesale privatisation project of putting the national assets and PSUs on auction in favour of handful of private corporate, both foreign and domestic” said CITU.

The strike began after Wednesday’s talks failed between Coal India trade unions and the government over the issue of commercial coal mining. A virtual meeting was held between Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi and representatives of trade unions.

“During the meeting, the minister informed the unions that commercial mining is a policy decision of central government. The Minister said that this is the only way to increase the production of coal. The representatives of trade union reiterated their stand opposing commercial mining,” a coal union representative said.

Nathulal Pandey, President of HMS-affiliated Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation, told PTI the strike was started by the workers on the first shift, which begins at 6 a.m. He claimed that in the Jhanjra area (West Bengal) of Eastern Coalfields, five leaders of the unions, three from HMS, one each from AITUC and CITU were arrested but were released after few hours.

Workers employed in the BCCL, a Coal India arm, have not gone to work and as a result emergency services such has hospitals in the mines have been paralysed, he added.

According to Pandey, on an average Coal India produces 1.3 million tonne (mt) of coal every day, so it is estimated that the production loss due to the three-days strike would be around 4 mt.

Besides, the general manager of the Sohagpur area (Madhya Pradesh) of SECL, a Coal India arm, has called outsiders to work in the mine which is an “extraordinary situation” and this has never happened to Coal India, Pandey said.

Meanwhile, a notice issued by the Public Relations Department of the BCCL claimed there was no impact of the strike in the first shift as all miners marked their attendance and resumed work as

The General Manager of CCL’s Barka-Sayal and officiating GM of Argada command area, Amresh Singh, however, said “dispatch of coal has been affected due to the strike, but coal mining via outsourcing private companies remained unaffected”

The Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh (RCMS) General Secretary, A K Jha, said that the first shift, which began at 6 am, the miners reached the colliery but did not join the work.

“Production has been hampered in all the collieries of the BCCL and the Eastern Coalfields Limited,” he claimed.

Rajendra Singh Chandel, the Rashtriya Pragatishil Workers Union (RPWU), affiliated to CITU, which is leading the strike in Ramgarh district, claimed that coal production, dispatch has been affected as the coal workers extended support to the strike.

Trade union leader Hrishikesh Mishra said that coal workers held a demonstration in Giridih near a colliery.

Meanwhile, trade unions on Thursday claimed that mining activities in all the mines of Coal India and Singareni Collieries was suspended.

“The strike is total,” BK Rai, public sector in-charge of BMS told PTI.

CITU-backed All India Coal Workers Federation General Secretary B B Ramanandan said all the coal mining, dispatch, transport everything is totally stopped in the first shift that began at 6 am.

Earlier, in a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said coal was an essential input for several vital industries like power generation, steel, aluminum, fertilisers and cement. “This move by the central government will result in starving domestic industries of essential inputs as now exports will be unregulated,” it said in a statement

While noting that the 41 coal blocks identified for such privatisation fall in different parts of the country – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand etc – the CPI(M) said most of these blocks were located in forest areas “will uproot the lives of our tribal communities”, while adding that unbridled privatisation accompanied by further deregulation of environmental norms, will “lead to severe environmental degradation.”

Coal India accounts for over 80% of domestic coal output.

CIL’s output has declined by 12.8% to 39.20 mt in June compared with 44.95 mt in June last year, the state-run miner said on Wednesday.

Coal India’s offtake also dropped to 41.61 mt in June from 48.98 mt in the corresponding month of the previous fiscal.

The public sector company said it was facing tepid demand from key customers like power producers.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Lakhs of Cine Workers in Distress as Kollywood Remains Shut

Lakhs of Cine Workers in Distress as Kollywood Remains Shut

Chennai: Kollywood, as the Tamil film industry is known as, is at a crossroads now due to the pandemic. The second largest film industry in the country has never witnessed such a crisis in almost a century of its existence. Theatres and malls have been closed for over 100 days now while the restart of film shoots is unthinkable as of now, considering the spike in COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu, the second highest in number after Maharashtra.

