30 Jul 2020 Ferado

Jordan: Teachers’ Syndicate Closed; Leaders Arrested

(Amman) – Police raided the Jordan Teachers Syndicate headquarters in Amman and 11 of its branches across the country, shuttered them, and arrested all 13 syndicate board members on July 25, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. Attorney General Hassan Abdallat issued the order to close the independent, elected labor union representing teachers across Jordan for a period of two years after high-profile disputes between the Jordanian government and the Teachers Syndicate.

Shortly after the shutdown, the attorney general ordered a comprehensive gag order on all reporting about the situation, including on social media or sharing social media comments.

“Shuttering one of the Jordan’s few independent labor unions following a protracted dispute with the government and on dubious legal grounds raises serious concerns about the government’s respect for the rule of law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of transparency and the ban on discussing this incident on social media only reinforces the conclusion that the authorities are violating citizens’ rights.”

The Attorney General said the closure order is based on three pending criminal complaints before the public prosecutor’s office, but there appears to be no basis in Jordanian law for him to issue the closure order. The 2011 Jordan Teachers Syndicate Law states that the group’s board can only be dissolved by a vote of two-thirds of the members of its central committee or by judicial order. Under Jordanian law, neither the Attorney General nor another public prosecutor is empowered to make judicial orders.

The Jordanian government and the Teachers Syndicate have engaged in high-profile public disputes since the establishment of the syndicate in 2011, primarily over public school teacher pay. In September 2019, the Teachers Syndicate led a 4-week nationwide teachers strike demanding a 50 percent pay raise it said the government promised in 2014, but eventually agreed to a 35 to 75 percent raise depending on a teacher’s rank. Tensions resurfaced after the government in April froze all public sector pay increases until the end of 2020 due to Covid-19.

The official state news agency reported that the measures were taken based on three ongoing criminal matters. These include an investigation of financial matters by Jordan’s Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission, another case involving “‘inflammatory measures’ announced by the syndicate’s council and circulated on social media,” and a third case involving a video posted on social media by the syndicate’s deputy head, the contents of which remain unclear. On July 26, Education Minister Tayseer al-Nueimi announced that the ministry would name a temporary committee to lead the syndicate. The committee was formed the next day, effectively completing a government takeover of the group.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five people with ties to the syndicate, three of whom were in syndicate offices when police arrived on July 25. The witnesses who were in different offices said that that the authorities refused to show the judicial order for the office closures. A witness who was in the office in the northern city of Irbid said:

I was there, along with four other employees and some syndicate members. [A policeman] wearing civilian clothing who didn’t identify himself said that they have a judicial order to close the branch. He was asking us to take our personal belongings and leave the place. I asked him to see the judicial order. I told him I need to see the written order, even if you don’t have it with you now, I still need to see at least a copy of it. He didn’t have it…

The witness said that syndicate members and employees left the building but remained outside arranging a protest. He said that about an hour and a half later the police returned with a paper that appeared to be a court document but was unsigned. Police later sealed the office door with a wax seal.

In a video circulated on social media that purports to show police closing the syndicate branch office in Karak, syndicate members demand that a policeman show an arrest warrant. He refuses and replies, “I am the warrant.”

A family member of the syndicate’s deputy head, Nasser al-Nawasra, whose alleged videos posted to social media were cited by the attorney general as one basis of the syndicate’s shutdown and the arrests, told Human Rights Watch that al-Nawasra had received calls and text messages from the General Intelligence Directorate in recent weeks threatening him with detention if he did not stop his activities.

The family member said al-Nawasra was not home when the family received news about the police raids but later confirmed his arrest. He said, “When we visited him in prison on Sunday he told us that [he was driving] on the Irbid-Amman highway and three GMC vehicles followed him, surrounded his car [to stop him], and put a black plastic bag on his head and arrested him. He was treated in a very unethical way.”

A lawyer for the syndicate said he was at the syndicate’s headquarters in Amman when the police raided the building. He said he demanded to see the judicial order mandating the closure but police refused to show it. He said: “I told them this is illegal and I would need to see a judicial order to allow [them to shut down the office]. I told them if you show me an order, I will allow you to do whatever you want, otherwise everything you do is illegal.”

The lawyer, who was present when detainees appeared before prosecutors, said that the basis of the detentions appears to be “electronic crimes” resulting from their social media postings. He said he believed the catalyst for the closure and arrests was a document published by the syndicate on July 13 laying out the syndicate’s plan to recover the bonuses negotiated in 2019. The steps included a series of intermediate actions eventually resulting in another strike.

