Around 4000 workers from across Tamilnadu took out a rally against the labour policies of the Central government and the State government. The rally was organized by All India Central Council for Trade Unions (AICCTU) on 31st January in Chennai. Workers from agricultural, industrial and service sectors participated in the rally.
The principal demands include
- an 8 hour work day,
- a 40 hour work week,
- creation of adequate number of dignified and protected jobs,
- a floor minimum wage of Rs 21000,
- the notification of new ‘Rules’ to the Model Standing Order (Amendment) Act 2008 without further delay,
- control of prices of essential commodities,
- equal pay for equal work,
- restoration of Public Distribution system (PDS),
- a repeal of the bus fare hike in Tamil Nadu,
- protection of farmers’ livelihood, and the end to contractualization of manufacturing jobs.
The demand to ‘Free The Pricol Two’ was also raised in their charter of demands. While the official plan was to march to the secretariat to present their petition, the workers were stopped well before the Secretariat. A delegation of workers representatives and youth representatives met with Tamil Nadu Labour minister Ms Nilofer Kafeel, and submitted their petition.
The workers raised slogans ridiculing the AIADMK government in Tamilnadu, and seeking its resignation. The central government led by Modi also came for sharp criticism for its failure to create quality jobs, and for its anti labour policies.
Representatives of the workers union from Isabella hospital, discussed how under the veneer of respect, famous hospitals continue to exploit workers by paying less than minimum wage and insisting on nearly 12 hour work days. Workers from various industrial establishments from Chennai and Coimbatore participated in the rally. Their principal issue was the non recognition of unions and victimization of workers when they form unions.
Agricultural workers from Cuddalore and Thanjavur related the distress facing agriculture. Even after a bountiful monsoon, water scarcity plagues tailend regions of Kollidam (part of the Cauvery irrigation system). An agricultural worker narrated how the poor implementation of the MNREGS (100 day employment guarantee scheme) and the corruption in the system was forcing agricultural workers to migrate to other cities and states. He put the blame squarely on the state government stating that the officials and the ministers were corrupt which was leading to the failure of the scheme.
Sanmina workers who had recently re-joined work after a successful 66 day strike were also in full attendance at the rally. During the wage negotiations, the management had informally agreed to allow workers to participate in general protests provided they compensated for the loss of work with voluntary ‘over-time’. Their enthusiastic participation reverberated in their active sloganeering. Workers from PRICOL Coimbatore also participated in the rally with their demand for the acquittal of their two fellow workers incarcerated for the murder of a Human Resource Manager.
The workers participated with enthusiasm. The route of the rally though did not allow any visibility of the workers as it navigated interior roads to avoid the main roads. The rally was stopped a couple of kilometers from its start and much before it reached its intended destination, The Tamil Nadu Secretariat. While the workers wanted to push further, the union leadership pacified the workers to settle down as per the orders of the police which had thrown a well manned barricade at the Pantheon Road Junction. While a small delegation was sent to petition the state government, the rest of the workers settled down on the road. Soon the workers began to disperse.
The delegation met Tamil Nadu Labour minister Ms Nilofer Kafeel, and presented their demands. They insisted that the government frame rules to the industrial standing order (amendment) to curb involvement of trainees and contract workers in production. They also raised the issue of minimum wage and equal pay for equal work. The representatives also discussed ongoing labour struggles in LGB, a automotive spare parts manufacturer in Coimbatore and a company in Ambattur. The issues are pending with the concerned labour conciliation officers. The minister has agreed to look into the issue and expedite the proceedings. She has also promised to frame rules to reflect the amendments to the Industrial Standing Order. This has been pending for over 18 months after the amendments received presidential assent.