Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The 46th Indian Labour Conference, held after a delay of more than a year, was more about rhetoric than substance, with the recommendations of the previous conferences still not implemented by the Government.

1. The two-day session of the 46th Indian Labour Conference (ILC), inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left trade unions deeply disappointed. It was expected that the conference would address the apprehensions and long-pending concerns of the working class, but it turned out to be an exercise in delivering homilies. 

2. The 46th ILC was due last year, but for inexplicable reasons it was not held. But this did not deter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Rajasthan from introducing radical changes in its labour laws. The Central government too moved swiftly to propose amendments to some labour laws and, despite opposition from trade unions, passed some of them with amendments in Parliament. 

3. More important was the meeting trade union leaders had with the Prime Minister, or the “chai pe charcha” as one trade union leader put it, at 12 Race Course Road two days before the ILC. This was unprecedented. The trade unions naturally expected the Prime Minister to make some announcement of meaningful intent for the workforce—organised and unorganised—at the ILC. But that did not happen. 

4. No assurances were given to the representatives of the workers about the legitimacy of their demands, especially in the context of the 12-point charter of demands that had been pending since last year. Strangely, he said that the government was in constant dialogue with the unions, which was not true as this was the first time that the National Democratic Alliance government had relented to talk to the unions after one whole year of assuming office. 

5. The Apprenticeship Amendment Act was passed by Parliament despite the unions having reservations about some of the clauses. Industry, on the other hand, had welcomed the changes to the Act. It was this lack of a spirit of tripartite consensus that the unions had objected to consistently the whole of last year when amendments to the Factories Act or the formation of a labour code with an umbrella social security legislation, or, for that matter, amendments to the Apprenticeship Act were made. 

6. One of the sore points for the unions has been the non-implementation of the consensus recommendations of the agreements arrived at previous ILCs, notably the 43rd, 44th and 45th. The first item on the agenda of the current ILC concerned the implementation of the conclusions/recommendations of the last three ILCs, particularly on contract labour, minimum wages, scheme workers and tripartite mechanism. On the long-pending demand, and a consensus recommendation of the 45th ILC, that scheme-based workers be recognised as workers and not as honorary volunteers and that they should be entitled to all social security benefits, including the government’s new insurance schemes, the government in its action-taken report took the curious and untenable position that the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Department of School Education and Literacy and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had “informed that the AWW [anganwadi workers], Mid-Day Meal [MDM] Scheme cook cum helpers cannot be treated as workers”. 

Issue of minimum wage
7. Similarly, the 15th ILC had, in 1957, provided a formula for calculating minimum wages and the 44th ILC had endorsed it. But the government, instead of accepting the formula, hit upon a floor-level wage of Rs.160 a day, which is much less than the demand of the trade unions that Rs.15,000 should be the minimum/floor-level wage. “What is the meaning of this Rs.160? It is less than one-third of what all the unions are asking. In fact, as per the 15th ILC’s criteria, it should be not less than Rs.20,000 a month going by current prices and inflation. Now there will be a basement wage as well,” said a trade union representative. 

Payment of Bonus Act
8. There was no consensus on the amendments to the Payment of Bonus Act, where the trade unions held the position that all ceilings under the Act, the eligibility ceiling, the calculation ceiling and the maximum per cent of bonus payable, needed to be removed while employer representatives did not agree to this, arguing that this would lead to a spurt in industrial relations issues. According to them, while making any changes to the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, the productivity of workers and paying capacity of the employers should be taken into account. They were not even in favour of the indexation of cost of living for the purpose of fixing the ceiling and calculation of bonus. They said that the term “employee” should be substituted with “workman” as defined under the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA). 

9. There was little assurance from the Union Labour Minister at the concluding session about the centrality of the role of the government in implementing the spirit of tripartite dialogue and decisions arrived at forums like the ILC. 

10. At the moment, all the trade unions stand united for the one-day national strike on September 2 and preparations are already on.. 

Courtesy: FRONT LINE Magazine

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