Indian workers protest draconian government measures which undermine their rights

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An Indian family walking with masks on. Image: From BBC News Video
As many thousands of workers face destitution and hunger as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we stand in solidarity with workers across India who today are protesting the government’s use of the pandemic to introduce anti-worker labour laws. 

Organisations such as Cividep India are working hard to expose the impact that the pandemic and lockdown measures are having on an already vulnerable workforce. 

Garment workers in Tiripur, a major textile-producing hub where clothes are made for many of the world’s best known brands, have faced starvation and have been left destitute during the lockdown, as employers have held back on paying wages. As operations start to resume, many people remain out of work, whilst those with jobs are confronting attempts to roll back laws that will leave them even more vulnerable to exploitation and abusive practices.

The economic impact of the pandemic is being used to justify measures that will eradicate workers rights, leaving workers at risk of employers enforcing extreme hours and low pay, as well as neglecting health and safety. The latest of which is a raft of attempts to roll back crucial labour laws and regulations. 

A government decision taken in Uttar Pradesh attempts to exempt businesses from almost all labour laws for 1000 days. With this one stroke, 38 laws to guarantee workers rights have been effectively eliminated for nearly three years. These include laws on trade union rights, occupational health and safety, equal pay and maternity benefits. 

In Madhya Pradesh, the government has brought in drastic changes to laws that will effectively allow employers to hire and fire at will, banning the raising of workplace disputes and grievances, and lowering regulations and inspections that help to safeguard health and safety.

In Gujarat, the government has increased working hours from 8 to 12 hours a day, and is seeking to suspend labour protection laws in similar ways.

In these cases, it is women who are the hardest hit. Whether in garment factories or as subcontracted home workers at the bottom of the supply chain, women are paid pitiful amounts for their work. Whilst international fashion brands will be eligible for government bailouts and loans, workers in the supply chains have suddenly lost their jobs, or lost contracted work. Without wages, they are driven further into poverty. 

The impact on migrant workers has also been devastating. Facing job losses and evictions, thousands have had to walk several hundred miles to reach their homes, without food or water, or support from employers or authorities. Many lives have been lost.

Trade unions from all sectors across the country have come together to condemn the latest measures as draconian, and a sinister attempt to “facilitate more brutal and cruel exploitation of workers without their rights for collective bargaining, dispute over proper wages, safety at work place and guarantee of social security, but also to throw them in to conditions of slavery”. 

Today, we stand in solidarity with the central trade unions and workers in India who are taking action against these draconian measures in a nationwide protest to fight government attempts to eradicate their rights.