Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific

21 April 2012
Asia

Pakistan: Sindh hospital paramedics on strike following police attack

Up to 40,000 paramedics in government hospitals across the Sindh province in South East Pakistan are on strike following a brutal attack by police using teargas and batons to break up state-wide peaceful demonstrations over wages and allowances on April 12. Media reported that police continued their assault inside the Sindh Services Hospital, causing panic among patients.

Over 60 protesters were detained and ten injured. Paramedics across Sindh have set up protest camps and rallies to fight for their demands and the release of detained colleagues. Doctors have cancelled all outpatient departments but paramedics are responding to emergencies.

The Pakistan Paramedical Association said their demands, which include time-scale promotions and additional allowances, were initially accepted by the Health Department in December but it failed to implement any.

Pakistan: Punjab doctors end strike

Young Doctors Association (YDA) members at Punjab government hospitals returned to work on April 19 after striking for eight days over the transfer of 700 colleagues from various hospitals without a plausible reason. Senior doctors, paramedical staff and nurses at the affected hospitals had supported the strike and refused to provide services in outpatient departments.

The YDA claimed the transfers were part of a plan by health authorities to weaken the association after a series of walkouts. Strikers had demanded the cancellation of transfers, resolution of service structure issues and 10 percent of GDP allocated to the health sector. The government has agreed to suspend all transfers and establish a committee with the YDA to deal with the other demands.

YDA members walked out for 37 days in March 2011 over the non-payment of a promised pay rise and hostel accommodation. They ended the strike after the government agreed to enter negotiations and resolve the issues within two weeks.

India: Tamil Nadu power workers arrested

Over 400 contract workers of the state-owned Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) were arrested by the police on April 15 after they tried to picket one of NLC’s power plants. Pickets demanded equal pay for equal work and regularisation of services.

According to the All India Trade Union Congress, the NLC had failed to honour a 2008 agreement to regularise its contract workforce. Over 6,000 have been on contract basis for 15 years.

The NLC has three open cut coal mines and three power stations. It employs 14,000 regular workers and 13,000 contract employees. Contract workers threatened to strike from April 18 and remain out until the issue is resolved.

Tamil Nadu sugar workers’ strike in third week

On April 16, striking Vellore district cooperative sugar mill workers protested at the Fort Round Road in Vellore over a pay dispute. Around 6,000 workers from 17 cooperative sugar mills in Thanjavur, Salem, Coimbatore, Tirutani and Karaikudi began strike action on April 4 to demand a pay rise and dearness allowance on par with government employees.

Workers complained that while some officers received equal pay with government employees, the majority were asked to live on a pittance. They claimed that workers with 33 to 45 years’ service receive 13,000 rupees ($US252) a month while selected officers were paid between 40,000 and 80,000 rupees. The minimum wage for mill workers is 8,000 rupees a month.

Tamil Nadu nurses continue strike action

Over 450 nurses at Tamil Nadu’s largest medical teaching facility, PSG Hospital in Coimbatore, have been on strike since April 7 to demand improved wages and allowances. Hospital management has refused to enter talks while the strike continues and ordered nurses protesting outside the hospital to vacate the hospital hostel.

The PSG Hospital Nurses’ Welfare Association had demanded a minimum monthly salary of 15,000 rupees for all staff nurses, an annual increment of 1,000 rupees, deletion of the clause relating to payment of three months’ salary at the time of resignation, removal of the contract system of employment, return of original certificates, and the introduction of a shift system.

The nurses association and the Tamil Nadu Medical Workers’ Federation have entered talks with the health minister over the issues.

Tamil Nadu beedi workers on strike

Over 500,000 beedi (cigarette making) workers across the state have been on strike since April 17 to demand the immediate implementation of the Government Order on basic wages for beedi workers. The improved, but minuscule, basic wage of 121,740 rupees ($US2.45) a day was agreed in tripartite negotiations between workers, employers and the government in October 2010. The Tamil Nadu Beedi Workers’ Federation entered into talks with the government on April 18 over the dispute.

Jammu and Kashmir government employees resume strike action

For the fourth time in eight months, government employees of India’s northern border state of Jammu and Kashmir struck for 24 hours on April 17 in a three-year dispute over pay and conditions.

Last August and September, over 400,000 government employees walked off the job in three strikes over the same demands. The Joint Consultative Committee, which represents over 50 different associations and unions, called off last years’ strike action after the government invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act, which bans strikes and can impose heavy fines or imprisonment on strikers.

