Vol. XL No. 50 December 11, 2016

Reduce Dependence on FDI, Increase Internal Resources by Taxing the Rich: Trade Unions to Govt

ALL central trade unions have submitted a memorandum to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley listing their viewpoint on issues to be considered for framing of budget for 2017-18. At a customary pre-budget discussion on November 19, the central trade union leaders appealed to the Finance Minister to ensure that the proposals put forward by them find a place in the budget. CITU was represented by its general secretary and MP Tapan Sen.

The trade unions said that without depending too much on foreign investment for growth and development of the national economy, the government should concentrate on raising internal resources by taxing the rich who have financial capacity to pay. Budget allocation on social sector and basic services like health, education and so on must be sufficiently increased, let alone any reduction. The government must take firm measures to contain deliberate tax-default by the big business and corporate lobby leading to huge accumulation of unpaid direct tax due, which is increasing every successive year.

“Instead of going for any new issue, we reiterate the 12-point demands of the working people submitted earlier to the government. Please recall, your good-self, being the Chairman of the GoM, had inconclusive discussions with all the central trade unions in August 2015 and All India General Strike on September 2, 2015 could not be avoided. Unfortunately, the same has not been resumed in spite of requests made by the central trade unions. Under such compulsion, trade unions had to resort to All India General Strike on September 2, 2016,” it said.

Minimum Wage: Minimum Wage linked to Consumer Price Index must be guaranteed to all workers, taking into consideration the recommendations of the 15TH Indian Labour Conference and further enriched by the Apex Court by an add on of 25 per cent. The entire formulation was again unanimously reiterated by 43RD Indian Labour Conference. Based on the same, the 7TH CPC has worked out the minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month. Therefore, the minimum wage should not be less than Rs 18,000 per month. Need-based minimum wage is to be considered as essential part of social security. Unfortunately ignoring the well-established norms, the government has proposed minimum wage of Rs 9,100 per month for workers of C-Class Cities, that too only for the workers in the central sphere, leaving the majority rest without any increase. The trade unions have not accepted the same.

Price Rise: Take effective measures to arrest the spiraling price rise, especially of food and essential items of daily use. Ban speculative forward trading in essential commodities, check on hoarding and universalise and strengthen public distribution system.

Public Sector: PSUs should be strengthened and expanded under PSU framework fully. Disinvestment of shares of profit-making PSUs should be stopped. Budgetary support should be provided for revival of potentially viable sick PSUs. Unfortunately, the government has resorted to strategic selling of even profit-making PSUs and outright closure of so-called sick units. The CTUs are also opposed to the proposed Transport Safety Bill as it paves a way for privatisation of state-owned public transport system. Relentless and increasing flow of import of industrial commodities including capital goods must be contained and regulated to prevent dumping and to protect and promote domestic industries and prevent loss of employment. 

FDI: Foreign Direct Investment should not be allowed in crucial sectors like defence production, railways, financial sector, retail trade and other strategic sectors. The Govt. on the other hand, has allowed 100% FDI in these sectors including Pharmaceuticals.

Employment Generation: Over the past two years, the employment generation has been the least. We reiterate massive public investment be made in infrastructure and social sectors to generate more employment in order to arrest mounting unemployment. All vacancies of sanctioned posts in government departments, PSUs and autonomous institutions should be filled up through fresh recruitment. Ban on creation of new posts should be lifted; practice of surrendering / abolition of posts should be done away with.

The scope of MGNREGA be extended to agriculture operations and urban areas as well and employment for minimum period of 200 days with guaranteed statutory wage be provided, as unanimously recommended by the 43RD Session of Indian Labour Conference. The drastic cut already inflicted on the MNREGA allocation should be made good and enhanced.

Scheme Workers: The massive workforce engaged in ICDS, mid-day meal scheme, vidya volunteers, guest teachers, shiksha mitra, the workers engaged in the Accredited Social Health Activities (ASHA) and other schemes be regularised. No to privatisation of centrally funded schemes. Budget allocation should not be drastically cut as done in last year; it should be substantially increased. Universalisation of ICDS be done as per the Supreme Court’s directions by making adequate budgetary allocations. The scheme workers should at least be given status of workers with attendant benefits as already recommended by the 45TH Session of ILC till such time they are regularised. Domestic work continues to be uncertain and invisible. To create a support system for domestic workers, a central law requires to be enacted.

Unorganised Sector Workers’ Social Security: Steps be taken for removal of all restrictive provisions based on poverty line in respect of eligibility coverage of the schemes under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 and allocation of adequate resources for the National Fund for Unorganised Workers to provide for social security to all unorganised workers including contract/casual and migrant workers. The states which have not framed rules under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act be asked to frame such rules and allocate funds for developing street vending as livelihood models.The cess management of construction workers in the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board be made the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to ensure its proper collection and utilisation.

Income Tax Exemption: Income Tax ceiling for the salaried persons and pensioners should be raised to Rs 5 lakh per annum. All perks and fringe benefits like housing, medical and educational facilities and running allowances in railways should be exempted from the income tax net in totality. The ceiling of amount of Gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act be raised to Rs 20 lakh with effect from January 1, 2016 as done in the case of central government employees.

Pension Scheme: Threshold limit of 20 employees in EPF Scheme be brought down to 10. Government and employers’ contribution be increased to allow sustainability of the Employees’ Pension Scheme and for provision of minimum pension of Rs 3,000 per month. Proposal for introducing option in PF and ESI made in 2015-16 budget be dropped. Notification issued for utilisation of money in “inoperative” EPF accounts for Senior Citizen Welfare Fund be withdrawn; decision to invest EPF fund in stock/equity market be scrapped.

All workers be paid pension and the same be construed as deferred wage. New Pension Scheme be withdrawn and newly recruited employees of central and state governments on or after January 1, 2004 be covered under the Old Pension Scheme.

Labour Law Reforms: The process of labour law reforms being pursued by the government to provide for unhindered “hire and fire” and for pushing majority of workers outside the purview and protection of most of the labour laws -- all for ensuring so-called ease of doing business -- be stopped. No labour law amendment should be undertaken without the consent of trade unions and workers who are the main stakeholders and also the most affected.

7TH Central Pay Commission: Central government employees’ demand for raising of minimum wage and consequent revision of implementation factor which is said to be under consideration of a committee be resolved at the earliest.

Contract Workers: Contract/casual workers should not be deployed on jobs of perennial nature. Till regularization, these workers should be paid the same wages and benefits as paid to regular workers doing the same and similar type of work as has been reiterated by the Supreme Court recently.

The trade unions said in the memorandum, “We repeat with sorrow that none of the suggestions made by us collectively in the last pre-budget meetings have got any positive reflection in the previous budgets. Rather drastic cut to the tune of Rs 4.40 lakh crore was made in the allocation of funds for social sector schemes in the last budget. This drastic cut needs to be restored and covered up. We would, therefore, request that at least this time due and proper consideration is given to the points raised above while framing budget for 2016-17.”

There being no separate railway budget this time. So, the annual budget must take care of this crucial public and goods transport service in the country to be made more effective, accessible and affordable to all people through increased budgetary allocation for expeditious completion of pending expansion and track renewal projects; urgent long pending demands of the Railway employees like enhancement of ceiling in respect of running allowance for tax-exemption, housing scheme etc should be considered, they said.

The trade unions – INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC, and LPF – alsoexpressed deep concern over the difficulties being faced by the common people especially the daily wage earners due to demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes and urged the government to take urgent steps to ameliorate their difficulties.