People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 20, 2008
Mobilise Workers To Modify Unorganised Workers Bill
FOR several decades the working class of India has been agitating for a legislation to protect the interests of the unorganised workers. This vast strata of the working class was purposefully kept away from the benefits of the labour laws and compelled to live a standard of life below the poverty line.
The trade union movement was demanding a comprehensive legislation for the unorganised workers providing for a need based minimum wage, decent working conditions and hours of work, social security benefits, trade union rights and pension scheme to ensure a comfortable retired life. However, this was denied to them both by the Congress and the BJP-led governments.
The NDA government prepared a Bill for the unorganised workers which made a mockery of the Bill itself. In the name of providing social security it made a contributory scheme which the unorganised workers would not be able to contribute.
On the eve of last parliamentary elections the NDA government announced a Social Security Scheme without any legislative backing, assuring several benefits to workers. Atal Behari Vajpayee himself distributed thousands of cards to workers assuring them full social security benefits. However not a single worker got any relief despite enrolment of lakhs of members in the scheme. The entire exercise proved to be a sheer farce.
When the UPA government came to power in 2004, it announced a comprehensive Bill for the unorganised workers in the National Common Minimum Programme. But the Bill circulated to the trade unions was the same as that prepared by the NDA government with minor modifications. The entire TU movement rejected the Bill and jointly asked for a comprehensive Bill.
The government of India announced a separate commission for the small scale sector under the chairmanship of Dr Arjun Sengupta to work out the proposals for the new Bill. It did not have any trade union representatives. Its preliminary proposals were not acceptable to the trade unions. Later on, after a detailed discussion it worked out two separate Bills for the unorganised workers and the agricultural workers.
In a meeting convened by the prime minister on August 19, 2006, he gave a written assurance that a separate Bill for the agricultural workers would be prepared which remained unimplemented so far.
At the directive of the union labour ministry a special seminar was organised by the V V Giri National Labour Institute in 2006 which made unanimous recommendations for a comprehensive Bill for the unorganised labour which also remained unimplemented.
The delegation from CITU along with leading members of parliament met the union labour minister Oscar Fernandes during the monsoon session of parliament and requested him to bring the Bill in parliament on the basis of proposals given by Dr Arjun Sen Gupta Committee.
However, the Bill approved by the cabinet provided only enabling clauses to form advisory bodies at state and central levels to prepare schemes for the unorganised workers. All the trade unions rejected the Bill and demanded a comprehensive Bill as promised in NCMP.
In a hurry, on the last day of monsoon session the Bill on unorganised labour was introduced and referred to the Standing Committee on Labour. The Left MPs opposed the introduction of the Bill itself. All trade unions condemned the introduction of the bill in such a clandestine manner.
The Standing Committee of Parliament on Labour chaired by CPI MP, S Sudhakar Reddy went thoroughly into all aspects of the Bill. All central TUs expressed their unanimous opposition to the Bill and pleaded for a comprehensive Bill.
The Report of the Committee was presented to Lok Sabha on December 3, 2007. The Committee has taken a positive attitude towards the proposals given by the trade unions and the Report contains sympathetic consideration on the harrowing conditions of the unorganised workers.
According to 61st round of National Sample Survey in 2004-05 the number of unorganised workers in the Indian economy stood at 42.26 crore, of which 39.35 crore are in the unorganised sector of economy and 2.92 crore are unprotected workers in the organised sector of economy. According to the same sample survey 6.26 crore of workers are employed in the organised sector of economy.
