(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 01, 2009
ILC Session Ends Without Concrete Conclusions
THE 42nd session of Indian Labour Conference held in New Delhi on February 20-21, 2009 raised several issues critical of UPA government’s economic policies but could not come to concrete conclusions that could ensure genuine protection to the working class that is adversely affected by the capitalist global crisis.
Union Labour minister while presiding over the session observed, “Each and everything that we wear, use and live by, is the product of some one’s labour, the result of perspiration of some one’s brow. We do not realise that some one, somewhere, ate less so that we could get our full meal, some one slept less so that we could sleep in comfort, some one worked overtime with less income so that our huge systems could run”. However, he failed to explain what his government had done for the worker who is a victim of retrenchment, outsourcing, contractorisation, closures, wage cuts etc.
Pranab Mukherjee, minister of External Affairs, while inaugurating the conference stated that we must display the spirit of solidarity by sharing equally the pain of this crisis. He advocated acceptance of wage cut instead of retrenchment of some workers from an establishment.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission advocated the policies of globalisation which were responsible for the economic crisis. His speech reflected complacency and he argued that the crisis would be over soon and even asked banks to use the opportunities created by the present global crisis.
The conference had the following agenda.
All issues connected with contractorisation of labour and issues related to migrant workers.
Role of social partners in appropriate skill development for employability.
Issues relating to sales promotion employees in India.
Global financial crisis, its effects viz – large scale down sizing, lay offs, wage cuts and job losses etc.
Representatives of trade unions sharply criticised the policies of the government which miserably failed to implement the commitment given in the national common minimum programme. They criticised the policies of globalisation, privatisation and outsourcing which has brought about the serious economic crisis. They pointed out how the labour laws are being blatantly violated in the country but the union Labour ministry behaved like a silent spectator. They noted that during 2008, Indian Labor Conference could not be held because the prime minister did not find time to inaugurate it. They criticised the bill on unorganised labour which totally failed to meet the aspirations of workers. The situation in special economic zones and IT sector came up for criticism and the failure of the government to ensure implementation of the labour laws in these sectors. They condemned the total collapse of the public distribution system and the people are unable to get the supply of essential commodities at a cheaper rate.
The CITU was represented in the conference by M K Pandhe, president, Md Amin, general secretary as delegates and K O Habib (Kerala) and Bishnu Mohanty (Orissa) as observers.
M K Pandhe while intervening during the course of debate, noted the casual approach of the Labour ministry in holding the conference. Most of the decisions taken in the last five or ten conferences remain by and large unimplemented with the result that the utility is not felt by the workers. He stated that instead of captains of industries attending the meeting, the officers of the employers’ organisations have been attending the Indian Labour Conference.
Pandhe pointed out that more than ten lakh workers lost their jobs due to economic slow down in the country. Employers have been illegally retrenching workers, closing down partially or completely the industrial units and declaring illegal closures or lockouts but there is not a single case of central government taking action against any employer in the last four months. With regard to unorganised workers bill, the central government ignored the recommendation of standing committee on labour bill prepared by Dr Arjun Sengupta committee and conclusions of the seminar on the subject by the National Labour Institute. The bill does not give any benefit to the workers which only provided appointment of committees to prepare welfare schemes.
The CITU pointed out various scandals in the share market and corporate sector due to policies of deregulation and demanded strict regulation of industrial houses which alone can reduce the extent of scandals.
While criticising the bail out packages which are misused by the industrial houses, the CITU representative demanded steps to generate more employment, creating more infrastructure projects through massive public investment and creation of more demand by improving the living condition of the toiling masses.
Pandhe, while concluding, demanded introduction of long term capital gains tax, enhancing security transaction tax, reintroduction of wealth tax and higher income tax for richer classes for mobilising resources for introduction of the employment guarantee scheme for urban areas and introducing unemployment allowance for the victims of the economic crisis and rural labour.
P K Gurudasan, secretary CITU and Labour minister of Kerala was nominated as vice-chairman of the conference. In his address to the conference, he castigated the central government’s economic policies and demanded their reversal.
Mrinal Banerjee, working committee member of the CITU and minister of Power and Labour, government of West Bengal, speaking in the conference reviewed the pro-labour steps taken by the government of West Bengal and demanded stringent action against the violations of the labour laws which alone can ensure the implementation of the labour laws in the country.
Employers’ representatives asked for more stimulation packages and flexibility in labour laws. They justified the steps taken by the industry during the economic melt down in the country.
Union Labour minister, Oscar Fernandes could not attend most of the session as he was involved in the parliament business. On February 21, the four committees started functioning and considered four agenda items separately.
Md Amin who participated in the committee for contract and migrant labour, while highlighting the issues faced by millions of these workers stressed the need for implementation of labour laws, amendment to the act to provide regularisation of contract workers who are working on permanent nature of jobs. He also demanded comprehensive measures to protect the interests of migrant workers whose working and living conditions are miserable.
The employers however wanted more contractorisation of jobs and minor benefits to migrant workers. In view of this no firm conclusions could be drawn in the meeting. It only recorded different views reflected on the subject.
Habib who participated in the debate in training for facilitating employment growth, stressed the need for employment policies that would provide jobs for all young persons. He also noted how skilled and highly skilled workers are unable to get any job opportunities. The committee decided to strengthen the education facilities so that skilled manpower would be available to industries.
On the question of sales promotion employees in India, Bishnu Mohanti participated in the committee meeting. He supported the demand for extending the Act to cover all industries. The employers’ representatives however opposed the proposal and advocated that even they should not be covered for the pharmaceutical industry. The trade unions proposed that all the sales promotion employees should be included as workmen in the definition of Industrial Dispute Act.
The trade unions proposed that at least the present Act should be extended to ten other industries and further extension can be negotiated later. The trade unions agreed that statutory working rules for sales promotion employees may be further discussed in view of coverage of Shop and Establishment Act.
The trade unions demanded that the sales promotion employees be included in the definition of workmen under ID Act so that they can get the benefit of dispute resolution mechanism. The employers’ representative suggested that dispute settlement mechanism should be incorporated under Sales Promotion Employees Act.
M K Pandhe participated in the committee on global financial crisis. He was also representing workers group on the drafting committee. It recommended short term measures such as, quarterly survey on impact on employment, strict implementation of labour laws, strengthening of social security schemes including unemployment, insurance, credit at concessional rates for small and traditional industries, introduction of urban employment guarantee scheme, strengthening of PDS in terms of commodities and coverage, constitution of committee to monitor the impact of slowdown and remedial measures.
The committee recommended further measures such as, statutory enforcement of national minimum wage, more investment in infrastructure development to create more jobs, protection to workers working outside India, more investment in renewable energy to generate more employment, development of agro based industry and steps to stimulate domestic demand etc.
The committee could not come to a conclusion on certain issues. Hence the trade unions stressed the issues like, introduction of regulatory mechanism for industrial houses, withdrawal of ban on recruitment in state and central services as well as public sector undertakings, to provide more jobs to workers, employment guarantee Act to provide work for 180 days instead of 100 as at present, review of export-import policies that affect Indian industry and employment, stringent steps against violation of labour laws in SEZ, IT sector and MNCs and end to the outsourcing of jobs of permanent and perennial nature. The issues could not be deliberated at length due to insufficient time.
The trade union movement has to ensure through nationwide campaign that the government of India is forced to implement the recommendations and does not confine them to official files.