May 24, 2015

Central Trade Unions Lash Out Against Labour Policies

A K Padmanabhan

THREE central ministers, including Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, had a taste of the anger among the working people of the country when Central Trade Union leaders, in one voice, criticised the government's anti-labour policies. The occasion was a meeting of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) called by the Labour Department on May 15 to discuss about the '10-point charter of demands', on which the CTUs were on struggle for the last six years. This charter of demand was re-submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24 last year , i.e. within a month of his swearing-in. The memorandum, signed by 11 CTUs, was submitted through the then Minister of Labour and Employment. Demands of CTUs In that memorandum, the CTUs pointed out that the government is taking unilateral steps on labour-related matters and had requested it to refrain from such actions. It was also brought to the notice of the Prime Minister that the Rajasthan government had already initiated steps to amend various labour laws. Overall, serious concerns of the working people in the country were expressed. Along with that the CTUs urged upon the Prime Minister "to ensure that labour is accorded its due recognition and the issues are attended and satisfactory settlement is arrived at through bilateral discussion between the central government and the joint platform of Central Trade Unions at the earliest". What happened after that is well known. The Rajasthan government amended many labour laws. The central government introduced amendments to various laws in Parliament. All these were aimed at throwing out an "overwhelming number of workers out of the purview of labour laws thereby allowing the employers a free hand to further squeeze and exploit workers". A national convention of workers was held in New Delhi on September 15 last year which was attended by representatives of CTUs and independent national federations. The declaration adopted in the convention had detailed all the issues of concern to the working people in the country. In addition to the 10-point charter, the new offensives against labour, through amendments to labour laws and by allowing FDI in insurance, defence production and railways were brought to the notice of the government. Its declaration was also submitted to the government. It was this convention which had called for a 'National Protest Day' on December 5. The protest day which witnessed massive participation all over the country was again followed by country-wide action day on February 26 this year. All through, the central and various state governments have been going ahead with their own agenda. The Central Trade Unions, on April 9, decided to hold a National Convention on May 26 this year to decide on further actions including country-wide strike. It was this decision to call for ‘struggles, including the strike’ that forced the government to call for the meeting on May 15. The meeting was called with only a day's notice. The meeting as per the notice was to be attended by three ministers other than the Minister for Labour -- Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goel, and Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha. Sinha did not attend the meeting "due to preoccupation". The other two reached the venue long after the meeting began. The beginning of the meeting witnessed strong protests over this hurriedly-called meeting, forcing a lot of difficulties to the participants. The government on its part accepted that not enough time was given and assured not to repeat it. From the government's side, 'status of summary of progress on the 10-point demands' was circulated which was only a usual bureaucratic note, which none of the participants was prepared to take seriously and was rejected almost summarily. Anti-Labour Government One after another, all the leaders pointed out how the government is changing labour laws, ESI, EPF etc. against the interests of workers and also how the tripartite decisions on minimum wages, same wage for same and similar jobs, worker status and benefits for scheme workers etc. are not being taken into consideration. The latest decision of cabinet on child labour and the problems of kisans were also raised by leaders. Pointing out how the central and some state governments have taken the ordinance route for legislation, some of the leaders said why not an ordinance to fix the national minimum wages at Rs 15,000? Various moves of state governments with contempt to labour were also pointed out. All of them were unanimous that the Labour Department was becoming redundant. Enforcement wings have been shut down in the name of 'Inspector Raj'. The Finance Ministry and the Department of Industrial Promotion and Policies (DIPP) take decisions and direct the Labour Department to implement them. For the ministers, the only thing they had to present in the meeting was the latest announcements of insurance policies and pension yojana! None of them referred to the labour law amendments or on the necessity of amending EPF, ESI rules or regarding the issues of scheme workers. They had to conclude the meeting after four hours, saying