46th Session of Indian Labour Conference to Government: Talking is Fine, but Start Doing
THAT was the strong message given to the government of India by the 46th session of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC), through a unanimous recommendation. The 46th session of the ILC was held in Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on July 20–21, 2015. ‘Review of implementation of the conclusions/recommendations of the 43rd, 44th and 45th Indian Labour Conference, particularly on Contract Labour, Minimum Wages and Scheme Workers and Tripartite Mechanism’ was the first item on the agenda of the 46th session of the ILC. The government’s attitude to the ILC recommendations can be understood from the tersely worded resolution of the concerned technical committee which was unanimously endorsed by the 46th ILC. It reads ‘‘the committee debated the recommendations of the 43rd, 44th and 45th Indian Labour Conference at length and expressed its concern over non implementation of the conclusions, particularly on contract labour, minimum wages, scheme workers and tripartism. It was therefore unanimously recommended that concrete measures should be undertaken to expeditiously implement the recommendations in letter and spirit. Periodic reviews should be undertaken by the stakeholders.” The same observations were made by the other committees which discussed ‘Social security’ and ‘Employment and employment generation’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 46th session of the ILC which was chaired by the Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the other ministers who are members of the Group of Ministers constituted to discuss with the trade unions also attended the ILC. The ILC was preceded by a discussion of the Group of Ministers with the representatives of all the central trade unions on their charter of demands on the basis of which they have called for a country wide joint general strike on September 2, 2015. The prime minister called the leaders of the central trade unions for tea on the evening of 19th July. The trade union leaders clearly explained their demands in these meetings. They have made clear their opposition to the amendments to the labour laws being undertaken by the government. They told that these amendments would trample the basic rights of the workers to organise, convert them into bonded labour and ultimately result in industrial unrest. However neither the prime minister nor the finance minister, both of who addressed the ILC thought it necessary to address these concerns of the working class of the country. The prime minister who spoke quite at length appeared to be addressing some election related public meeting rather than addressing the participants in the ILC. The demands raised by the trade unions in the previous day’s meeting were not addressed. Neither were the agenda items of the ILC. Instead, both the prime minister and finance minister utilised the platform of the ILC to argue the case of the employers. The prime minister extolled the virtues of tripartism and the seventy five years’ experience of tripartism in the country, even while his government was trampling tripartism underfoot, by totally ignoring the concerns of the working class voiced in all tripartite forums. The finance minister was quite explicit in his message. Contrary to the experience in our country where despite economic growth of over 8 percent, there was negative growth of employment, the conditions of the workers deteriorated with increase in contract and other types of precarious work and fall in the real wages of workers, he argued that economic growth will always protect the interest of labourers. Obliquely referring to the general strike called by the trade unions, he warned them not to persist with ideas that harm economic activity as employment generation would be affected if investments were blocked. In addition to the review of the implementation of the recommendations of the 43rd, 44th and 45th ILC, the 46th ILC also discussed ‘Social Security for the workers in organised, unorganised sector and international migrant workers’, ‘Amendment of Bonus Act – Removal of conditions on payment ceiling, eligibility limits, decisions to pay minimum bonus without linking to loss when the performance indicators satisfy grant of bonus’, ‘Labour laws amendments proposed/ done either by the central or state governments’, and ‘Employment and employment generation’. The technical committee that discussed ‘Labour laws amendments’ managed a unanimous conclusion that was also unanimously adopted by the ILC. While reiterating the historical role of tripartite mechanisms functioning in the country, it said that any labour law amendments/ enactments should take into account three purposes, viz, rights and welfare of workers, sustainability of enterprise and job creation, and industrial peace. It has recommended that the overall exercise of labour law amendments as well as the broad and specific proposals should be discussed in the tripartite forum before taking any concrete measure. No consensus could be arrived on the issue of Bonus Act amendment where the trade union representatives wanted the removal of all the three ceilings in the Bonus Act which the employers’ representatives did not agree. The Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU) was represented in the ILC by Tapan Sen, and Hemalata, general secretary and national secretary respectively as delegates and AK Padmanabhan, Swadesh Dev Roye and AR Sindhu, president and national secretaries as advisors. Speaking in the plenary, Tapan Sen commented that the attitude of the government towards workers made it appear as if the government has declared an all-out war on the working people of the country who produced wealth, contributed to the economic growth as well as made it possible for the employers to garner profits. He reminded the prime minister’s observation on tripartism and observed that tripartite exercises and recommendations would have no meaning unless they are implemented. Deeds should match words, he emphasised and said that any government department or ministry cannot be allowed to overrule the consensus recommendations of the ILC, which is the highest tripartite forum in which representatives of workers, employers and governments both central and state, participate, debate, come to conclusions and make the recommendations. The negative approach of the government to the demands not only of the workers but also all sections of the people, unitedly voiced by all the central trade unions, has only reinforced the determination of the trade unions to make the September 2 country wide general strike a resounding success. The preparations for the strike, taking the issues and demands to all the workers, linking the policies to these issues and creating awareness to further intensify the fight against the neo-liberal policies have to be intensified to give a fitting reply to this adamant BJP led government.