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Labour laws today: "Tardy" or foolhardy?

By Nidhi Suryavanshi

Strike back at infringement of rights
The call for a Bharat Bandh by the trade unions on Jan 8 and 9, 2019, has garnered support from workers all across the nation as well as students' unions like JNUSU, outfits affiliated to CPI(M) and farmers across the country to protest against Narendra Modi-led BJP government in New Delhi. This has seen a near paralytic effect in most states as the protesters march to express their discontentment over growing economic crisis, price rise and acute unemployment.

In an exclusive interview with DNL, Tapan Sen (General Secretary CITU), Ashok Singh (Vice President INTUC) and Sanjay Agarwal (Former Union Labour Secretary) present their perspectives on the Trade Union Act 1926 as it stands, amendments proposed thereto and objections thereof from the trade unions.

The genesis
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has criticized the unilateral move of the Government of India to amend the Trade Union Act 1926 in the garb of lending it 'transparency' and avoiding 'duplicacy' as told to the press by Union Cabinet.

There is an insinuation by CITU accusing the government of 'dubious intent'with a motive to usurp wide discretionary power with the government. As a result, all the 10 trade unions active in India had unanimously opposed the said Bill in August 2018 with proposal for amendments to the bill, none of which were accepted.

Not walking the talk
CITU also alleged that while the BJP Govt has been expressing their intention of reforming the procedure of recognizing central trade unions, no action has been taken in that regard and nor has the employer been imposed on to mandatorily recognise the trade unions at an enterprise level.The proposed Trade Union (Amendment) Bill 2018 as cleared by the cabinet of Narendra Modi is the integral part of its package of so called "Labor Law Reforms" including the four-code bill repealing existing 44 labour laws.

Who does the new labour law help?
Government is going to repeal all 44 labor laws drawn in 1947, 49, and 59 which focus on improving the working conditions of the labour force , especially employees working on a contractual basis. The trade unions cite that the new law proposal loses its essence in this context as it withdraws cover to 85 percent of India's labour market.

C.K. Saji Narayanan, president of the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) - the most significant trade union body in the country, explains, "The objective is fine, but is this code talking about all workers in the 470- million plus labor market?

How legitimate are the demands?
In brief, here are some of the amendments that the trade unions are suggesting to safeguard the right of the workers.

• The trade unions are demanding social security for the workers and minimum wages of nothing less than Rs 18,000 per month.

• They opposed the Centre's proposal to hike minimum wages for unskilled workers up to 20 percent, which means the wages would be Rs 12,000 per month for Tier-I cities. The union rejected the proposal saying that the hike in wages should be considered basis price rise.

• The unions also want an assured, enhanced pension of not less than Rs 3,000 per month for all sectors, including the unorganised sector.

• Workers also demand the removal of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from railways, defense, and other "strategic sectors."

Find the details of the appeal by Trade Unions here

It is imperative to address these issues now as Modi's government is sparing no effort to push through some key labor reforms this year and is expected to get Parliament's permission on at least two codes on wages as well as industrial relations before going to general elections. The Code on Wages Bill, introduced in 2017, enables the Central government to set benchmark minimum wages for different regions across the country.

And if that weren't testing enough, the Ministry of Labour and Employment is also keen to push the passage of Code on Industrial Relations, in the run-up to the 2019 election. However, the ministry has decided to remove certain provisions in the bill, drawing criticism from trade unions. The labor ministry is already in the process of seeking the Union Cabinet's approval on an amended Wage Code Bill after its screening by the parliamentary standing committee so that it could be pushed for passage in Parliament.

Senior Editor of CITU,General Ranjana Nirula clearly describes the reform of labor laws as exploitation of labour force and cruelty of BJP by their bigoted bent towards capitalists for increasing FDI in the guise of 'ease of doing business'.

While the BJP-led government is condemning the nationwide strike that the opposition is vehemently leading, with Rahul Gandhi heading a protest at Rajghat and other Congress leaders staging demonstrations in different parts of Punjab, Goa, and other states; the wake-up call by the trade unions has a very significant appeal which cannot be sidelined in view of a very visible evidence in the world around us. Whether it is working conditions, child labour, or labour welfare, there is a marked infringement of rights that needs to be addressed and a stark denial of the same only raises severe questions that cannot be ignored by the ruling government at this critical juncture which only works towards advantaging Congress.



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