(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 26, 2012
FOURTY FOURTH SESSION OF INDIAN LABOUR CONFERENCE
Prime Minister Bats for the Employers
THE 44th session of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC),
tripartite platform of workers, employers and government, was held in
Inaugurating the 44th session of the ILC, prime minister Manmohan Singh recalled that as prime minister he participated in the 40th session of the ILC for the first time. Since then, except the 42nd session, he has inaugurated all the other sessions of the ILC. Significantly, he had been trying to utilise these occasions more to echo the concerns of the employers than to either to hear the problems of the workers or extend any categorical assurance to them that their statutory rights would be protected. His inaugural address to the 44th session was no exception. As usual, he did not have enough time to hear the views of the workers’ representatives.
The prime minister expressed satisfaction that in recent years, ‘more and more state governments have become considerably more flexible in their approach to labour restructuring and rationalisation’ thereby dispelling the view that our ‘labour policies unduly protect’ the interests of the workers. Thus he not only completely ignored the increasing attacks on the statutory rights of the workers but chose the platform of the Indian Labour Conference to make known his appreciation of the state governments, which facilitated flouting of labour laws by the employers. Incredible! Again, while in the 43rd session, he said that there was ‘a need to consider the possible role of some of the labour laws in contributing to rigidities in the labour market which hurt the growth of employment’, in the 44th session he reiterated that ‘we must periodically take a critical look whether our regulatory framework has some parts which unnecessarily hamper the growth of employment, enterprise and industry without really contributing significantly to labour welfare’. This utter insensitivity to the workers becomes all the more glaring when the prime minister and his government are fully aware that violation of labour laws in our country has become the norm rather than an exception and one of the major demands on which the entire trade union movement of the country has called for joint countrywide general strike on February 28, hardly a fortnight from the date of the ILC, was strict implementation of labour laws.
Crocodile tears were shed over the ‘extremely low female labour force participation, which has remained more or less constant over the past decades’, under the neoliberal policies, which were trumpeted to be leading to ‘feminisation of labour’. The prime minister said, ‘We would also need to make provision for part time work which would have the same characteristics as in full time employment, if necessary by making legislative changes’. Today, more than one crore employees, an overwhelming majority of them women, all over the country are working in various government departments under its different schemes. While they have to spend not less than 6-7 hours a day in discharging their job responsibilities, the government denies them minimum wages and social security benefits by calling them ‘social workers’, ‘part time workers’, ‘activists’, ‘friends’, ‘guests’ etc. While they are getting more and more organised and demanding their due status as workers, probably the prime minister wants to legalise such exploitation, encouraging the private sector to further intensify exploitation of women workers.
The prime minister also talked about his favourite theme - the need to accelerate the rate of economic growth and achieve ‘a growth rate of at least 9 per cent’ that he hoped would ‘get rid of the chronic curse of poverty, ignorance and disease…’ This, despite it being proved through the experience of the last several years that growth by itself cannot get rid of these ‘curses’. What is required is the political will to address these issues and allocation of adequate financial resources. That this can be achieved by abandoning the policies of imperialist globalisation and increasing public spending on people’s welfare has been proved by several progressive and pro Left governments in Latin America like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil etc, which have substantially reduced poverty, illiteracy, ill health etc. But this cannot be expected of a government that provides huge tax concessions worth lakhs of crores of rupees to the big corporates as ‘incentives’ and denigrates the meagre provisions to the poor as ‘doles’ and ‘subsidies’.
ON MINIMUM WAGES
The prime minister referred to the agenda items of social security and skill development and emphasised the need for PPP (public private partnership), another of his pet themes, in skill development (with huge foreign funding in the pipeline). But he maintained a stony silence on the issue of minimum wages, which was the most important issue for the workers. Of course, this should not be surprising, given the fact that it was the PMO that pressurised the rural development ministry to appeal against the High Court order on payment of minimum wages to the NREGA workers on par with the state minimum wages. Probably the prime minister has yet to come to terms with the Supreme Court judgment upholding the High Court order.
The three agenda items were discussed in separate committees and the recommendations then adopted in the plenary.
