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Bengaluru: Union Workers Protest in Peenya Industrial Area

Union leaders alleged that factory owners were incorporating small companies with less than 10 employees in order to avoid making Provident Fund (PF) payments.

Casual workers from the organised sector in Bengaluru came out to protest on Friday against the dilution of labour protections. Around 50 union members gathered at Peenya industrial area. They were members of the Karnataka General Labour Union, affiliated with AICCTU. They have demanded the repeal of the four new labour codes along with a revision of the minimum wage in line with rising food prices and inflation.

Union leaders alleged that factory owners were incorporating small companies with less than 10 employees in order to avoid making Provident Fund (PF) payments. Some workers had their salaries withheld, and they had to protest on the factory floor to ensure payment.

Arindam, 33, a member of AICCTU, spoke to NewsClick about recent efforts to help workers.

He said, "A shoe factory named Kuvempu enterprises had denied PF payments to workers, and their salaries were also delayed. This company had orders from Bata to make shoe materials. Their workers reached out to us when they read one of our pamphlets. After several rounds of discussion with the management, the workers had to protest on the factory floor. The pending dues were cleared on the same day."

Paresh, 21, is a migrant worker from Assam. He works in a plastic factory in Peenya. In August, he had an accident at work, due to which he lost three fingers. His employers were refusing to pay him compensation or help with hospital bills. He showed up to the protest because the union had taken up his cause.

Gayatri, 46, is a cleaner who works at the city's central library. She joined the protest in solidarity with the factory workers. She said, "Until last year, we used to be paid Rs 6500/month. After we joined the union, we began raising our voices and demanding salary hikes. Now, our salary has been increased to Rs 13000/month. However, the library director has been telling us to leave the union. But, when we were not unionised, we were denied a decent wage for more than 20 years."

The Central government had previously consolidated 29 labour laws into four labour codes. The code on wages was passed in 2019. Three more codes were passed in 2020 relating to social security; industrial relations; and occupational health, safety and working conditions. Since labour-related laws are on the concurrent list, the new rules would apply only after states frame rules around their implementation.

The union members say that the new labour codes remove worker protections and facilitate their exploitation.

Sharath, a lawyer and a union member, spoke about the impact of the labour codes. He said, "As per the new code, any labour union can be deregistered without due process if they receive information that the union is violating the rules. The new codes also perpetuate the contract system of labour. Earlier, workers who played a crucial role in the factory had to be regularised. They could not be kept indefinitely as contract labour. This provision has now been removed. Earlier, factories with 20 workers had to ensure workers received all their rightful entitlements, but now this has been revised to 40. Effectively they are cutting off workers from legal protections."

The union members also distributed pamphlets to the general public to spread awareness about labour laws and workers' entitlements.

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