In addition to the 13 members of the syndicate’s board detained on July 25, the syndicate members provided to Human Rights Watch lists of dozens of names of other members whom police subsequently arrested. One syndicate member said that police have threatened teachers who have participated in subsequent protests over the syndicate closure. An Interior Ministry circular leaked on social media also warned public employees not to participate in protests. Human Rights Watch also observed a large number of police officers and security forces around areas where protests were expected on the afternoon of July 29.

Blanket bans on public employees participating in protests or strikes violates their rights to free expression, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, Human Rights Watch said.

Jordanian authorities should immediately make clear all details around the arrests and the syndicate closure and reverse the closure and release detainees if there is no legal basis to support the arrests. The authorities should halt intimidation tactics and blanket bans that prevent people from participating in protests and strikes and exercising their right to freedom of association.

“A government takeover of a union and a harsh crackdown is a worrisome reflection of how insecure the Jordanian government is when faced with opposition,” Page said.

16 Jul 2020 Ferado

Railway workers protest layoffs

LAHORE: The railway labour union has announced wheel-jam strike on August 5 against the forced layoffs in Pakistan Railways. They announced this during a protest demonstration held at Railways Headquarters. The railway workers shut down their workshops and gathered at the Railways Headquarters to protest against not increasing their salaries and forced layoffs.

Rail Mazdoor Ittehad leader Sarfraz Khan said took the extreme decision as all their requests and pleas had fallen on deaf ears. There is still time to raise the salaries by 100 per cent and stop forced layoffs. The previous policy of pensions and annual increment should be retained, he said. Another Rail Mazdoor Ittehad leader, Mian Mahmood Nangiana, sought immediate implementation of the three agreed demands of the labourers. The labour leaders also demanded removal of Director General Legal Tahir Butt and Legal Consultant Salman Kazmi.

16 Jul 2020 Ferado

Japan medical workers warn pay reduction jeopardises patient care

TOKYO (Reuters) – Striking medical workers at a hospital outside of Tokyo warned on Wednesday that cuts in their pay during the coronavirus epidemic would ultimately put at risk care for patients.

Medical staff at Funabashi Futawa Hospital were the first to resort to action over reduction in their summer bonuses, when they held a one-day strike last week.

The hospital’s labour union, which includes doctors, nurses, rehabilitation specialists and other auxiliary staff, plans a series of demonstrations, without fully withdrawing their labour as it would jeopardise treatment of patients.

Dr Yuko Yanagisawa described how workers struggled through the spring months, making their own face shields, only to find out that their summer bonuses were being cut.

“We can’t endure it any longer,” she told reporters, referring to the management’s decision.

“We have to prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus without being concerned about tension and anxiety at the worksite.”

Funabashi Futawa Hospital did not respond to a request for comment.

Hospitals and clinics reducing their staff’s bonuses have had their income substantially reduced as fewer people are seeking regular medical services during the epidemic.

“Quite a few medical institutions are receiving loans from the government’s public finance organisation to pay their bills,” said Toshihiko Yamazaki, a doctor and representative of the Japan Federation of Insurance Medical Associations.

“It is thought that some medical institutions will actually go out of business in a few months’ time.”

For all the signs of financial strain in Japan’s healthcare system, the issue so far has not created any major public backlash for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.

Union chief Emi Iida said the coronavirus exacerbated a trend of declining worker compensation as hospitals prioritized investment in equipment over people. Japanese workers typically receive bi-annual bonuses equivalent to one or two months pay.

Two thirds of hospitals in the country are now operating in financial deficit, according to a paper last month by the Japan Hospital Association. As a result, about a third of the nation’s medical institutions are cutting summer bonuses, according to the Japan Federation of Medical Worker’s Unions.

Maldives: Free Speech, Assembly Under Threat

TheMaldives government is enforcing restrictions on protests that violate fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today. New regulations also threaten civil society groups for supporting peaceful protests.

Migrant workers who have gone unpaid for months since the outbreak of Covid-19 have protested their living and work conditions as inhumane. About 100,000 migrant workers work in the Maldives, most from Bangladesh, working in the construction and tourism industries, which have been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Maldives president campaigned on a promise to abolish laws curtailing free speech and assembly, but now his ministers are resorting to the previous government’s old tricks to prevent protests,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused enormous challenges for the Maldives, but instead of hearing out these desperate migrant workers, the Solih administration is trying to silence them by restricting peaceful assembly.”

On July 14, 2020, the Home Affairs Ministry declared that street protests and marches could only be held with prior written approval from the Maldives Police Service, except in one closed-off location in the capital, Malé. The ministry said it was acting in accordance with the 2016 Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, which the previous government enacted to crack down on the media and civil society.