The worst affected are the large section of workers involved in the film industry who are daily wage earners, and have been without any work since shootings halted on March 16, followed by the sudden countrywide lockdown that began from March 24. 

The unplanned lockdown announced by the Union government and the ‘miserable failure’ of the state government in effective implementation of containment measures have added to the agony of these workers. 


The Tamil film industry is one of the largest in the country with an audience across the country and the globe. The industry has caught the attention of the global audience with frequent blockbusters, which accounted for over Rs 1,000 crore from theatrical releases in 2019 alone, when the industry saw the release of around 250 films in a single year.

The entertainment industry also contributes to the economy of the state government. In 2018-19, the industry contributed about 0.1% to state gross domestic product, estimated to be more than Rs 1,800 crore. It’s contribution to the state exchequer is set to take a hit owing to the lockdown. 

While the pandemic-induced lockdown has brought the industry’s fast growth history to a standstill, it has left lakhs of workers without jobs and wages.


The number of workers involved, directly and indirectly, in the Tamil film industry could be more than a few lakhs, including those who work in production, post production, distribution, theatres and publicity in the film and television industry. 

Thousands of workers attached to cinema theatres – Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have a whopping 1,571 single screens – are also unemployed due to the lockdown. Considering a maximum of 10 workers employed in urban and rural areas, the number of workers affected could be around 15,000. The inclusion of workers in multiplexes will add another few thousand.

The associated industries, including suppliers to canteens in these theatres, have lost their livelihood. The life of these workers and their families has come to a virtual standstill.


The Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI) cancelled all film related work on March 16 as a precautionary measure. FEFSI, an umbrella organisation of 24 craft unions, has since been appealing for support to workers affiliated to the organisation. The 24 different unions under it, right from directors, editors, dubbing artistes, lightmen to mess and cleaning workers, have a membership ranging between 1,200 and 3,500. 

A rough estimate of these numbers shows that the affected workers could be a minimum of 60,000. A large number of workers stay out of unions for various reasons, including their inability to pay membership fee in some unions.

Meanwhile, several top actors of the Tamil film industry and FEFSI have extended relief material to workers, saving them from starvation. The relief was distributed to members through the unions.

The cash relief from the government of Tamil Nadu to the industry, though minimal, has also been of some help. Even though post-production work restarted for a short while, it came to a halt after the lockdown in Chennai and surrounding districts.


A large section of Kollywood workers are daily wagers, including junior artistes, workers involved in production and post-production, art, transport and catering services. Though wages differ from one department to another, their misery remains the same during the lockdown. 

Arun, an assistant director, told NewsClick: “Lakhs of workers are dependent on the film industry for their living. Since no shooting is taking place for three months now, they are struggling a lot. The commendable gesture of star actors and the workers’ unions has helped to some extent.”

Even as these workers are being provided basic rations from the contributions, their requirements are far from being met. “The inability to pay house rent, medical expenses and other issues continue to torment them”, Arun added.


The lockdown within the unlock phase, with relaxations, is being extended till July 31, but the plight of these workers may remain the same. Even if production work resumes once the restrictions are relaxed for the industry, the day when each worker gets back his/her job remains a far cry. 

Nissanth, a dubbing artiste, said: “All the workers may not get their work back after the restrictions are lifted. Producers will definitely try to reduce the production cost, leading to the loss of jobs. The post COVID-19 film industry would be totally different, with minimum stars and minimum workers.”

A film shooting generally requires 125 to 150 workers, and this number could be halved in the future. The plight of lightmen in the industry is also set to worsen. 

Sampath, secretary of the Lightmen Union, said: “We get jobs between 12 and 18 days in a month with Rs 850 as wages. We are struggling now without any income and the future remains bleak. Many of our workers are on the verge of starvation. We have nowhere to go”. The union has around 1,300 members.


The television industry, however, could start working soon as it relies largely on indoor shootings, but silver screen productions require more outdoor shoots, requiring total normalcy to be in place. 

Babu, a production manager, said: “Restoration of normalcy looks distant, considering the present condition. Outdoor shootings are impossible to start now. Getting permission for the shoot and the co-operation of local people could be a difficult task. So, we would need normalcy that existed before the pandemic, for the industry to flourish”.

