Shops and Commercial Establishment Workers Hold Yatra in Kerala, Marching Towards Raj Bhavan
The members of the vehicle jatha, organised by the federation, were given a rousing welcome at the reception centres (Courtesy: CITU Kerala)
Workers employed in shops and establishments in Kerala are set to march towards the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram on September 30. The Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Employees Federation conducted a statewide vehicle jatha from September 18 to 26 to outline their demands.
The federation is advocating for the implementation of minimum wages, regulated working hours, and social welfare measures for workers in the sector. The proliferation of multinational corporations in retail and online delivery has had repercussions for the sector, affecting small and medium-sized traders, as well as numerous workers.
The federation has voiced its opposition to the corporate-friendly policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government, particularly its endorsement of 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and the codification of labour laws, which impact workers' rights.
Additional demands encompass fixing minimum wages for workers in the sector, offering aid to workers affected by development projects, ensuring the right to sit in the workplace, and disbursing assistance through the welfare board.
Central Policies Impacting the Retail Sector
The federation of shop and commercial establishment workers, affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), strongly criticises the pro-corporate policies of the Union government, which have had a detrimental effect on the sector. The vehicle jatha, commencing in Kasargod on September 16, highlighted the challenges facing workers in the sector due to the policies of the union government.
P. Saji, the general secretary of the federation, accused the Union government of undermining the retail sector. He stated, "As a large consumer state, Kerala has a substantial number of workers in this sector. The BJP government's decision to allow 100% FDI in the sector is unwarranted and demonstrates indifference towards the workers and entrepreneurs reliant on the sector."
The vehicle jatha was inaugurated in Kasargod on September 16 by K. H. Gopinath, the state secretary of CITU, in the presence of T. V. Rajesh, former MLA and state president of the federation.
India ranks third on the e-retail shoppers list, with 1.2 million e-commerce transactions in 2021. By 2030, the e-commerce industry is projected to be worth $350 billion. With the e-commerce industry predicted to grow rapidly, the retail sector and the stakeholders face the daunting task of competing in the absence of a level playing field.
"The unrestricted entry of Amazon and Walmart has tightened the grip over the services provided by the retail sector. Walmart has taken over Flipkart, an Indian company with a large share of online sales. The threat of the sector being totally consumed by global corporate companies is huge,” Saji said.
The federation has called for a reversal of the Union government's so-called corporate-friendly policies to rescue the retail sector from crisis.
Ensuring Workers' Rights
Workers in shops and commercial establishments face multiple challenges in addition to threats posed by policies. The codification of labour laws is anticipated to erode some rights and benefits obtained through sustained trade union efforts.
"The BJP government is leaving the workers totally unprotected and at the mercy of the owners. They are deprived of assured minimum wages, regulated work time, gratuity and bonuses. The labour law codification will further intensify the problems of the workforce in the sector," Saji added.
Workers and trade unions are advocating for legal guarantees to ensure Employees State Insurance (ESI) and Provident Fund (PF). With several development projects underway in Kerala, workers are at risk of losing their jobs due to demolition efforts. CITU has called on the state government to consider providing financial assistance to affected workers.
"The sector employs a large number of women workers. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, in a historic move, secured the right to sit in the workplace. We urge the government to enforce this order and ensure workers' enrolment in the welfare board," Saji emphasised.
The statewide vehicle jatha concludes in Thiruvananthapuram on September 26. An extensive Raj Bhavan March is scheduled for September 30, during which the organisation will press their demands and seek solutions from the respective governments.
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