From the Viewsroom

Why workers need unions

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on April 15, 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has rendered workers vulnerable. They must organise

Covid-19 and the resultant distress in the job market have once again highlighted the importance of trade unions, especially in ensuring that worker welfare becomes a key agenda of policymakers as well as companies. Inarguably, one of the biggest and most immediate casualties of the Covid-19 crisis are workers in sectors where unions are non-existent. The very absence of collective bargaining powers has exposed these workers to extreme uncertainty, and they fall prey to the draconian measures taken by their companies. The gig economy is a worthy example. In this sector, three crucial factors have wreaked havoc on the hapless workers.

One, obviously, is the total absence of workers’ unions which makes them silent spectators to preemptive measures (read pink slips) so much so that most of the sacked are asked to stop working immediately and leave without any monetary compensation. Second, the remaining employees work under extremely stressful conditions without adequate safety measures. Next, and the most important aspect of it all, is the ironical way in which these workers are defined by the companies — a stark reflection of the fact that unions or any other forms of workers collectives do not play any role in the way they are classified, both in India and advanced markets. Those who are familiar with the gig economy nomenclature know this. For instance, food delivery apps and rider services term their employees ‘driver-partners’, even though they enjoy none of the benefits attributed to partners.

At the same time, in countries and sectors where unions are strong, workers enjoy better wages, benefits and other protective measures. A great example is contrast between the status of nurses in India and, say, Australia. While the former earn a pittance for such crucial services, their counterparts in unionised Australia earn at par with doctors.

Workers in non-unionised sectors are going to pay dearly in the future. Given the sheer disregard with which labour policies are framed in countries such as India and the US,— two large economies where the business sector is infested with anti-union practices — the economic crisis triggered by Covid will become even more telling. Hence, this calamity must come as a wake-up for workers usually reluctant to join or form unions, especially belonging to the Left parties, which seem to have given up on their aggressive enthusiasm in furthering working class goalsand have compromised along the way.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on April 15, 2020

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