With production houses slowly shifting to digital platforms to release completed films, the industry is set to transform. This could again lead to massive job losses for lakhs of workers toiling behind the screen.

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Karnataka: Garment Workers’ Protest at Gokaldas Exports Unit

Karnataka: Garment Workers’ Protest at Gokaldas Exports Unit

For the last three weeks, women garment workers of Euro Clothing Company II (ECC II) in Srirangapatna town in Karnataka’s Mandya district have been protesting against the abrupt layoffs of over 1,300 workers from the factory. On Saturday, June 27, the protesters obstructed the management from shifting computers and other equipment from the factory. 

The Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) is leading the protest which has about 900 members from ECC II. GATWU members are saying that the management is now forcing the workers to submit resignations by threatening the workers that they will not get a job in any other garment factory if they continue to protest. 

Already, 450 workers have submitted their resignations under pressure from the management, said Jayaram of GATWU. “About 75% of the women workers belong to Scheduled Caste communities and are poor. There are hundreds of women whose only source of income has been the work at the factory. They have no other choice but to continue the protest as their livelihood is under question,” he said. 

The closed unit is one of the over 20 garment manufacturing units of Gokaldas Exports Ltd, Karnataka’s oldest apparels manufacturer company which has been a profit-making entity. The entity reported its total income at Rs 330.06 crore and a net profit of Rs 11.33 crore during financial year 2018-19. 

Also read: Karnataka: 2nd Day of Garment Workers’ Protest as Gokaldas Exports Sticks to Decision of 1300 Lay-offs

ECC II has been mainly manufacturing for H&M (Hennes & Mauritz), the world’s second biggest clothing retailer. As the protests intensified, H&M in a statement has said that they are placing orders with the supplier. “The drop in customer demand due to COVID-19 will inevitably impact suppliers, however, we are placing orders with this supplier and we fully stand by our responsible purchasing practices. We are in dialogue with the supplier and the trade unions to resolve the conflict peacefully,” stated H&M on June 22 on Twitter. 

We are fulfilling our payments in accordance with contracts, on time and at the originally agreed price. The conflict between supplier and trade union is about different interpretations of the law in India and we are in dialogue with both parties to help them reach an agreement.

— H&M Customer Service (@hm_custserv) June 23, 2020

While H&M has stated that they are in dialogue with the supplier and trade unions, GATWU leaders told NewsClick that no dialogue has been initiated so far. 

The deputy labour commissioner of Karnataka is probing the unions complaint on illegal layoffs. In this matter, the management informed the deputy commissioner that “adverse circumstances prevailing in India and other countries and overseas buyers are cancelling their orders or withdrawing their orders and there is uncertainty about the market conditions,” as reasons for the lay-offs. But workers are arguing that the reasons given are patently false and that the layoffs were an attempt to target the union workers in ECCII

It is also necessary to state that the management apart from taking such an illegal step is also pressurising workers to resign from employment. Workers are being told everyday that they should resign, failing which they will be terminated without any settlement whatsoever and that the management would also make it impossible for them to find employment. The workers, who have resigned in this period, are also those who were coerced to resign and threatened with termination on failure to do so. It is thus clear that the action of the management in declaring such layoffs are completely mala fide,” wrote R Prathibha of GATWU, in a rejoinder to the deputy labour commissioner. 

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Workers’ Only Social Security Net to Take a Hit Amid

Workers’ Only Social Security Net to Take a Hit Amid

New Delhi: Wage cuts and massive lay-offs by management citing losses due to pandemic-induced lockdown have not stopped the Narendra Modi government from dealing another blow to organised sector workers. There are reports that the declared interest rate of 8.5% for FY20 on PF deposits of six crore subscribers may be slashed further, citing declining returns on investments made by the retirement fund body, EPFO.

In March, the Central Board of Trustees (a tripartite body of government, employer and employee representatives) of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) had declared and 8.5% interest rate on PF deposits for FY20, lower than 8.65% in FY19. Some trade unions, however, decried the move, saying it was unilateral as they were not involved in the decision-making.

