People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 17, 2007
Three Years Of UPA Govt And The Working Class
M K Pandhe
IN May 2007 the UPA government at the centre completed 3 years of its rule. The time has now come to make an objective review of the implementation of the commitment the government had given to the working class. Doubts are already being expressed by the working class whether in the remaining two years the government would be able to make any progress in implementing the commitments solemnly given to the working class of India.
The National Common Minimum Programme adopted by the UPA government acknowledged in the preamble itself that the people of India decisively voted in the 14th Lok Sabha election “for parties wedded to the welfare of farmers, agricultural labour, weavers, workers and weaker sections of society, for parties irrevocably committed to the daily well-being of the common man across the country”.
Since the programme was considered as the minimum, it was hoped the government would do something more than promised in the programme. The NCMP stated, “It is a starting point that highlights the main priorities, policies and programmes”. It therefore, concludes, “This CMP is the foundation of another CMP – collective maximum performance”.
UTTER NEGLECT IN IMPLEMENTATION
The practical experience of the working class in India during the last 3 years, however, has clearly shown that the UPA government had been completely callous in showing utter disregard towards the commitments given to the working class and the poor people of India. On several issues the Manmohan Singh government has openly violated the commitments while on some issues it behaved diametrically opposite to the assurances given in the NCMP.
The UPA on its own has no majority in parliament and the support extended given by the Left parties to the government was clearly on the basis of the NCMP. However over 20 notes sent by the Left parties to the UPA government have been purposefully ignored by the UPA government. On the contrary it has shown great keenness to implement the dictates of the World Bank, IMF and the WTO.
In view of the growing unemployment in the country, the NCMP provided immediate enactment of National Employment Guarantee Act ensuring at least 100 days of employment to begin with through asset creating public works programme every year. The programme visualised one job for one able bodied person in every rural, urban poor and lower middle class household at minimum wage. In the interim a massive food-for work programme was assured”.
Though the Bill was passed with much fanfare and publicity and it assured unemployment allowance if the work was not given to the person covered by the Act, its implementation has not been effective at all. The Act limited its implementation to only rural households and that too in just 200 districts. The bureaucracy has been given more say in the implementation part and people were not involved in the programme. Its record so far shows that in most of the states the Act is not being implemented in its true spirit. The 2005-06 budget provided only Rs 10,000 crore for implementation, which failed to cover all the assured areas. Several cases of corruption and malpractices have also come to light. In the BJP-ruled states, the scheme is being implemented only through RSS outfits. Though the coverage of the scheme has been extended to another 150 districts in the 2007-08 budget, the amount sanctioned was only Rs 12,000 crore, which does not cover even one-fourth of the requirement. The workers in urban areas, who belong to lower middle class households, have already given up hopes about their coverage in the scheme during the remaining two year tenure of the UPA government. There are numerous complaints about non-payment of minimum wage of Rs 60 for those who have got some work. In many areas the scheme is being implemented through contractors and that is why it is no wonder that the Act has failed to create any great enthusiasm among people in the rural areas.
The NCMP further promised several facilities to increase job prospects in the informal and small sector. Leave alone increasing job prospects, there has been actually increased unemployment during the last three years of UPA rule as this sector had to face innumerable difficulties and witnessed many closures. The UPA government’s policies are oriented to encourage large sector undertakings. And dangerously, allowing foreign direct investment and large indigenous corporate sector in the retail trade has threatened the livelihood of millions of petty-shopkeepers all over the country.
WHITHER BILL FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS?
The NCMP promised: “The UPA administration will ensure the fullest implementation of minimum wage laws for farm labour. Comprehensive protective legislation will be enacted for all agricultural workers”
However, during the last three years the UPA government failed to find any time to prepare a draft of such a comprehensive Bill for agricultural workers. Though the National Commission on Rural Labour constituted by the government of India two decades ago recommended such a law but due to the pressure of the powerful lobby of landlords, successive governments failed to produce any Bill so far.
