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Indian trade unions call general strike

1 September, 2016Trade unions in India will take part in a nationwide general strike on 2 September against the government’s anti-worker policies.

On 2 September 2016, hundreds and thousands of workers across India will march together in the streets in a national general strike. The strike will cover transport, finance, energy, coal, textiles, automotive, port and dock, steel, oil, defence production, scheme sectors, education and central and state government employees.

Reiterating their call for the strike, in a joint press conference today in Delhi, central trade union leaders expressed disappointment over the government’s anti-worker polices, failure to respond to union concerns and undemocratic attitude.

Unions went on a national strike with a 12 point charter of demands on the same day in 2015. In March 2016, in the national convention, central trade unions called for the 2 September 2016 national strike and called upon the government to come to the negotiation table.

However, the government has failed to meet with all unions to address their demands, meeting only one national centre, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which is the trade union wing of the right wing Hindu nationalist Bahartiya Janata Party, the leading party of the ruling coalition.

In a desperate attempt to avert the growing labour crisis, on 30 August the government announced a minimum wages hike for unskilled central government workers from Rs 246 (US$ 3.70) to Rs 350 (US$ 5.20) per day, or Rs 9100 (US$ 135) per month.

After this announcement the BMS, one of the largest national union centres, backed out of the strike, while the other ten central trade unions strongly criticized the meagre wage increase, which applies only to central government and is not binding on federal units. Unions demand a raise of the minimum wage to Rs 18,000 (US$ 268) per month.

The unions also rejected the appeal from the minister of labour and employment to call off the strike. Ironically, unions found that the letter from the ministry was almost the same as the one sent a year ago, and that the ‘proactive’ labour reform measures listed by the minister as actions taken in favour of workers’ demands were in fact anti-labour measures vociferously opposed by unions.

These anti-worker policies include introduction of fixed term employment in the apparel manufacturing sector through an executive order; an increase in the permissible limit of overtime work from 50 hours per quarter to 125 hours, and the diversion of workers’ social security, the employees provident fund, for investment in the shares market.

Unions view the ongoing unilateral labour law reforms through both central and state governments as designed to exclude the majority of workers from coverage by basic labour laws. Unions denounced government’s move of privatization and disinvestment of strategic public sector units and promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) in sensitive sectors like defence, railways, banks, insurance, retail and pharmaceuticals.

The trade unions’ 12 point charter of demands includes:

  1. Urgent measures to contain price rises through universalization of public distribution system and banning speculative trade on the commodity market.
  2. Concrete measures for employment generation.
  3. Strict enforcement of all labour laws and stringent sanctions for violations
  4. Universal social security cover for all workers
  5. Minimum wages not less than Rs 18,000 per month
  6. Assured pension not less than Rs 3,000 per month for entire working population
  7. Stop disinvestment of central and state public sector undertakings
  8. Stop contract work (precarious work) in perennial work and equal wages for same work
  9. Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus, provident fund and increase the quantum of gratuity
  10.  Compulsory registration of unions within a period of 45 days and immediate ratification of ILO conventions C87 and C98
  11. Stop labour law amendments
  12. Stop FDI in railways, insurance and defence

The ten central trade unions participating in the strike are INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC and LPF. The strike is also supported by independent federations of workers and government employees.