At the time the party of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had condemned the amendment as unconstitutional and an abuse of power. But after the 2018 presidential election the government balked at annulling the amendment, although it was seldom enforced until now.

In addition, the Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Ministry stated on July 14 that nongovernmental organizations should not support “actions that are detrimental to national security and national interests.” The statement followed news releases and a petition by civil society organizations in support of the migrant laborers.

The Solih administration has failed to act against violent ultra-nationalist or Islamist groups that have threatened or tried to shut down activist organizations. Instead, in November 2019, the government actually closed down the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), the country’s leading human rights organization, which was facing threats and allegations of blasphemy by Islamist gangs.

The Maldives government is obligated under international human rights law to respect and uphold the right of everyone in the country to peacefully protest and freely receive and disseminate all types of information. Concerned governments should press the Maldives to protect the rights to peaceful expression and assembly.

“The Solih administration should not allow the added burdens of governance during a pandemic to reduce its commitment to basic human rights,” Gossman said. “Government officials need to hear all voices, especially the critical ones.”

16 Jul 2020 Ferado

Electricity trade unions oppose omnibus bill revisions over privatization concerns

Major electricity industry trade unions are considering public protests and strikes to opposite revisions to the 2009 Electrification Law in the controversial omnibus bill on job creation, mainly over concerns that the country’s electricity supply chain will be privatized.

The unions are particularly opposed to the addition of Article 10 (2) and Article 11 (1) to the omnibus bill, which appear to give more room for private enterprises to enter Indonesia’s electricity industry. Article 11 (1) of the bill states that electricity for the public interest can be provided by state enterprises, municipally owned firms, private enterprises, cooperatives and the community.

Under existing regulations, private entities can only act as power producers, which entails building power plants, while state-owned electricity firm PLN has a monopoly on the transmission, distribution and sale of electricity, which involves the construction of significant amounts of electricity infrastructure.

The union’s most prominent association, the PLN Workers’ Association (SP PLN), is planning to coordinate fellow power unions in resistance the bill, said union leader Abrar Ali.

“That [resistance] can be in the form of public protest or a work strike,” he told reporters during an online conference on July 9.

The omnibus bill on job creation seeks to revise 79 laws simultaneously, including the 2009 Electricification Law. It supporters say it will boost investment, cut red tape and make it easier to do business in Indonesia.

Lawmakers have said the bill’s ultimate aim is to create more job opportunities, but civil society organizations and trade unions have contested the bill over a myriad of issues related to transparency, labor rights and environmental protection, among other concerns.

The electricity trade unions issued a formal statement on on July 9, signed by six organizations, including SP PLN, the Indonesia Power Workers’ Union (PP Indonesia Power) and the Pembangkit Jawa Bali Workers’ Union (SP PJB). 

The latter two unions represent workers under two of Indonesia’s largest power producers, Indonesia Power and Pembangkit Jawa Bali, both of which are PLN subsidiaries.

The unions criticized the lack of transparency in the bill’s deliberation, as well as its apparent effort to centralize power.

The two contested articles were originally added to the 2009 Electrification Law but were declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2015. SP PLN filed the lawsuit.

“The way we see it, lawmakers are revising a zombie article,” said PP Indonesia Power secretary general Andy Wijaya.

He added that the unions’ respective companies, as state-owned businesses, were powerless to oppose government wishes, and therefore, the unions had not had talks with their boards of directors.

“PLN’s management is more of an executor. They cannot do anything. But we know there is disquiet,” he said.

The Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) Ministry directorate for electricity, which has overseen the drafting of the omnibus bill’s electricity-related revisions, declined to comment on the unions’ privatization concerns.

“The bill is currently being discussed with the House [of Representatives] in relation to the problem inventory list [DIM] and has not yet [been discussed] with the Energy Ministry,” ministry secretary general Munir Ahmad told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on June 2 that the government was expecting the House of Representatives to conclude deliberation on the omnibus bill on job creation in July and that the government expected the bill, if passed, to speed up Indonesia’s economic recovery.

The government previously delayed deliberation on the labor-related provisions of the bill following strong objections from members of the public, especially workers’ organizations.

16 Jul 2020 Ferado

Andhra Plans Probe Into Industrial Accidents As Trade Unions Blame Lax Safety Norms

, KERALA — Plagued by industrial mishaps—the latest of which took place on Monday night at Visakha Solvents Ltd, located inside Visakhapatnam’s swanky Ramky Pharmacity—the Andhra Pradesh government has decided to conduct “random audits” of its red category industrial units. 

Mekapati Gautham Reddy, Andhra Pradesh’s minister for industries, commerce and information technology, told HuffPost India that around 87 medium and large hazardous industrial units “could also be shifted out of Visakhapatnam’s core city to the less populated outskirts”.  

