Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific


India: West Bengal tea plantation unions betray workers’ demands

Twenty-four unions representing 350,000 tea plantation workers in India’s northern state of West Bengal signed a sell-out wage deal on February 20 with plantation owners and the state government. Workers at 300 tea estates at Darjeeling and Dooars Hills have been holding limited strikes and demonstrations since last August for a minimum daily wage of 322 rupees ($US5.20). The strikes have been organised by the United Tea Workers Forum and the United Trade Union Congress.

While the state minimum daily wage for unskilled agricultural workers is 206 rupees, tea estate workers are only paid 95 rupees. Under last week’s the tri-partite agreement, tea garden workers’ daily wage will be increased to 132.5 rupees by April 2016, back-dated from April last year. Other entitlements have been increased by minimal amounts.

While it falls far short of workers’ demands and the official unskilled agricultural minimum wage, the tea plantation unions claim the minimal increase is a victory. The 132.5 rupees will now become the official minimum wage for all tea plantation workers in West Bengal.

Public sector bank unions impose inferior pay rise

The United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), representing nearly one million public sector bank employees at 50,000 branches nationally, has called off a four-day strike scheduled for February 25 following a five-year wage deal with the Indian Bankers Association. Workers will receive a 15 percent pay increase, back-dated to November 2012, and Saturday work is restricted to two days per month. This is far short of workers’ original demand for a 40 percent pay rise and a five-day week. The bank workers were also demanding improved pensions, better healthcare benefits and oppose government plans to merge several nationalised banks and allow foreign institutions to compete with the State Bank of India.

While bank employees have not received an increase for almost six years, the UFBU has progressively reduced its wage claim during 18 rounds of negotiations.

Pakistan: Utility workers protest privatisation in Islamabad

Thousands of workers from the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and its distribution companies protested outside the Press Club in Islamabad on February 18 against the privatisation of the state-run utility and its associated companies.

WAPDA workers were mobilised nationally to join the protest and were joined by workers from the railways, banks and other state-run enterprises threatened by the government’s privatisation plans.

While the All Pakistan WAPDA Hydro Electric Workers Union and the WAPDA Hydro Electric Central Union have conducted a three-year campaign against privatisation of the sector, the unions have restricted this to demonstrations and harmless protest strikes.

In line with International Monetary Fund demands, the government insists that it will continue privatising state-run utilities. IMF loan payments are determined according to regular reviews of Pakistan’s restructuring and sale of state assets.

Punjab government doctors demonstrate

Services Hospital and Punjab Institute of Cardiology doctors in Lahore held a sit-down demonstration in the city on Monday to condemn recent targeted killings of doctors and the non-payment of salaries to postgraduate trainee doctors in public sector hospitals in Punjab province. The protest was organised by the Young Doctors Association (YDA)-Punjab chapter.

The doctors’ action followed a demonstration in the city on February 10 by YDA members from several teaching hospitals over delays in the implementation of a long-promised service structure. The doctors also demanded pay rises for medical officers, postgraduate doctors and house officers.

On Wednesday, doctors, nurses and paramedical staff of the Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Lahore protested on the hospital premises calling for the service structure, risk allowance for paramedics of grade 1 to 4 and other demands. The Allied Health Organisation at the hospital also wants restoration of salary increments and establishment of a Board of Governors as per government regulations.

Philippines public school teachers hold national strike

Public school teachers across the Philippines held a sit-in strike on Wednesday in a long-running dispute for a pay rise. Teachers attended their schools but did not teach and only assigned activities for pupils. Their action followed a one-day strike in November over the issue.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) wants teachers paid 25,000 pesos ($US557) per month, up from the current 18,549 pesos, and 15,000 pesos per month for non-teaching personnel, up from 9,000 pesos. Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino is delaying signing House Bill 245, which provides for salary increases for teaching and not-teaching personnel, falsely claiming that the government does not have enough funds.

The ACT has also called for the immediate implementation of Republic Act 4670, or the Magna Carta of Public School Teachers, which mandates that public school teachers’ salaries “shall compare favourably with those paid in other occupations requiring equivalent or similar qualifications, trainings and abilities.”

Australia and the Pacific

New South Wales power workers to strike

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) members at the state-owned electricity network company Ausgrid will strike for four hours in Newcastle, the wider Hunter area, the Central Coast and Sydney on March 3 in a dispute for a new work agreement. The union, however, has limited the strike action, directing members to respond to all blackouts and supply interruptions during the walkout.

While workers overwhelmingly voted for strike action, the ETU last week offered to reduce the pay demand from an 8 percent increase over two years to annual 2.5 percent increases over two years in line with the New South Wales Liberal government’s wages policy. In return, the union called on the company to retain all existing conditions are retained, including a guarantee of no forced redundancies. Ausgrid rejected the offer.

Papua New Guinea teachers on strike

Teachers at six primary schools in Papua New Guinea’s Northern province have been on strike since the start of the school year in January to demand unpaid salaries and holiday-leave fares.

According to the PNG Teachers Association, at least 15 teachers have not received their 2014 holiday-leave fares and about 300 elementary teachers in rural areas of the province were teaching without salaries.

The provincial governor was handed a petition by teachers on Wednesday. He governor responded by claiming that the teachers’ protest was illegal and that the teachers were receiving adequate support.