that they have come with an open mind and will continue to discuss the issues. The essence of the views from the workers side was that they will not allow this offensive to continue and will take necessary actions to defend the interests of workers. As the Modi government completes one year, it has created a record, thought it was not part of their assurances to the voters. No government since Independence has done so much against the working people, in such a short period. And this government is continuing its offensive in such a haste that, unless these are resisted and pushed back thoroughly, the working class will again be turned into bonded labours, at the mercy of Indian and foreign corporates. Central Trade Unions were represented by national leaders including Tapan Sen, A K Padmanabhan (CITU); D K Sachdeva, Amarjeet Kaur (AITUC); B N Rai, Vrijesh Upadhyaya (BMS); R Chandrasekharan (INTUC); H S Sidhu (HMS); Rajiv Dhinri (AICCTU), Satyavan (AIUTUC); S P Tiwari (TUCC); Abani Roy (UTUC); Monali (SEWA); and Subburaman (LPF). Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill, 2015: This Bill amalgamates the Trade Union Act, 1926, The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The following are some of the major points in the Bill: -- Instead of the present 7 workers applying for registration, 10 per cent of workers in a establishment/industry or 100 which ever is less will have to be the applicants for registration of a Union. -- If 10 per cent is less than seven, then 7 will have to be the applicants. -- In case of workers in unorganised sectors, where there is no employer-employee relationship or such relationship is not clear, the requirement of 10 per cent will not apply. -- Membership fee for trade unions in agricultural operations or rural establishments or in unorganised sector not less than five rupees per month and in other cases one rupee per month. -- Compulsory check-off for subscription collection and those who are not members of any union, will have to pay such amounts to the welfare board of the government or to be constituted by the employer with permission of government. -- In organised sector no non-worker can be office-bearer. In unorganised sector only, two non-workers can be office-bearers. -- Provides for disqualification of office-bearers by Industrial Tribunals on different counts. On reason is that of being an office-bearer of more than 10 unions. -- This Bill has no provision for recognition of trade unions or for ensuring collective bargaining rights. -- If all the provisions are taken together, there can never be a strike which is legal and all illegal strikes will be punishable with huge fines from Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 with imprisonment up to one month. -- Casual leave on a given day by 50 per cent workers will be treated as strike. -- Union can not take action against any member for not heeding a call, for an 'illegal strike'. -- Standing orders will be applicable to establishments with 100 or more workers only. -- Any award of the Tribunal shall be final and shall not be called in question by any court in any manner whatsoever. -- All establishments with less than 300 workers are given free hand in lay-off, retrenchment or closure. No permission from the government is required. -- Change of service conditions of workers has also been made easy through different clauses in the Bill. Some of the Proposals for Amendments in Labour Laws by Madhya Pradesh Govt: Seventeen Central Acts are to be amended through Ordinance. The Government of India has given consent to all their proposals, except for two. These two acts are refused as the Centre is amending them. Along with this, three State Labour Laws also are to be amended. Total amendments are 38. The government says that the amendments mainly deal with "nuisance of inspectors" and "nuisance of Trade Unions" among various other points. -- The Industrial Disputes Act amendments will, according to the government, benefit the employers as no permission is needed for lay-off, retrenchment or closure of establishments having up to 300 workers. -- The government says that "unproductive/inefficient workers will lose the job security but they will get better compensation". -- The government will prescribe conditions for recognition and no worker will be permitted to be represented by any body other than such recognised union. This, the government says, will benefit employers as "nuisance of union leaders of less representative unions will be reduced". -- Amendments to the Trade Union Act make it compulsory that it should at all times continue to have 33 per cent or three hundred members whichever is less, subject to a minimum of twenty. If the unions are industry-based, each constituent unit should have at least 33 per cent of workers in each constituent establishment subject to a minimum of 100 workers. -- Only workers of the establishment or industry will be nominated as office-bearers. This, the government says, will benefit employers as "outsiders, retired workers and unwanted elements will not be able to harm industrial peace". The impact on employees, according to the government, is that "workers would not be exploited by outsiders in the name of union funds". (END)