However, despite the hurried response from the industries department, trade unionists in the state have asked for a revamp of the industrial policy which currently prevents inspectors of factory and labour—the ground-level officers in charge of safety audits—from conducting “thorough surprise inspections” of industrial establishments.

On Monday night,  a “valve malfunction” at Visakha Solvents which according to the Department of Industries is a subsidiary of Ramky Group, led to an explosion, killing one person and injuring three others. The mishap has landed the ruling Jaganmohan Reddy government in a political quandary as the party’s Rajya Sabha MP, Alla Ayodhya Rami Reddy, owns the Ramky group of companies. The group is also the developer of the Pharmacity where the accident occurred. Around 50 pharma units currently function here. 

The Pharmacity in Parvada, Visakhapatnam, runs on a Public Private Partnership between the Ramky Group and Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC). 

Of the four people who were caught in the blastat Visakha Solvents, three including one person who died were chemists who were on duty at the time. The fourth was a security guard. 

Before this incident, two other industrial mishaps had cost lives in Visakhapatnam soon after the Covid-19 lockdown lifted in mid-April this year.  On May 7, styrene monomer leaked from LG Polymers plant in the port city, killing 12 people. Close on the heels of this mishap, on June 30, a Benzimidazole leak which took place at Sainor life sciences killed two people.  

An enquiry committee constituted by the Andhra Pradesh government to probe into the LG plant leak had submitted a report a week ago, stating that the leak took place because of “poor tank design, poor safety awareness and inadequate risk management”, among other critical industrial flaws. On July 7, Visakhapatnam police arrested the CEO of the plant along with 11 other officers.

Ramky Group to be probed 

Speaking to HuffPost India, Goutham Reddy said, “APIIC will do a performance assessment of AP industries officials who are in charge of safety audits. On July 16, we will call all managements of factories for a meeting to probe into reasons for these mishaps.” 

The government will also probe whether the lockdown, which curbed industrial activities, led to the accidents even as the state is interested in knowing whether similar incidents had gone unreported during the pre-lockdown phase. 

“Random audit will take place across the board (among industries),” the minister said, adding that his department will collaborate with the Pollution Control Board and Factories Department, which conduct periodic audits of industrial units. “Every time an inspection takes place, the factories inspector and the pollution control board note down their observations (which are shared with the companies). We would like to check whether the factories have followed up on the inspector’s recommendations, rather than conducting inspection of thousands of units randomly,” Minister Reddy said. 

Though Visakha Solvents, which is currently under scrutiny for negligence, is a subsidiary of the Ramky group of companies that belongs to MP Ayodhya Rami Reddy, Gautham Reddy said that the YSRCP government will conduct an active probe into the incident. “We will not drop anyone from the probe. The subsidiary company’s culpability will be probed,” he told HuffPost India

MP Rami Reddy and three others were nominated to the Rajya Sabha only in March this year. He had contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 on a YSRCP ticket but lost from Narasaraopet.  

Meanwhile, trade unions and employees welfare associations of Visakhapatnam, which have been at the forefront of protests against loss of lives in industrial mishaps, accused the state government of “not valuing human life” and prioritising industrial development. 

‘Ease of doing business’ at fault

Ch Narsing Rao, a trade union leader for four decades and currently president of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant Employees Union and Fertilisers Union, said, “Inspector of factories are not allowed to conduct random surprise inspections since the past two decades because successive state governments relaxed safety audit norms to accommodate the industry’s demand for ‘ease of doing business’. Now employees and workers of various companies are losing their lives due to this industrial policy.” 

While N. Chandrababu Naidu, former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, was the first to relax criteria for security and safety audits in 2002, the successive Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy-led Congress government which came to power in 2004 followed an identical industrial policy, Rao said. 

Further, Naidu who became the first chief minister of the residual Andhra Pradesh state after formation of Telangana in 2014, also oversaw the issuance of a government order (GO. MS. No. 37) which reduced the frequency of safety audits that the Department of Labour conducts. As per the GO under the title ‘Ease of doing business’ issued in May 2016, the Telugu Desam Party government decided that, “an establishment inspected in a year will not be inspected in the next two years”. The GO, which ushered in an “online inspection system”, also stipulates fewer checks for establishments based on their staff count and nature of activity. Industries considered low risk and those which were categorised as start-ups were exempted from frequent audits. 

“We need stricter inspections to stop such mishaps from happening,” said Narsinga Rao. 

However, industries minister Gautham Reddy said that the government does not plan to restart surprise inspections of industrial units.