As public transport services start shutting down, people scramble to get onto a long-distance bus in Kolkata
With the country placed under a 21-day complete lockdown, the trade unions, irrespective of their party allegiance, sought financial assistance for the unorganised sector. Both Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) of the RSS and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) of the CPM asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to see that Rs 5,000 is transferred to every worker as a wage relief.
In a letter to Modi, BMS made a list of demands which include sufficient budget allocation as a relief who do not get their wages or who have shut down their units due to crisis, distribution of essential commodities through PDS and make available essential medicines at affordable prices to everyone, among other things.
“The government should urgently transfer Rs 5000 as income support/ wage relief to every worker in the unorganized sector as well as other unpaid workers through DBT (Direct benefit transfer) by depositing directly to their bank accounts for subsistence for one month. Such money will sustain the purchasing power of people and if spent, will activate the market and economic activities without getting paralyzed,” the BMS wrote to Prime Minister Modi, according to BMS National President Saji Narayanan.
CITU general secretary Tapan Sen also wrote to Prime Minister today asking the Government to ensure transfer of Rs 5000 for the workers in the unorganized and informal sector workers aged up to 25 years and Rs 10,000 to those above 25 years on a monthly basis through their bank jan-dhan accounts.
Incidentally, the Indian Express reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Modi has told the opposition leaders financial assistance for the daily wagers could be considered at the second stage as the government is focusing on the implementation of social distancing in order to contain the community transmission of the virus.
Both the BMS and CITU leaders pointed out that the worst hit in the coronavirus crisis would be the daily wage workers in the unorganised sector.
Migrant people in the queue for tickets at LTT terminus to return home on Saturday afternoon. (Express photo)
Sen said he has got reports “that in many places workers are being compelled to forego part of their wages and in some cases leaves and just go without wages.” He said the situation was especially worrisome for unorganised sector workers. He said many of the private factories have downsized their production and this has hit the contract workers.
“More than 60-70 per cent workers are on contract workers…And even regular workers are facing difficulties…Today, I got a telephone from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu that employers are calling workers and telling them you will be off for ten days. If you forego your leave..we will not cut your pay…or you pay will be cut,” he told The Indian Express.
Lauding the Prime Minister for his leadership and efforts in the crisis period of handling COVID 19, Narayanan pointed out that the situation is “grave”as “,migrant workers have already started returning to their villages empty-handed” He listed the affected are as contractual workers, casual workers, fishers, domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors, rag pickers, self-employed and other workers in sectors like private industries, large retail sector, transport, shops, hotels, restaurants, airlines, BPO, tourism, entertainment and cinema, transport including autorickshaw and taxi, automobile, beedi, aviation, hospitality, apparel, consumer durables and electronics, Poultry and Seafood, construction, railway, agriculture, etc. “Those in unorganised sector have virtually no source of income to sustain life.”
Migrant workers stranded outside a railway station in Chennai. (Express photo)
The BMS, which in the past has criticised the labour policies of the BJP-led government, also asked the government to ensure that pension under various schemes is paid in time. “The EPFO should release March Pension immediately. Just as advice is given on the Construction welfare Fund, all labour welfare boards should assist their members in the crisis period.” The outfit also wanted the government to advise the private sector not to cut down the workforce and said there should be executive orders under law to curtain the trends like terminating or reducing wages to its employees during the crisis. “One year time extension on payment of loans, recoveries like EMI, and moratorium on interest accumulation,”the letter said adding that there should be coordinated efforts of the both the centre and the state governments to provide distress of monetary assistance to labour and the needy.
Arguing that many private enterprises have announced cut in wages, unpaid forced leave and retrenchment etc, Sen demanded that a strong statutory as well as enforceable arrangement needs to be put in place by the Government urgently to prevent loss of employment, livelihood and earnings of the working people.
He has demanded that workers directly affected by corona virus and forced to stay away from work should be granted paid leave by the employers and that firms should not be allowed to cut wages and adjustment of leave for shut-down or down-sizing.
“There should be free rations to informal sector workers. Separate arrangement should be made to supply mid-day meal to the residence of the entitled students in view of the temporary closure of the schools. This will also save the jobs of the mid-day-meal workers besides benefiting the students,” he said.