Responding to the call of the Central Trade Unions (CTU), BWI Indian affiliates on 22 May joined a nationwide peaceful protest against the suspension of labour laws in India's major states and the deplorable plight of migrant workers.
It was reported that several states, responding to the COVID-19 economic slowdown, have passed laws extending working hours from the currently mandated 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day, and suspending labour laws which protect fundamental principles and rights at work, including protection from the violation of principles of freedom of association and forced and compulsory labour.
In the Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi states, the INBCWF, NOBSM, OFMFPWU, OKKS, CLU, MPTSMC, DANMU and DSEWU held demonstrations to protest the government’s anti-labour measures. Many workers expressed their solidarity to the nationwide protests by wearing black badges and organising lunch-hour meetings.
The unions also submitted memorandums and petitions to authorities. In the Punjab state, the BMS handed over a 19-point memorandum to the Collector, Administrative Head of Amritsar District. A similar initiative was conducted in the Himachal Pradesh State with the AHPWDIPHCWU submitting a memorandum to the State Chief Minister. In South India, the TCTU, TKTMS, SGEU and INRLF in the Tamil Nadu State submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, State Labour Minister and political parties.
Union representatives have also organised token hunger strikes in many states, such as the one held by AHBWU in the Rajasthan State. The Self Employed Workers’ Association (SEWA) also joined the CTU-led nationwide protests in New Delhi and carried out demonstrations in its home state, Gujarat.
Meanwhile, the CTU said that it has submitted a petition, signed by ten central unions, to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The petition calls on the government’s attention on a number of key issues, including the suspension of labour laws and the plight of migrant workers. The petition also denounced the government’s move towards further privatisation.
Rama Chandra Khuntia, Vice-President of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Chair of the BWI Indian Affiliates Council, congratulated all the trade unions that participated in the protests. “We thank all the BWI affiliates who took part in the nationwide protests. We hope the government will listen to the workers, whose voices were heard in the different parts of the country. We call on the national government to recognise workers’ rights and reject the anti-labour measures passed by several states. We also appeal to the government to prioritize the migrant workers’ safe return to their homes by providing them free transportation and food supplies.”