Workers Struggles: Asia and Australia

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India: Haryana childcare workers hold three-day protest

Anganwadi (childcare) workers and helpers held a three-day protest across all districts in Haryana on June 15 over the state government’s failure to implement agreed demands. The Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, called on the government to fulfil demands agreed to two months ago to settle their four-month state-wide strike.

The four-month strike by 50,000 anganwadi workers ended on April 5 after a delegation of the state coordination committee of anganwadi workers and helpers, the umbrella group spearheading the all-women workforce’s strike in Haryana, met with the officials of the state’s Women and Child Department.

Anganwadi workers’ demands include a 1,500-rupee pay rise ($US20) for workers and 750 rupees for helpers, a rise in their status to the skilled workers category, payment of a dearness allowance, and 300,000 rupees in retirement benefits.

Haryana power corporation workers protest in Panchkula

Hundreds of Haryana Power Corporation Workers Union members protested outside Shakti Bhawan in Panchkula on June 15 over several demands. These included, reinstatement of the old pension scheme, permanent jobs for contract workers and ending the Haryana Kaushal Rajgar Nigram (HKRN) scheme. The HKRN scheme places young new recruits into government posts on a contract basis.

Protesters submitted a memorandum of their demands to the government and said there would be protests on July 7 outside all offices of the heads of the power department in all the districts.

Tamil Nadu local government workers in Erode demonstrate

Local government workers protest in Erode on Tuesday to demand that the Tamil Nadu state government honour its pre-election promise to establish a commission for workers to represent and resolve grievances. The local government bodies are comprised of village and municipal councils. Protesters complained that a year after the government was elected, no steps have been taken to fulfil its promise.

Members of the Erode District Local Bodies Department Workers’ Association, affiliated to the All-India Trade Union Congress, called the protest.

Tamil Nadu zoo workers strike after being forced onto contract

Over 200 Arignar Anna Zoological Park workers at Vandalur in Chennai stopped work on June 17 in protest against management moves to force them into contract agreements under a third party. The 219 daily wage labourers, some of whom have been at the zoo for two decades, demanded permanency and better employment terms. They currently draw consolidated wages fixed by the state government.

Andhra Pradesh: Employee’s State Insurance hospital workers in Tirupati protest delayed salaries

Contract workers from the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) hospital in Tirupati protested at the hospital on June 19 to demand payment of five months’ outstanding salaries. The AP Medical Employees Union, affiliated to the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), said they have been protesting since June 13 over the issue.

Pakistan: Health care workers in Islamabad oppose privatisation

Healthcare workers forced the closure of outpatient departments at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) hospital on Tuesday in opposition to government plans to privatise the facility. The hospital was forced to discharge half its patients on the second day of the strike.

The latest struggle was triggered by the government’s attempt to place the hospital under control of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University, which workers said would deprive them of civil servant status. They alleged that patients would be forced to pay for treatment because the university administration will have to raise funds to operate the hospital. The strike was called by the Grand Health Alliance, an umbrella union organisation that also includes the Young Consultants Association.

The alliance threatened to call a full strike and completely shut down emergency services if the government failed to establish its previous status as a state-run hospital. The Grand Health Alliance and constituent unions have ensured workers’ actions remain staggered and disjointed, allowing the passage of unpopular reforms demanded by the government.

The privatisation of the hospital was launched through the unpopular Federal Medical Teaching Institutions Act, which was repealed after the new government assumed power. Like its predecessor, the Shehbaz Sharif government plans to privatise all major state-owned institutions in line with International Monetary Fund demands.

Pakistan: Federal Board of Revenue workers strike to demand higher allowance

Administration workers from the Federal Board of Revenue in Karachi have been on strike since June 18 to demand a substantial increase in their pay allowance. Workers said the allowance has been frozen at 20 percent since 2015. The allowance constitutes a major portion of government workers’ income because their base pay rates are very low. Workers want the allowance increased to between 100 and 150 percent of base pay in line with other government departments.

The strike is part of an emerging wave of pay demands by workers as inflation continues to rise amidst massive subsidy cuts and imposition of new taxes imposed by the government to comply with demands of the IMF and finance capital.

Bangladeshi state-owned jute mill workers demand reopening of mills

Dozens of retrenched workers of five closed state-owned jute mills in Bangladesh rallied, marched, and then held a sit-down protest outside the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation office at Motijhee in Dhaka on June 20. The workers, who were from the Khalishpur Jute Mills, Daulatpaur Jute Mills, Jatiya Jute Mills, RR Jute Mills and KFD Jute Mills, demanded reopening of the mills and payment of wages in arrears.

The government closed 26 state-owned jute mills in July 2020, leaving over 50,000 workers jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their union, the Pathkal Rakshay Sramik-Krishak-Chhatra-Janata Oikya, organised the protest.

Bangladeshi bidi workers demand job security

Dozens of bidi (hand-rolled cigarette) workers organised by the Bidi Mazdoor Union formed a human chain protest outside the deputy commissioner’s office in Pabna, about 200 km west of Dhaka on July 20. They were demanding protection against competition from foreign-made cigarettes. Workers complained that “low-quality” cheap cigarettes had taken over the bidi market.