With such a huge section of the working class remaining totally unprotected, the Bill should have provided for concrete measures. Hence, the Standing Committee was convinced that “The Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill 2007” in its present form will not be able to meet the aspiration of millions of workers in the unorganised sector. It also reflects the unimaginative approach of the government in bringing the Bill without proper and sufficient spade work required for such a significant piece of legislation.” (page 5 of the Report)
The draft Bill only provides for issuing identity card for a worker by the district administration. The committee however suggested involvement of Gram Panchayats, Nagar Palikas, Municipalities and Corporations. It further states. “The identity card to be issued to the workers should be multi-purpose and multi-sectoral having details of all dependent family members of the worker. It should also have the validity for the migrant workers so that they do not face any difficulty in case of their migration for seeking job elsewhere”. (page 8)
The definition of unorganised sector is vague in the draft Bill and the Standing Committee has taken note of this in the following words, “… the definition of the unorganised sector as given in the bill is ambiguous as it does not comprise all sectors that are likely to come within its ambit due to continuous change in employment pattern as there is a growing trend in the public sector to outsource the work on to get it executed through contract/casual workers who are popularly known as informal workers of the formal sector”. (page 10)
The workers in the co-operative sector do not find a place in the definition. Hence there is an urgent need to make the definition wider. “The committee, therefore, recommend that the benefits under the proposed Act should also be extended to the uncovered casual/contract workers of the organised sector and any class of workers like Anganwadi workers who are not covered either in the organised or unorganised sector within its parameters”. (page 11)
The present definition does not cover he retired workers in the unorganised sector. It therefore proposed that as far as possible this section should also be covered by the revised Bill. The Standing Commtitee recommended that the national minimum benefits such as relating to life and disability, health and maternity and old age protection should be extended to all the unorganized workers within a period of three years and should be revised upwards every two years.
The present Bill provides for powers to the government to exclude some sections from the purview of the welfare measures. “The Committee note with apprehension the intention of the government to arrogate to itself these sweeping powers which re purely legislative in nature” (page 14) “The Committee therefore proposed that any major change can be done only with the approval of the legislature” (page 15)
According to the Central Statistical Organisation the contribution of the unorganised sector to the GDP is 60 per cent of the total. The Commtitee therefore strongly recommended that “a proper transparent and institutional mechanism devising clear and unambiguous methodology for generating resources be laid down paving the way for creation of a National Social Security and Welfare Fund” (page 17). It therefore recommended earmarking of definite percentage of GDP to levying of cess on various forms of taxes, grants and loans from the Union and State Governments, monthly collection of contribution from employers and beneficiaries. The committee further recommended that, “the National Minimum Social Security Benefits like life and accident cover health insurance and maternity benefit should be wholly funded by the central government”. (page 16)
The draft Bill provides for constitution of Advisory Board which will have no power to ensure implementation of the scheme. The Standing Committee therefore recommended that “the Board should be vested with powers for ensuring power implementation and monitoring of the scheme, to review its performance of the scheme and to make suitable amendments accordingly.” (page 19). It therefore recommends that the word “Advisory” should be deleted.
The present Bill does not provide any grievance redressal machinery for the workers and adequate penal provisions for violators of the provisions of the scheme. It recommended both provisions should be inserted in the Bill (page 23) It further asks says that appropriate authority to execute the schemes statutorily be provided. (page 24)
The Committee while concluding stressed the “urgent need for a separate legislation of the workers engaged in the agricultural sector” (page 25). As unanimously demanded by the trade unions the committee pointed out, “….. any social security measure meant for the unorganised workers will be incomplete without regulation of their employment and conditions of their services. Virtually, every group that appeared before the committee and submitted memoranda containing their view points emphasized the need for these steps as being the corner stone of any meaningful welfare of the unorganised workers. (page 25)
The Committee in the end expressed its “unhappiness” at the failure of the union government to take any cognizance of the recommendations of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector to bring two separate legislations for workers in the agricultural and the unorganised sectors. (page 25)
The movement of the unorganised workers has to note that despite recommendation of National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector as well as Standing Commtitee of Parliament on Labour the, UPA government is not going to accept them easily. These provisions are being opposed by the employers organisations since they can be implemented only if the employers and the corporate sector accept the burden of the social security and welfare measures.
There is urgent need for a countrywide campaign by the unorganised workers movement supported by the workers in the organised sector to compel the government of India the make drastic changes in the present Bill and to make it acceptable to the trade union movement.
A powerful united movement all over India will alone will result in getting justice to the neglected strata of our unorganised workers.
M K Pandhe