Some of the major recommendations on minimum wages were - there should be a national minimum wage applicable to all employments throughout the country; the existing restrictions related to its applicability to only scheduled employments should be removed; the government should take the necessary steps to fix minimum wages as per the norms/ criteria recommended by the 15th ILC and the directions of the Supreme Court in the Raptakos & Brett case; the practice of paying different minimum wages for the same employment either in the centre or in the states should be done away with; all the state and UT governments should adopt variable dearness allowance (VDA); the payment to apprentices under the Apprentices Act should be treated differently from the other categories.
The major recommendations on social security, that had broad consensus included – wage ceiling for the application of Employees’ Provident Fund Act should be increased from the present level of Rs 6,500 to Rs 10,000 or Rs 15,000 as already applicable for the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation; the threshold of the number of workers for coverage under EPF should be reduced from 20 to 10; the floor level minimum pension under EPS 95 should not be less than Rs 1,000; requirement of minimum five years of continuous service for gratuity should be reduced and gratuity should be made transferable in case of change of job by the employee; Maternity Benefit Act should be amended to increase maternity leave from the present 12 weeks to 24 weeks up to two children and the lower limit to continue for more than two; funds for the National Social Security Fund should be substantially increased either through imposition of cess or increasing the corpus; all state governments should constitute state social security boards before the end of the year; social security benefits should be provided to anganwadi employees, ASHAs, mid day meal workers and other similar types of workers; unorganised sector workers should be covered by social security schemes including health, insurance, education, pension etc; RSBY should be extended to all the unorganised sector workers and OPD facilities should be provided under RSBY and generic medicines provided under the scheme; and the interest on the income of various social security funds should be exempted from taxes.
On the issue of employment and employability, the recommendations of the ILC included – employment generation should be the top agenda of the government; a National Employment policy should be formulated to provide enabling framework for employment generation and decent working conditions for all; investment in labour intensive industries should be promoted; institutional arrangements should be made to provide training in traditional skills; stipend of apprentices under the Apprentices Act should be enhanced; barriers on skilling and certification of illiterate and uneducated workers should be removed; existing employment in unorganised sector should be safeguarded by assuring access to natural resources for those sectors dependent on them; skill development should be promoted among women and differently abled persons etc.
The major question, however, is – will the 44th session of the ILC, continue with its reputation acquired over a period of some time, of being a mere ritual and a ‘talking shop’ or will the government take effective measures to implement its recommendations? It is to be recalled that the 15th ILC held way back in 1957 made the historic guidelines for fixing minimum wages. This was later further strengthened by the Supreme Court judgment in the famous Raptakos Brett case. But, till now no effective measure has been taken to ensure that minimum wages are fixed as per these guidelines and all the workers in the country irrespective of the sector or industry are covered by the Minimum Wage Act. Similar has been the fate of many other pro labour recommendations.
For its part, the CITU has circulated its concrete proposals on all the three agenda items. In his brief intervention, Tapan Sen reacted sharply to the contention of the employers that they should be trusted with implementation of labour laws and said that trust could be earned only through practice. He pointed out that despite the workers and government agreeing on the issue of equal wages and benefits to the contract workers as the regular workers in an industry, the amendment to the Act did not see the light of the day as the employers were opposed to it. He warned both the employers and the government that if the attacks on the basic rights of the working class including its right to organisation continued, a situation would arise where the 99 per cent would be compelled to revolt against such exploitation and oppression by the 1 per cent. The CITU representatives strongly placed its views in the respective committees.
However, developing strong united campaigns and struggles by the working class demanding implementation of the pro worker recommendations of the ILC, as part of the working class campaign and struggle on its demands, is the only way to bring pressure on the government to act on these recommendations. Otherwise the government will continue to use the ILC to showcase its commitment to tripartism, while continuing to favour the employers in practice.
Ø Fix minimum wage, taking into consideration the recommendations of 15th ILC and also the Supreme Court directive in Raptakos & Co. case; inclusion of Variable Dearness Allowance to fully neutralise the impact of inflation on the lives of the workers who are entitled for minimum wages.
Ø Ensure yearly revision of minimum wages.
Ø The floor level minimum wage fixed should be statutorily mandatory minimum in every part of the country.
Ø Adequate and proper machinery should be made available to ensure implementation.
Ø Minimum Wages Act should be included in the Schedule IX of the constitution.
Ø Till all these policy decisions are finalised, a minimum wage of at least Rs10,000 per month should be ensured to all workers irrespective of the industry/sector. It has to be included in the Schedules of Minimum Wages Act.