In a meeting of the central trade union leaders with the prime minister on August 19, 2006 the CITU raised the question of such a Bill. In his written concluding speech the prime minister promised such a Bill at an early date. However, though eight months have passed since then the government has failed to bring a draft of such a Bill for agricultural workers. It is no wonder that the promise to ensure implementation of minimum wages has remained on paper. In several states, the minimum wages for the agricultural workers have not been revised for many years.
The NCMP also gave an assurance to the unorganised workers, “The UPA government is firmly committed to ensure the welfare and well-being of all workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector who constitute 93 per cent of our workforce. Social security, health insurance and other schemes for such workers like weavers, handloom workers, fishermen and fisherwomen, toddy tappers, leather workers, plantation labour, beedi workers, etc., will be expanded”.
Nothing has been done so far to implement the commitment. The Bill for the unorganised workers is yet to see the light of the day. The UPA government in the beginning practically brought the same bill which was drafted by the NDA government which was rejected by all the trade unions including the BMS.
Meanwhile the UPA government has appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Dr Arjun Sengupta, a well known World Bank lobbyist in India. When his report was discussed with trade unions, CITU gave a number of suggestions while other trade unions also proposed several modifications. However, the government of India did not prepare a comprehensive Bill as promised earlier.
It should be noted that Dr Arjun Sengupta committee did not have any representative of trade unions. Its three sub-committees also failed to include any trade union representative.
The redrafted Bill on unorganised workers failed to make any improvement and all the trade unions expressed their strong opposition to the approach of the UPA government towards the unorganised workers. The union labour ministry refused to take into consideration the reasonable proposals unitedly given by all the central trade unions. It even failed to consider the unanimous recommendations made by a tripartite seminar on this subject organised by the V V Giri National Labour Institute. As a result of all this, legislation for the unorganised workers is still a mirage for the vast multitude of workers in India.
AUTOMATIC HIRE AND FIRE
The NCMP has categorically assured, “The UPA rejects the idea of automatic hire and fire. It recognises that some changes in labour laws may be required but such changes must fully protect the interest of workers and families and must take place after full consultation with trade unions”.
In practice, the UPA government is going in the opposite direction. It has decided to carry forward the proposal mooted by the NDA government to sanction the right to terminate the services of workers by paying a little more compensation. It is pushing the NDA government’s proposal for a short term employment whereby the employer gets a right to fire a worker. It is also contemplating a Bill to allow contract labour in permanent and perennial nature of jobs, if the management decides the job is not a core one. The UPA government is also recklessly using the so-called voluntary retirement scheme to reduce the manpower by coercing the workers to leave their jobs. In both public and private sectors, regular jobs are being systematically reduced and contract labour is increasing day by day. In short, the hire and fire policy is already being introduced through the backdoor.
Non-implementation of labour laws has become a common feature in many parts of the country. Twelve hours of work per day is being extracted from workers in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, UP and other states without paying any overtime wages to them. Although trade unions have been repeatedly complaining about such labour law violations, they are falling on deaf ears. In the name of abolition of inspector raj, the governments have ensured that labour laws are blatantly ignored by the employers. In SEZ and Export Processing Zones, the labour laws are not implemented with the connivance of the government. There is blatant violation of labour laws in the IT sector also as there is absolutely no fear of any action by the appropriate governments. Overall the working conditions of workers have deteriorated considerably due to the virtual collapse of all labour legislations. The deterioration in health and safety conditions in industrial undertakings is unimaginable. With the introduction of new technology, many health hazards have cropped up in factories and establishments but no care is taken to protect the occupational health of the workers.
It must however be noted that some of the anti-labour laws could not be enacted in parliament due to the strong opposition by the united trade union movement and the Left parties in the country.
DECLINE IN TRIPARTISM
The NCMP further states: “The UPA government firmly believes that the labour-management relations in our country must be marked by consultations, cooperation and consensus, not confrontation. Tripartite consultation with trade unions and industry on all proposals concerning them will be actively pursued.”
However, during the last three years of its rule, the UPA government could not find time to bring the 15-year old pending bill on workers participation in management. In absence of this, all talk of cooperation and consultation is meaningless.
