India must ‘flatten the curve’, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid. It has been nearly a week since the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. As of Monday, the number of positive cases worldwide stood at 150,000 and the number of deaths at 9,000.Most governments are now following the rule of social distancing. They are shutting down schools, colleges, universities, gyms and placing prohibitions on large gatherings of people. Companies are also increasingly telling employees to work for home in order to ‘flatten the curve‘.However, this remains a distant reality for the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, safai karamcharis, delivery people and others in the unorganised sector. Physical interaction is vital to their survival and work from home is an unaffordable luxury.
In India, COVID-19 is an infection coming from the rich and infecting the poor, and yet, the poor are having to bear a large part of the burden and risk.
After a month in which there were virtually no worker protests in China because much of the country was on lockdown, workers are beginning to take collective action again. Many protests have been related to the economic distress caused by the covid-19 epidemic.
China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 incidents since businesses outside the central province of Hubei tentatively resumed production after the extended Lunar New Year break in mid- and late-February.
This is still a very low number compared with previous years and most protests were relatively small-scale, but given that covid-19 is still prevalent in many parts of the country, it is remarkable that there are any collective protests and demonstrations at all.
Many of the protests were in service and transport industries that were already experiencing economic difficulties prior to the covid-19 outbreak.
On 10 March, for example, more than a thousand taxi drivers in the southwestern city of Liuzhou staged a protest demanding the suspension of cab rental fees and the right to sell their vehicle back to the cab company with no penalty. Drivers said that even though people were returning to work, the lack of passengers made it impossible for them to earn a living.
There was a noticeable increase in the number of taxi driver protests prior to the covid-19 outbreak at the end of last year as pent-up frustrations over local government regulations, cab company management and especially competition from ride-app and unlicensed drivers erupted in a series of large-scale and sometimes violent protests.
Most of the recent worker protests have been related to wage arrears and layoffs. Several workers at a snack food company in Beijing, for example, staged a protest on 10 March after the company refused to pay three months’ wages in arrears totalling nearly 400,000 yuan even after an arbitration court ordered it to pay up.
The previous day, 9 March, there was a protest by medical staff at a private hospital in Zibo, Shandong, who were also owed three months’ pay and claimed moreover that the hospital was using expired medical supplies.
In another Beijing protest, workers demonstrated against the mandatory unpaid leave policy implemented by online service provider 58.com that would only give staff a subsidy equal to 80 percent of the local monthly minimum wage, far from a living wage.
There were also several protests in early March by small shop and restaurant owners demanding rent cuts because of the drastic downturn in business they had experienced since the onset of the epidemic. The Financial Times noted that family-run shops, street stalls, hole-in-the-wall eateries and other small businesses employ about 230 million people in China and are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks because they have less capital and are less able to borrow.
Construction workers, including some workers who were recruited to build emergency hospitals for covid-19 patients in Wuhan, have also been forced to protest over unpaid wages. Most recently workers at a construction site in Zhoukou, Henan, were beaten after staging a wage arrears protest.
As normal production gradually resumes in China, workers who are already struggling after months of economic disruption will be more determined than ever to ensure their rights to remuneration, social insurance and compensation are not violated.
Unions have demanded that any future government bailout of the airlines include money to pay workers after Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, said it will stand down two-thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce without pay and end international flights.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the standdowns were needed to survive the biggest crisis aviation has ever been through, but union leaders slammed the move for robbing from workers’ futures to prop up the airline.
Joyce said it was “survival of the fittest” in the airline industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, and “lots of airlines are going to go under”.
The only thing we can say with certainty is that the fallout from coronavirus is going to be brutal
“Qantas will not be one of them,” he said. “One of the things we are working on is making sure we are last man standing.”
The decision comes despite a $715m rescue package for the Australian airline sector, unveiled by the government on Wednesday.
All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions
H.O: Imtiaz Labour Hall, Faizabad, GUJRAT (Pakistan)
Ph 🙁 +92-53) 353 3736 Fax: (+92-53) 352 5302
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Web Site: www.labourunity.org
Dated: 20th March. 2020
The General Secretary
The All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU) addresses to the working class and people of Italy. We live in a period of Pandemic, where the Coronavirus is spreading to the four corners of the world; your people have already paid a heavy price in human lives. We want to express our deep sorrow for every life that has been lost due to the pandemic.
Even if the spreading of the virus seems unavoidable, we strongly believe that the class-oriented trade unions in every country of the world have to keep up and intensify their struggle demanding the protection of health, safety, and life of the ordinary people.
The austerity imposed by the EU in recent years, which has resulted in economic cuts in the health sector, the closure of hospitals, cuts in the number of beds and healthcare staff, and the regionalisation of the health system are the real sources of the problem. The governments are trying to convince us that the spreading of the coronavirus is “personal responsibility” trying to hide the huge gaps in the health system.
On the other hand, the monopolies and the employers are trying to find new ways to exploit the people as workers and as consumers. The prices of the means of protection are raised even more than 1000% in some cases. The employers are refusing in practice to take sufficient means of protection in many work places. One more time the governments and the employers are treating the people under the rules of “cost and profit”.
Our only weapons are solidarity, our common struggles against the policies of EU, the governments and the employers. Under this aspect the APFUTU fully supports the demands of its affiliated organization USB in Italy, as the only demands with philanthropic, anthropocentric and pro-labor character. We demand immediate measures of social protection, defence of our working and salary rights. Only through our resistance and struggle we can defend our rights.