Workers’ demands included payment of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations and arrears, 7 percent dearness allowance, the retirement age lifted from 58 to 60, regular employment for 50,000 daily wage workers and ad hoc employees, and increased payments for Anganwadi (child care) workers.

Karnataka village council workers protest

Village panchayat (council) workers in Tumkur district marched from the Tumkur Town Hall Circle to the District Panchayat Office on April 16 to demand implementation of minimum wages, regularisation of service, release of pending wages and action against panchayat secretaries who had not released the wages. Workers complained that many had been employed for 15 to 20 years and still not regularised. The protesters, representing 3,000 workers in 321 village panchayats, want salaries regularly paid on the fifth day in each month.

Former municipal workers in Uttar Pradesh protest

For the second time in eight months, Allahabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) retired workers in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are protesting outside the AMC commissioner’s office to demand the release of pending pension payments. The retired workers said they have not been paid for five months and would maintain their protest, which began on March 16, until their dues are paid. In July, retired AMC employees demonstrated after their pensions were not paid for two months.

Pondicherry high school teachers strike

Around 40 teachers at the Lycee Francais in the former French enclave Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu walked out on April 16 to protest delays in the renewal of their work contracts. Teachers complained that the French government had reduced funding to the school and wanted them to sign a local contract.

In February, thousands of teachers struck in 101 French departments and overseas territories after Paris announced that it was axing 14,000 jobs as part of the government’s austerity measures.

Bangladeshi garment workers protest

Hundreds of Mustered readymade garment factory workers walked off the job in Dhaka’s Mohakhali industrial area on April 16 and demonstrated in the capital. The garment workers were demanding four months’ outstanding dues and compensation for the transfer of the factory to another location. Their protest along the airport road ended at midday after police intervened.

Thai pineapple processing workers protest

More than 4,000 workers, mostly foreign labour, protested on April 11 at a pineapple factory in Kanchanaburi province, on Thailand’s western border, to demand payment of the government’s promised 300 baht ($US9.74) daily minimum wage. Police intervened and forced the demonstrators back to work. The raise is 40 percent above current levels.

The minimum wage in Thailand is determined independently in each of the 77 provinces and in some provinces the new minimum wage represents a 90 percent increase in the daily wage.

Thailand seafood workers on strike

Thousands of Cambodian and Burmese workers at the Pattana Seafood factory in Songkhla province on Thailand’s south-east coast have been on strike for almost two weeks. The immigrant workers have accused the company of cutting meal allowances, docking pay for so-called “bondage payments” and holding their passports to prevent them leaving. Many workers are reported to be close to starvation and want to return home.

Most of the seafood employees only have permits to work in Songkhla and cannot travel without being officially released by their employer. Pattana Seafood management has been accused of demanding up to 1,200 baht ($US39) for release documents and the return of passports. A workers’ representative claimed that similar exploitation and bondage exists in Pattama’s plants in Mahachai and Chantaburi.

One of the striking workers said the company has reduced their food allowance and decreased an attendance bonus from 800 to 300 baht a month. The cuts follow a recent nominal increase in the government’s new minimum daily wage—from 147 to 247 baht. Workers in many other Thai provinces were granted a 300 baht daily minimum.

Pattana has offered to start paying 50 baht per hour overtime and told employees that it would resolve “the labour problem” after April 19.

Australia and the Pacific

Queensland construction workers walk out

At least 350 members of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union walked off the Mackay Base Hospital Redevelopment site on Queensland’s central coast on April 18. The building workers are employed by the Baulderstone construction company.

The strike is part of a six-month dispute over a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). The building workers have voted to remain on strike until the company inserts a clause in the proposed EBA which commits all contractors to provide their employees with pay and conditions on a par with Baulderstone workers.

Papua New Guinea construction workers walk out

Construction workers from the Consolidated Contractor Company (CCC), a subcontractor at the PNG LNG processing site, 20 kilometres north-west of Port Moresby, walked off the job on April 16 in a dispute over wages. Site managers for Esso Highlands Limited, Chiyoda-JGC Joint Venture and CCC immediately locked out the strikers.

The striking building workers are from four villages—Papa, Porebada, Boera and Lealea—and managed and trained by body hire firm Laba Holdings. They returned to work several days later, after Laba entered talks with CCC over the issue.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated dispute, construction workers employed by the Canan construction company at two hotel sites in Port Moresby walked off the job on April 19 over pay and other issues. A spokesman for the workers said that Canan had promised to increase their pay rate but failed to do so. The strikers have threatened to resign if their grievances are not resolved.

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