Major strike over reforms closes public services in India

2 Sep 16

Millions of workers across India are on strike today to protest what they see as anti-labour policies driven by prime minister Narendra Modi.

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Protest India

Communist party activists protest in India. Today, a group of trade unions, with a combined membership of 180 million workers and backed by the communist parties and the country's main opposition, will stage a nationwide strike.

 

State banks, power stations, transport and other public services are closed or disrupted nationwide as a group of trade unions, boasting a combined membership of 180 million workers, take industrial action.

Among the 12 demands issued by the unions are universal social security and the strict enforcement of all basic labour laws for all workers, a minimum wage of no less than 18,000 rupees per month ($269) and the reversal of Modi government plans to open up the country’s railway, insurance and defence industries to foreign investment.

Since taking power in 2014, Modi’s government has pursued economic and labour reforms to improve the ease of doing business and attract foreign investment.

Earlier this month, he guided a historic tax reform through parliament to combine India’s fragmented levies on goods and services and has raised around 560bn rupees ($8.35bn) by selling shares in India’s loss-making state-owned enterprises.

The Modi government said the reforms are needed to revive the economy, which grew at its slowest pace for two years from April to June this year, according to official figures.

However, with growth sitting at 7.1% for that quarter, India remains the world’s fastest growing major economy.

A last ditch appeal by the government to allay the unions’ concerns and prevent the strike earlier this week failed.

Concessions offered by the government included an increase the minimum wage floor to 9,100 rupees ($136) per month (26 days) for unskilled workers, a 42% increase.

The Centre for Indian Trade Unions described this as a “cruel joke” on its website, and said it would reject the offer with “the contempt it deserves”.

“[This] is not even half of what all the central trade unions demanded and have been pursuing [for the] past five years.”

At the press conference on Tuesday, finance minister Arun Jaitley, alongside India’s ministers for labour, petroleum and power, also said they would release outstanding bonuses for central government employees. Again, this was met with contempt.

The CITU said this was something they should have done much earlier and was not about the government was not showing “magnanimity” but being “deceptive”.

It added: “In reality, the government’s announcement in the press conference is nothing but a hoax and must be rejected outright. This is a game to confuse and mislead people on the eve of strike. Such a deceptive and dubious ploy must be combated through making 2 September a massive success.”

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