In a single meeting, BWI’s affiliate of electricity workers Orisha State recruited 450 new young workers, including 100 young women workers. The Nikhila Orissa Bidyut Sramik Mahasanga (NOBSM) represents around 20,000 electricity distribution network workers, and these new recruits come from across the state.
“For the BWI, young workers are not just another project”, said BWI Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. “They represent the very future of our movement. If we want to continue to strengthen workers’ rights, we must take steps to ensure that young workers are integrated into all facets of our movement. T
he Odisha State electricity distribution sector was privatised in the 1990s, and since then employment conditions have declined swiftly. While the network has expanded massively, the number of workers has declined, putting significant stress on workers. The overall impact of this has been a systemic occupational health and safety crisis, with one of the highest fatality rates of all sectors in the country. This is further compounded by the failure of the companies to provide safety equipment or training.
“It is absolutely critical that these workers learn the importance of safe work practices from day one”, said Tolentino. “Together with NOBSM, the BWI will be demanding major improvements in the way electricity distribution work is done in Odisha State, beginning with the provision of basic safety materials for all workers.”
More than half of India’s population – 600 million people – are under the age of 25, making it the largest mass of young people in the world. “No matter how poorly placed they find themselves now”, writes Delhi journalist Snigdha Poonam in the new book Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing the World, “they see absolutely no reason why the world shouldn’t run by their rules.” If we are to achieve a fairer world, ‘their rules’ must include basic rights for workers, including the right to be safe on the job the right to join a union.