However, on Saturday, media reports suggested that the Centre is mulling a further slash in interest rates, which could deal a big blow to workers’ only social security blanket.

Reacting to these reports, labour experts and trade union leaders have believe that the reported move by the government is in line with other policy decisions of the Centre that are driven by the ‘market’ growth fixations – the first target of which often becomes the social security arrangements in a country that are meant to protect its workforce.

Saurabh Bhattacharjee, who teaches labour law at National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, questioned the “ideological lens” of the Modi government through which it views the EPF scheme.

“If it is being viewed as a social security scheme then the government must come forward and pump in money into it, especially in times of crisis. However, if it is being looked as an instrument of financial savings, then it is sure to be affected by the market vicissitudes,” he told NewsClick.

Over the years, it is only becoming clearer that the latter view holds more weight during the decision-making processes, Bhattacharjee added.

With cash flows taking a hit in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the final decision on the interest rate will be taken by finance, investment and audit committee (FIAC) of EPFO in the coming days to assess its ability to pay the 8.5%– a seven-year low rate.

The rates have not yet been ratified by the Finance Ministry, after which Labour Ministry can notify it, Economic Times reported.

Incidentally, last year the CBT had made its recommendation in February but the rates were notified six months later, in August.

While noting that the scheme, despite its flaws, cushioned the pandemic blow for employees covered under it, Bhattachrajee said: “This will be a major blow (rate cut) to the workers – especially those who belong to the private sector – for whom EPF, along with ESI (Employee State Insurance), are the only effective social security scheme.”

Companies that employ more than 20 persons are covered under the ambit of this scheme.

In March, the EPFO had also allowed these formal sector workers to withdraw a non-refundable advance from their retirement savings to sustain during the COVID-19 triggered lockdown. As many as 8.2 lakh members, as a result, withdrew more than Rs. 3,000 crore.

In another move, the government had also agreed to pay the total share of the contribution for certain categories of employers, under its PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, for a period of six months, starting March.

In May, the Centre announced a 2% reduction – from 12% to 10% – in the statutory fund contribution of both employer and employee, covered under the scheme, for the next three months – claiming that this would result in more income in the hands of employees.

Terming this as a “fraud”, Tapan Sen of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said: “On the one hand, the government is liberalising rules to allow people to use EPF accumulation, while on the other hand, it is reducing the accumulation in a recurring manner.”

Explaining how the reduction in interest rates will only benefit the employer, Sen said: “The EPF contributions are part of the wage packet and do not ‘belong’ to the employer. If contributions have decreased, this only mean that employers are relieved of their obligation.”

As far as benefit to employees is concerned, Sen said these compulsory savings were made to protect employees after retirement and thus should not be tampered with.

“Initially, the contributing rates were only 8.33% of the wages. It was the trade union movement, and collective struggle of the workers that forced the government to increase this to 12%,” he said.

Sen further accused the government of “stripping the EPF scheme of its essence” by allowing “speculative investments”. In 2015, the Modi government allowed the EPFO to start investing in exchange traded-funds – for the first time. The asset allocation of EPFO, that holds a corpus of nearly Rs 11 lakh crore, was further opened up to the vagaries of equity markets with its threshold level increasing to 15% in 2018 – from 5% in 2015.

“On the face of it, provocative statements are made to suggest high returns on such investment. However, in the end, that is not the case,” Sen said.

Bhattacharjee tended to agree with Sen on the equity exposure. “Subjecting such funds to financial markets makes social security much more insecure. The only beneficiary of such moves are the market players – who are eyeing EPF’s huge surplus corpus. The workers will bear the brunt,” he said.

Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), also accused the government of making a “mockery” of tripartism since no meeting of CBT – a statutory decision making body – was called before taking aforementioned decisions.

“These are the unilateral decision of the Centre, aimed at making life difficult for workers. The stakeholders have not been consulted, even though a virtual meeting could have been called,” she said.

The last meeting of CBT involving representations from both central trade unions and employers’ body was held in January this year, she added.

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