(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 29 , 2008
LDF Govt's Pro-Labour Policies
A R Sindhu
No growth of the Industry can be assured without the welfare of those working in the sector. The government will not exempt IT parks and Special Economic Zones or any other sector from labour laws. When everybody is talking about 'flexibility of labour market' and 'investor friendly measures', these are often repeated statements by V S Achutanandan, the Chief Minister, P K Gurudasan, the Labour Minister and Elamaram Kareem, the Industrial Minister of the Government of Kerala, which has completed two years in May 2008.
Five years of the Congress (I) led United Democratic Front rule till 2006, which pursued the neo liberal policies had devastated every sphere of life in the state. This period witnessed militant struggles of the working class under the leadership of CITU, against these policies and its impact. These struggles played an important role in bringing the CPI (M) led Left Democratic Front Government into power. These first two years of the LDF rule mainly spent on taking damage control measures of the past UDF rule in the state. The Government of Kerala has initiated many major pro people measures such as 'farmer's debt relief commission' and the revival of public sector units, focus on employment generation etc.
Labour and Left Front Government
Kerala is famous as a labour friendly state. Whenever the Left comes to power in the state, there is a hue and cry from certain quarters about the labour militancy and the damage it causes by stopping the investment to the state. Two years of the LDF rule have already proved this to be wrong. Now Kerala ranks first among the states in investments in spite of its strong labour friendly measures.
The Minister for Labour, government of Kerala, P K Gurudasan, is a renowned trade union leader and all India Vice President of CITU. He proved wrong the general perception and media and employer propaganda on how labour friendly policies can hamper the 'development' of the state, by introducing policies protecting the labour and making a harmonious work atmosphere in the state. The declared policy of the government of Kerala and its labour department is that Effective enforcement of labour laws and labour welfare schemes is a prerequisite for the maintenance of harmonious labour relations and an atmosphere for sustained developments and investments.
Harmonious labour relations
The government of Kerala has constituted Industrial Relations Board, a tripartite body to ensure a harmonious labour relations. Another outstanding mechanism exists in the state is the Industrial Relations Committee (IRC), which is a joint consultative body. Apart from Coir, Cashew and Plantation sectors, new IRCs were formed in Toddy tapping, textiles, motor transport and Kuttanad Agricultural Area.
Minimum wages advisory board existing in about fourty sectors has been reconstituted. Minimum wages were revised in sectors of Light Motor Vehicle, Sale of Ayurvedic and Allopathic medicines, Brick Industry and oil mills. In private plantations, minimum wages is notified The Government is revising or introducing minimum wages in many sectors, such as gold/silver ornament making, computer software, garment industry, fish processing, rubber mill, hostel employees, umbrella making, LPG (cooking gas) agencies, minor engineering, film/tele-film industry, soap manufacturing, handicrafts luxury hotel employees and domestic workers. Furniture industry has been notified in minimum wages statute.
Thousands of unemployed youth in Kerala are engaged in sales promotion and are exploited with no protection of any labour laws. They have been brought under the definition of 'worker' by introduction of Industrial Dispute (Kerala amendment Bill) 2007.
Welfare Measures and Social Security
Kerala is the role model for the effective implementation of workers' welfare measures inside and outside the country. There are welfare/social security schemes covering a vast range of workers in the unorgaised sector. This include traditional industries such as beedi, coir, cashew, handloom and other sections such as construction, toddy tapping, head load workers anganwadi employees, artisans etc., and agricultural workers. Still there were large sections left out of the purview of any such schemes.
In spite of severe resource crunch, the Kerala government reinstated all welfare schemes which were suspended by the UDF government and took immediate measures for payment of all the dues of workers' pensions. The government in its 2008-09 budget increased all welfare pensions to Rs.200.
The Kerala Shops and Establishment Welfare Fund Act, one of the great achievements of Achuthanandan Government, covering more than ten lakh workers who were not covered by any social security schemes. These sectors include computer related services, courier services, telephone booths, light and sound workers, private hospitals, dispensaries, photo video studios, small shops and self employment. The importance of this Act is that it establishes the rights of large sections of workers even not recognized as 'workers' to minimum wage and social security.
Out of the 22 closed plantations, 10 major plantations are reopened and revival scheme for plantation sector has been approved and is being implemented. More than two lakh workers who were working in small plantations under five hectors were not covered under plantation labour act. The government has introduced Welfare fund for these small plantation workers.
Government has introduced new measures to revive all traditional industries in various ways. In cashew industry which earn more than 2500 crores foreign exchange and employ more than four lakh workers, the government introduced special package. It includes, investment in cashew plantation and cultivation and processing. Government reduced the sales tax for cashew. While reviving the industry, the government is equally concerned about the welfare of workers. Unregistered factories are prohibited and the minimum wage has been revised and all dues of gratuity to the workers are being paid.
Even though ESI is the largest social security scheme of the country, the quality of its services is pathetic in most of the states. Kerala being no exception, the government has taken up the task of improvement of quality and infrastructure of the ESI institutions. After coming to power the LDF government has already registered more than 1,25,000 workers in ESI. At the initiative of the state government, the scheme has now been extended to employees of medical institutions and un aided schools. Measures are taken to construct buildings for all dispensaries, improve the facilities, appointment of enough staff etc. The Corporation has accepted the state government proposal to establish the first ESI Medical College ion the country at Parippally, Kollam.
Kerala is known to be a state where large scale out migration takes place. At the same time it employs a considerably large migrant labour force, nearly three lakhs, mainly in construction. Hailing from Maharshtra, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar etc, they are vulnerable and victims of exploitation. The government of Kerala is equally concerned about the welfare of these workers are taking stringent action to implement the Interstate Migrant Labour Act. It is mandatory that the principal employer to register with the labour department and his registration certificate to be shown at the worksite. All the details of workers are to be submitted to the concerned authorities. State/regional nodal officers appointed to monitor complaints from the labourers.
A high level committee under the leadership of the labour Commissioner was deputed to study the problems of migrant workers of Kerala employed in other states by visiting these states. A booklet containing the legal rights of migrant workers and the legal liabilities of the principal employer was printed and distributed free of cost.
Government and the Kerala Institute for Labour and Employment (KILE) give proper importance to skill development and training of the unemployed as well as workers. New ITIs are opened where training for new generation jobs as well as other sectors are given.
Commitment to build politically conscious working Class
These two years of the Kerala Government has proved that even within a short time and with limited resources, a state government with a deep commitment to the toiling sections can give some relief to the people. It is the duty of the working class movement to take the pro working class pro people measures of the Left Front Government to the people and educate them about its difference from other bourgeois party governments. A politically conscious working class movement only can lead the struggle to change the neo liberal policies.