Ø The contract workers should be paid the same wages of the regular workers in concerned industry/establishment.
Ø The ESI Act, EPF Act, Maternity Benefit Act need to be amended to ensure that all the workers, even if one worker is employed in an establishment, should be covered by these acts.
Ø All withdrawn or curtailed benefits under the Employees’ Pension Scheme 1995 ie, the benefits of Return of Capital and Commutation of Pension and enhanced rate of reduction for early pension should be restored immediately; in line with the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee, the contribution of the government/employer should be increased to 6 per cent minimum; the wage ceiling should be increased from Rs 6,500 to Rs10,000 per month.
Ø The attempts to allow FDI in pension fund management should be withdrawn; workers must be guaranteed an assured amount of pension which should not be less than half of their last drawn wages with the provision of neutralisation of inflation.
Ø The government of India should contribute to run the ESI scheme; workers contribution be reduced to 1 per cent instead of 1.75 per cent.
Ø Non-Contributory limit be raised to Rs 200 per day from the present Rs 100
Ø No worker should be deprived of the benefits of the scheme for non-payment of contribution by the employers.
Ø No patient should be debarred from medical benefits on the ground of non-eligibility. Every patient should continue to get medical benefit till recovery.
Ø ‘Super-Speciality’ treatment should not be linked with Contributory condition.
Ø Arbitrary withdrawal of sickness benefit during the period of Lock-Out/Strike in violation of the existing Rules should be restored.
Ø Extend ESI to workers in the unorganised sector, plantation, transport and mines and other service sectors.
Ø Attempts to outsource/privatise the service and even hospitals should be stopped.
Ø Paid maternity leave under Maternity Benefit Act should be increased to at least six months; Maternity Benefit Act should be amended accordingly.
Ø Universal coverage of all the unorganised workers irrespective of APL or BPL status, within a time frame, ensuring floor level social security benefits including life and accident insurance, health including maternity benefits, old age security.
Ø Adequate fund should be provided for the Unorganised Workers Social Security fund; National Social Security Board should be empowered to ensure proper implementation of the Act, monitoring the implementation and performance of the schemes under the Act and make suitable amendments.
Ø National Social Security Board should be provided with the necessary personnel and funds to collect all the necessary data for effective monitoring and implementation of the various schemes.
Employability and Employment
Ø GDP growth by itself does not ensure employment generation; the jobless nature of the current growth regime needs to be recognised and acknowledged; an employment intensive growth and development strategy have to be adopted.
Ø Release employment data along with quarterly GDP estimates; NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) and Labour Bureau should collect and publish regular data on employment/unemployment both for the organised and unorganised sector.
Ø Lift ban on recruitment and abolition of existing posts in different central and state government departments and PSEs; Make public status of all vacancies in government departments and initiate fresh recruitment; stop outsourcing, contractorisation and recruitment of retired employees in permanent jobs.
Ø Implement eight hours working day for all unorganised sector workers. This will create additional jobs immediately.
Ø Revamp and modernise employment exchanges; Integrate Employment exchanges with skill development initiatives and provide information on private sector jobs too; Launch government sponsored job portal (website) to disseminate information about employment opportunities in the public as well as private sector.
Ø Expand public investment by central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) for expansion and modernisation using Rs 6 lakh crore reserves and surplus of CPSEs in sectors like power, oil and gas; steel, coal, telecom, defence, etc.
Ø Unlock the lands of closed factories in public and private sectors by removing legal hurdles for setting up new industries.
Ø Expand the scope of the NREGA to all individuals (not only to households) and enhance the cap of 100 days; Expand the schedule of permissible works.
Ø Initiate Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Ø Carry out a national skill survey vis a vis unemployment industry wise before taking up skill development in a big scale with public money for private interest.
Ø Stress should be on development of skills in basic trades which can be further expanded into special skills depending on the nature of the industry by intensive in-house training by the respective industries.
Ø Specific data during the last three years should be provided showing placement of trained man power in actual employment commensurate with the skill developed. There should be a process of regular updating of this data. There should be a Dynamic Data Capturing System on performance of the ITIs/ ITCs.
Ø The government should provide skill development opportunity in rural and hilly areas, border and difficult areas and Naxal affected remote areas and for women and differently abled.
Ø The government should take major responsibility in developing a pool of trainers’ base in the respective domain.