They also called for abolition of an advance 10 percent income tax on bidi, an increase in the price of low-quality cigarettes, a protection law for bidi workers, and a move away from plans to impose mandatory licences on bidi factories. Their union submitted a memorandum of demands to the deputy commissioner to deliver to the prime minister.

The bidi industry is an ancient labour-intensive industry that employs millions of extremely poor workers. Previous protests were held on March 20 and during 2021 and 2020.


Sydney commuter rail workers impose bans

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) members employed on the Sydney Metro construction project have reimposed a suite of 25 work bans in their dispute with the Liberal-National state government for a pay increase. The bans include a power switching ban which threatens to stall major track work scheduled for July. The Sydney Metro construction project involves the upgrade of Sydney’s rail stations and extension of the rail network.

The Sydney Trains enterprise agreement, which covers over 1,000 ETU members, expired in May 2021. The union claims that after more than 12 months of negotiations, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) has failed to honour an assurance to send a package agreed during bargaining to the government’s Expenditure Review Committee for approval.

Meanwhile, cleaners at Sydney Trains and NSW Trains have stepped up work bans in their long battle for a better pay offer in their enterprise agreement. Rail Tram and Bus Union members have banned cleaning windows and mopping floors, cleaning hazardous waste and cleaning anything other than hard rubbish.

Under the NSW Labour Expenses Cap, introduced by the state Labor government in 2008, public sector wage increases are capped at 2.5 percent unless “savings” are made elsewhere in the organisation.

In response to mounting anger and widely supported industrial action and protests by other public sector workers, the Perrottet state government announced early this month that it will end the 2.5 percent pay cap and lift it to 3 percent this year and 3.5 percent next year.

The below inflation offer has been rejected by workers, saying it was an insult and a pay cut. The current official consumer price index (CPI) for 2021 is 5.1 percent. The Reserve Bank of Australia predicts that it will be 7 percent by the end of 2022.

Alumina refinery workers in Western Australia strike for higher pay

Up to 260 workers from the South 32 Worsley alumina refinery and bauxite mines at Worsley and Boddington in Western Australia began industrial action on Friday over their first enterprise agreement. The action includes work stoppages between 30 minutes and 48 hours, bans on attending pre-shift meetings, and isolating power.

Members of the Electrical Trades Union, including electricians, mechanical trades, and trades assistants, are currently employed on common law contracts. They have been pushing to transfer to an enterprise agreement for more than six months.

An ETU spokesperson said workers want improved superannuation, income protection, retention of medical benefits and career progression pathways. Other demands include a five-panel 36-hour rotating shift roster, a three-day work week to allow day workers to perform three 12-hour days, and guaranteed pay increases on par with wages at comparable industries. According to the union, previous pay increases were consistently below CPI.

Workers are also calling for an end to two-tier employment in which new recruits are on a lower wage with reduced entitlements. Workers said that from 2019, South 32, as a COVID cost-saving measure, stopped offering 16.5 percent superannuation, private health, and subsidised bank loans to new employees. The so-called “lucrative” entitlements were originally offered to attract workers to the remote mine and smelter complex.

University of Queensland maintenance workers win new agreement

Nine maintenance workers at the University of Queensland St Lucia campus in Brisbane, the Queensland state capital, ended a month of industrial action on June 9, after reaching agreement with their employer UGL Solutions for a new enterprise agreement. Workers had declared that they would not resume work until UGL offered a pay increase that made up for three years without a wage increase and kept pace with the rising cost of living.

Under the deal negotiated by the ETU, which does not make up for previous real pay cuts, workers will get a 5.5 percent pay rise this year and annual increases of 3 percent or CPI, whichever is the higher for the life of the agreement. The company agreed to a 36-hour work week, or two rostered days off a month.

Regional Express airline pilots vote to strike

The Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) members at Regional Express airlines (Rex) will take industrial action on June 28. Some 89 percent of 230 AFAP members voted for industrial action, after rejecting Rex’s latest proposed enterprise agreement. Their current agreement expired on June 30, 2018.

The company’s proposed agreement offered a pay increase of 5 percent with an additional 8 percent when the company became profitable. AFAP said the pay offer represented a salary cut of over 5 percent on 2018 wages, lacked any back-pay provisions and ignored four previous years of CPI increases.

The pilots plan to take incremental action, beginning with changes to uniforms and advancing to 10-hour breaks when away from home and 12-hour breaks at their home bases. After that they will refuse to load return fuel and take four-hour work stoppages.

Randwick Council contract garbage collectors strike again

Garbage collection truck drivers in the Randwick Council area, an eastern Sydney suburb, walked off the job for 24 hours on Friday in a pay dispute with their employer, waste management contractor Cleanaway. The action followed a 24-hour strike on May 2 over the same issue.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused Cleanaway of trying to strip workers of their rights, entitlements, and protections they had with the previous waste contractor at Randwick Council. A TWU spokesman said that after Cleanaway took over the council’s waste management contract in March 2021 it refused to protect the pay and conditions of workers from the previous agreement.

TWU accused Cleanaway of bypassing the union and using bullying tactics by going directly to workers with a non-negotiated enterprise agreement and demanding they sign it.