On 25th of August, a group of unorganised workers, over 150 strong assembled near the labour statue at Marina beach in Chennai. They came together to demand basic rights like housing, ESI, rights to represent themselves through their unions, improvement of facilities for children of migrant workers and other fundemental demands to improve working conditions within the informal sector. The date was chosen to coincide with the demand for grants of Housing and Labour department in the legislature. The police, in a most high-handed manner, swooped in withing 5 minutes, took many into detention and disperesed assembled workers. This effectively forced the workers away from public eye and also made it difficult for the press to meet the agitating workers. Workers claimed that this was a blatant denial of the freedoms.
When asked as to the reasons for such an action, the police maintained that the workers had not been granted permission to assemble or to raise slogans. While people have a fundemental right of assembly and for free expression, the Chennai police have long subverted this provision by imposing restrictions on assembly and demonstration through Madras City Police Act and Criminal Procedure Code. It was also suggested that the action was on the route taken by VVIPs (CM and other ministers) and could cause problems to security and free flow of traffic. When asked as to the reasons why permission was not sought earlier, the leader of Unorganized Workers Federation, R Geetha, maintained that they had come to know about the date for discussion on housng and labour issues in the legislature, only two days ago and therefore could not go through the bureaucratic process of getting permission. They also maintained that they were holding a peaceful protest without causing any disturbance to the public.
The demands raised by the federation and its workers were provided in the form of a leaflet. Some of the demands were
- Repeal GOs 122, 123, 124 that as per the recommendations of the Public Hearing, take action to disburse monetary benefits to all the petitioners at the earliest
- Allow unions to represent workers in the welfare boards
- Allocate 3% of the budget to welfare boards and collect levy on a occupational basis to augment welfare board finances
- Housing for houseless unorganised workers in the land acquired under Urban Land Ceiling Act
- implement RAY and in-situ improvement of housing for slum dwellers to protect livelihood rights
- Implement GOs pertaining to providing Migrant Workers with temperory residence proof, and other benefits accruing to native workers.
- Implement Total Prohibition
- Appoint Loyayukta (Ombudsman) to curb corruption
- Central Government should repeal anti labour reforms planned to be introduced to labour laws