Precautionary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 are progressing in the state. Borders with Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have been closed till March 31. The state government has announced the closure of business establishments and markets. Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests, with the exception of Tirupur, are being withdrawn in many places owing to preventive measures announced due to the coronavirus.
Eight workers were killed in a blast at a firecracker manufacturing unit in Virudhunagar district. The workers, mostly contract workers from the Chennai corporation and the government medical college in Salem held protests demanding payment of wages among other demands. NewsClick presents a roundup of events across Tamil Nadu from the past week.
COVID-19 CRIPPLES NORMALCY
The state reported its third positive case of COVID-19 with many others under observation. The state government announced the closure of educational institutions, malls and big business establishments to contain the spread. However, those from the un-organised sector, including contractual and casual workers are left to fend for themselves as no welfare measures have been announced to take care of their daily expenses. The casual, contract and daily-wage workers depending on the textile industry, on construction, vegetable markets, and those in the transport sector have seen a drastic reduction in income. The situation is set to get worse in the coming weeks. The state government has announced a slew of measures but nothing to support the working class when the threat of a pandemic looms large.
In certain areas, workers continue to take up work for their living despite the threat of a community spread of COVID-19. With a ‘janata curfew’ announced on Sunday, workers are apprehensive of subsequent developments. Even though the government asked companies to pay salaries to the workers for the shutdown period, the possibility seems highly remote. Read More
Anti-CAA protests in the state continued over the early days of this week. Sit-in protests took place in Washermanpet, Tirupur, Madurai, Ramanathapuram and in many other places. Now however, all these protests are being called off to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Various organisations held a rally in Madurai on Friday opposing the CAA, NPR and NRC. The Tamil Nadu Towheed Jamad held protest rallies across the state defying the ban for protests and rallies.
The state government had earlier announced that the NPR work will only commence after they received a reply from the union government. Many concerns were raised by members of civil society, organisations and political parties on the outcome of the questions included in the NPR application.
SEVEN KILLED IN FIRECRACKER UNIT BLAST
A blast in a firecracker manufacturing unit in Virudhunagar district killed nine people including eight women on Friday. The small unit of five rooms employed more than 80 workers instead of only 20 workers as mandated by guidelines. The unit was reportedly manufacturing all types of firecrackers against the law. An over-stocking of explosives led to the blast and loss of nine lives with others admitted in hospitals with grievous injuries. Corruption in the industry is rampant with many manufacturers violating the rules to increase manufacturing of crackers beyond permissible levels.
The family members of the deceased and trade unions refused to receive their mortal remains and demanded the district administration and the state government to announce adequate compensation.
CHENNAI CORPORATION WORKERS
The sanitary workers of Greater Chennai Corporation (GCD) were on a protest march on Monday demanding a charter of demands. The contractual system has impeded on workers for long and their genuine demands remain unheard. Salaries remain lower than what is quoted by contract companies and social security measures are being denied to the workers. Many of these workers are serving on contract for more than two decades with private companies including Ramky, Onex, CMSW and Neel Metal Fanalka. The workers with CMSW and Ramky were being denied wages and Provident Fund (PF) benefits citing disparities in the names of the mostly uneducated workers. Most of these workers were forced to obtain passports to clarify their correct names, at a high cost.
Their monthly wage of Rs 16,725, as per a government order issued in 2017, continues to be violated by the CMSW and Ramky group. The Red Flag union affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) demanded that contracts to these companies be scrapped.
SALEM MEDICAL COLLEGE CONTRACT WORKERS
Owing to a delay in wage payment, sanitary workers of the Mohan Kumaramangalam Government Medical College in Salem organised a strike. Their wages for the month of February were unpaid till March 19, leading to a flash sit-in protest. Workers are being paid a paltry sum of Rs 7,700/ as consolidated salary. The private contractor blamed the delay on non-payment of his own dues. The hospital authorities claimed that a change of the contract company was a reason for the delay. The mass contractualisation of sanitary works in major government hospitals across the state has resulted in under payment of wages.
Cleanliness is also being compromised as contract companies forge documents to enlist more workers than they actually employ. The resulting administrative and policy issues affect both the general public and the workers.