Report by Badal Tah, Rayagada: The anti-labour virus has spread all over, as shown by the fact that Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha and Assam have made changes in the labour laws. The labour unions like BMS are extremely concerned that these changes are being made while the whole country is going through the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, which is a health emergency situation, which has hugely affected the income of the lives and livelihoods for millions of workers in India.
“The working hours have been increased from 8 hours to 12 hours a day and 72 hours a week by amending the Factories Act, which means that workers can be compelled to work for 12 hours every day for six days in a week. Worse, overtime wages have been done away with. This is tantamount to legalising servitude in its worse form. It is illegal, unwarranted, against humanism, fundamental rights & vision of development. We are deeply worried about the fact that the labour law changes squarely take away the right of workers to form trade unions, to be associated with them and to represent their cases collectively with the employer or with the governments”, said Sri Jogeswar Das, President, BMS, Rayagada.
According to Smt Usharani Das, Secretary of All OdishaIndia Anganwadi Workers’s General Secretary, “Among the laws made defunct by the amendments are the social security laws at a time when it is becoming evident that these are the meagre savings they have at the time of sudden lose in income. We also understand the need for India pursuing a policy of universal social security considering the fact that those countries with robust systems of social protection withstand economic crisis better. Though during Covid-19, Anganwadi Workers and ASHAs are the primary workers in the communities, their financial security is at stake. With the meagre salaries they are not able to meet their both ends meet. They should now be taken within the ambit of regular govt employees.”
Sri Khageswar Singh opined, “We affirm that labour rights are embodiments of civil and democratic rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of India and are within India’s commitment to international human rights covenants. We demand preparation of a national register for migrants with immediate effect. Govt should bear the entire transport cost of the migrant labourers having reverse migration.”
Sri Aruna Kumar Lenka, President of Buildings & Construction Workers Union, Rayagada urged that all citizens in the district to support the efforts of trade unions to defend labour rights. He was anguished over the steps of the Govt in bringing gross changes in labour laws and going in wrong direction. “Social dialogue is fundamental to democracy. Government becoming shy of consultation and dialogue with trade unions, social representatives and stakeholders shows lack of confidence in their own ideas and is highly condemnable,” he said.
The protesters led by Sri Jogeswar Das, President, BMS-Rayagada Unit, Sri Khageswar Singh, Secretary and Smt Padmalaya Sahu, President of Rayagada District Anganwadi Workers’s Association, Smt Padmini Padhiari, President ASHA Sathi Sangha, Ramesh Meleka & others from Railway Contract Mazdoor Sangha, Gopinath Gouda, Trade Union leaders from IMFA, JKPM, UAIL operational areas submitted a memorandum having eight demands to the PM of India and CM of Odisha demanding the Central and State governments to withdraw the changes in labour laws with immediate effect and urged that no changes should be brought about without consulting trade unions like BMS. In the absence of the Collector, Sri Subrata Panigrahi, Deputy Collector, Rayagada received the memorandum.
In the meantime under the leadership of Sri Tripati Gomango, President, CPI(ML), a joint statement with similar demands bearing the signatures of representatives from various trade unions namely INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC & AICCTU was issued during a rally at Gunupur. In a rally at Rayagada, other demands included free ration for six months to all the labourers irrespective of having ration cards, cash transfer of Rs.10000 through DBT to each migrant’s account, bringing back all the migrants by providing required number of trains and compensating Rs. 20 lakhs to each deceased migrant.