The NDA government had embarked upon a path of giving up consultation with trade unions and hence several tripartite committees were not convened for years together. The UPA government has followed the path of NDA government in this regard and further reduced the level of tripartite consultations. Former UPA labour minister K Chandrasekhar Rao was totally uninterested in tripartite consultations. During 2006 out of 35 tripartite committees formed in the union labour ministry less than 10 have met. Moreover, decisions taken in these meetings do not get implemented.
Though all central trade unions wrote to the government of India not to introduce the new series of Consumer Price Index Numbers with 2001 as the base year, the government of India went ahead with the introduction of the fraudulent series which does not reflect the actual rise in prices. As a result, the government is cornering thousands of crores of rupees of workers’ DA every month. Without proper consultation a tripartite committee has been formed with Director Labour Bureau as the secretary, who actually was responsible for the index fraud. It was a white-wash affair.
The NCMP promises, “The UPA government will never take decisions on the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) without consultations with and approval of EPF Board”. However, in practice the UPA government has purposefully ignored the EPF Board and the union finance ministry assumed the power to arbitrarily decide the rate of interest to be paid by the EPF organisation. Thus a ridiculous position has arisen with the banks paying 10.50 per cent interest for 400-days deposits while EPF is paying 8 per cent interest for 40-year deposits! This has naturally evoked strong reaction among 4 crore workers who are members of EPF organisation.
Regarding Anganwadi scheme, the NCMP assures: “The UPA government will also universalise the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme to provide a functional anganwadi in every settlement and ensure full coverage of all children”. However Anganwadi workers and helpers are given paltry “honorarium” which cannot meet their basic needs. The money offered in the recent budget failed to meet even the elementary needs of the scheme.
PRIVATISATION AND DISINVESTMENT
The NCMP says, “The UPA government is committed to a strong and effective public sector whose social objectives are met by commercial functioning”. However, during the last three years the government has always tried to undermine the public sector and help the private sector. The disinvestment of navaratna companies could be stopped only due to the stiff opposition mounted by the Left parties. The disinvestment of NALCO and NLC could be stopped only when DMK joined the Left parties in opposition and even threatened to withdraw its ministers from the central cabinet. However, the UPA government continued its drive to disinvest public sector companies and privatise their operations.
The assurance that profit-making PSU’s will not be privatised was violated in the case of Airports Authority of India (AAI) when Mumbai and Delhi Airports were handed over to private companies for modernisation. The assurance given to the trade unions that they would be consulted when going for modernisation of other airports has also not been honoured by the government.
Regarding sick public sector undertakings, financial assistance was not given to make them viable as a result of which the condition of many sick industries worsened further. The workers of such industries have not received wages for several months resulting in starvation and even suicide of such workers.
The most glaring failure of the UPA government has been on the question of price rise and public distribution system. The NCMP says, “The UPA government will take effective and strong measures to control price hike of essential commodities. Provisions to deal with speculators, hoarders and black-marketeers under the Essential Commodities Act will not be diluted in anyway”.
However, the UPA government allowed forward trading of essential commodities to continue unhindered. No firm step has been taken against hoarders and speculators. In fact, they received credit from banks to carry on their nefarious activities. It is the policies of the UPA government which were responsible for steep rise in prices of essential commodities. The weakening of the public distribution system has added to the woes of the people.
The UPA government is getting isolated from the working class and the common people due to non-implementation of the NCMP. The BJP and its allies have won elections in Punjab, Delhi and Uttaranchal not because of their programme and policies but due to the failure of the UPA government to take steps in favour of the working class and the toiling people.
The UPA government still does not realise that its erroneous policies are responsible for the recent electoral debacles. If they continue the existing policies they would only invite their own doom and end up in helping the reactionary forces to come back to power.
The working class of India must strengthen its struggle against the derogatory policies of the UPA government. It is only through determined struggles the working class can protect its interest and prevent the UPA government from taking the country to ruin and disaster.