Bashing Labour

Labour-bashing has reached    a stage where the very idea of labour-organising may invite punishment under anti-terror acts. Media, government functionaries, corporate lobbyists—all have created a notion that labour is the root cause for all the evils under the sun. How to curtail hard-earned labour rights is their prime concern. They are making one regressive measure after another to return to the age of industrial revolution. Any up-gradation of technology means down-sizing of labour force—and it has been going on for the last few decades. Labour-intensive industry is a thing of the past and the persons in power have simply no answer as to how to address the mounting unemployment problem.

Totally ignoring the united opposition of the workers, the Modi Government has been moving fast to demolish existing labour laws thereby empowering the employers with unfettered rights to "hire and fire" and stripping the workers and trade unions of all their rights and protection provided in existing labour laws. As follow up to the PMO's written ccmmunication to the Chief Secretaries of States, state governments are being directed to carry out Rajasthan type pro-management amendments in labour laws. The Labour Secretary, Government of India, has issued executive order on this 12th January 2016 granting exemption to so-called Start-up Enterprises from inspection and application of 9 major labour laws, thereby legitimising violations.

The proposed Small Factories (Regulations of Service Conditions) Bill prescribes that major 14 labour laws will not apply to factories employing up to 40 workers. Labour Code on Wages Bill and Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill under the cover of amalgamation, seek to make registration of unions almost impossible, making retrenchment and closure almost free for the employers class. These bills have been put in public domain totally ignoring the trade unions thereby violating the provisions of ILO Convention 144 on Tripartite Consultation. All these amendments are meant to exclude 90% of the workforce from application of labour laws thereby allowing the employers to further squeeze and exploit the workers. All rights-components in all the labour laws are being demolished to impose conditions of slavery on the working people. Simultaneously, almost in all the states, the work-place level struggles of the workers are being sought to be crushed through repression including intimidation and arrests by the Govt machinery as is being nakedly visible in Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamilnadu, Andhra Praclesh, Gujarat etc in recent times.

Farm Labourers are also under severe attack. Through sweeping changes in the Land Acquisition Act, Farmers' Right to Land and Agri-Workers' Right to Livelihood were sought to be drastically curbed, which ultimately could be stalled temporarily through popular struggles but the danger still remains.

Attack on public sector has been pushed to unprecedented height. Not merely disinvestment, the Government will now go for 'mega strategic sale'. The main target is the Maharatna CPSUs and those amongst the top profit making CPSUs including banks/insurance. The ownership control and management of shinning CPSUs are being sought to be handed over to the private corporates, both domestic & foreign. Along with, almost unlimited FDI is allowed in strategic sectors like Railways, Defence and Financial Sector as complementary to the move of privatisation/PPP etc.

The anti-worker and authoritarian attitude of the present Government is also nakedly reflected in their refusal to implement the consensus recommendations of 43rd, 44th and 45th Indian Labour Conferences on formulation of minimum wages, same wage and benefits as regular workers for the contract workers and granting status of workers with attendant benefits to the scheme workers like anganwadi, mid-day-meal, ASHA, para-teachers etc. On the contrary, the Government drastically curtailed budget allocations to all those centrally sponsored schemes meant for poor peoples' welfare. The legislation on the issue of Street Vendors is not being implemented appropriately.

Against the backdrop of massive onslaught on labour, the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions of the country along with Independent National Federations of Employees of different industries and services has given a call of nationwide strike on September 2 as they did last year. Though this tokenism is good for uniting diverse elements in labour movement but it is not enough to arrest the all-round attack on labour rights.

Vol. 48, No. 43, May 1 - 7, 2016