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India: Factory threatens non-payment of wages to electronics' workers not returning to work despite unsafe working conditions

Author: Electronics Watch, Published on: 29 May 2020

COVID-19 Updates from Monitoring Partners, 29 May 2020

Aneesh Manjunath who works for Cividep India, a labour rights organisation, and is an Electronics Watch monitoring partner, explains the impact of the pandemic on electronics workers in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.

"Sriperumbudur is a major electronics and manufacturing hub where Electronics Watch has been conducting research projects and training programmes for workers since 2006. In the initial days of the lockdown, as per government directives, all electronics companies had closed operations in mid-March… Most workers within the state had returned to their towns and villages while a number of interstate migrants had to stay back as movement to other states was restricted. By and large, workers were paid their wages for March and April. In early May, factories began to reopen as lockdown restrictions were eased and production had resumed to a limited extent by mid-May…

Last week… over 40 workers in one particular factory had contracted the virus and the factory has since shut down operations temporarily. According to local trade unions, the factory had been operating beyond the one-third capacity mandated by the government and workers were also… told that they would not receive wages for May if they did not report to work... [creating] a situation where they were forced to return to work. There have also been reports of confirmed cases in other companies in Sriperumbudur and the region has also been notified as a red zone with maximum containment measures in place…

Another alarming development in the past few weeks has been the move to suspend various labour laws in several states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, among others. This has been justified as necessary to revive industrial activity and attract more foreign investment… The… labour laws [proposed to be suspended] deal with occupational safety, health and hygiene, fair compensation [and] freedom of association… If implemented, the changes would also allow for higher labour flexibility and a hire-and-fire policy to be adopted, along with increased working hours and overtime. Most significantly, the existing judicial mechanisms will be made redundant from the perspective of labour-related disputes and in the absence of essential labour laws, which were otherwise poorly implemented, workers will be left with no legal avenue to avail of entitlements or bring up labour-related grievances..."

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