India to honour pandemic-hit workers during annual parade

by Anuradha Nagaraj | @anuranagaraj | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 25 January 2021 14:48 GMT

A migrant worker covers her child with a scarf to protect it from the heat, as they wait to get on a bus for a railway station, where they will board a train to their home state of West Bengal, after some restrictions were lifted during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave

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Labour ministry’s parade float will highlight the role of the country’s contentious labour reforms

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, Jan 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - I ndia's government will pay tribute on Tuesday to ordinary workers - millions of whom have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, recognising their hardships while also promoting disputed labour reforms during an annual military parade.

Labourers, gig employees and other informal workers will take centre stage in the labour ministry's Republic Day float, which will emphasise the role of the new reforms in boosting workers' rights, a ministry statement said.

India's parliament approved the contentious labour laws in September despite a boycott by opposition parties and protests from trade unions, and final consultations prior to their implementation were held earlier this month.

The three labour codes will make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers and impose operating restrictions on unions, but Santosh Gangwar, India's labour and employment minister, has said they will safeguard workers' interests and foster growth.

His ministry has said the new legislation will usher in a range of worker rights, such as health checks, home visits, emergency aid and written terms.

Tuesday's parade float will feature a "confident and empowered worker" wearing a yellow safety cap that symbolizes social security, wage security and health security provided under labor codes, the statement said.

Trade unions and rights campaigners have said the new laws compromise workers' legal rights and exclude many informal and home-based workers from getting any health or social security benefits.

Nearly 90% of India's workforce is in the informal sector - including an estimated 100 million migrant workers who have been hard hit by the pandemic as they struggle to access government aid and find new jobs, campaigners say.

With some rejecting the ministry's Republic Day gesture, labour rights activists accused the government of riding roughshod over workers' concerns about the reform laws.

"The laws were pushed through without much consultation and now if they want to showcase it at the Republic Day parade it is purely tokenism," said Sunil Tamminaina, an activist with the Migrant Workers Solidarity Network.

"The government is doing this in the name of workers at a time when labour rights are being under-cut."

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(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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