GOVT MOVE ON AMEDMENT OF LABOUR LAWS--
DESIGN TO IMPOSE SLAVERY
The one year rule of ‘Modi Sarkar’ has been disastrous for the working class. Soon after coming to power the BJP led NDA government initiated hectic moves to bring whole sale anti worker amendments to labour laws to satisfy the employers. These amendments are intended to push out vast majority of even the small section of the working class in our country enjoying some forms of legal protection, out of the purview of labour laws. This was not unexpected. The big national and multinational corporations invested thousands of crores of rupees during the last Parliament elections and left no stone unturned to ensure that the BJP comes to power at the centre. Now it is payback time for the government! Every day, here in the country or on foreign soil, the government is unashamedly exhibiting its determination to serve its corporate masters.
In essence, these labour law amendments whether by the government of India or by different state governments led by the BJP ruled Rajasthan government, are aimed at empowering the employers to ‘hire and fire’ workers at their sweet will. They enable the employers to declare closures/ shut downs and retrench/ lay off workers as well as to resort to mass scale contractorisation. They would push more than seventy percent of the industrial establishments in the country and their workers out of the purview of almost all labour laws. The employers will get a free hand to further intensify their exploitation and squeeze down the workers.
Labour Laws –More Violated than Implemented
As is well known, labour laws in our country are more violated than implemented. This is the experience of workers in most of the workplaces across the country. More than sixty percent of the country’s workforce in the organised sector is denied even statutory minimum wages and social security benefits like PF and ESI. Contract workers under many nomenclatures are employed in permanent, perennial and continuous jobs in total violation of the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act. Even the government run establishments and departments are not free from this deplorable practice. Around 50% of workers in the public sector and 70% in the private sector are contract workers. Other laws pertaining to working hours, overtime work, safety at workplace etc are also being flagrantly violated. In many industrial and service units, 12 hours work without overtime wage has become the norm today. Even where overtime wages are paid, they are far below the statutory double rate wages.
In the background of the global crisis and the following gloom in our country’s economy, the entire burden is being passed on to the workers. Closures, lay off, shut downs have become widespread. Majority of them are, however, not officially reported. But even those officially reported figures are alarming. According to the official reports, more than 19% of the 13.70 lakh registered companies in the country have closed down by the end of December 2014. 56008 out of the 2.79 lakhs registered companies in Maharashtra, 41629 out of the 1.78 lakh registered companies in West Bengal and 41458 out of the 2.57 lakh registered companies in Delhi downed their shutters. Most of these closures/ shut downs and resultant retrenchments involving several middle and large enterprises are illegal. These include MNCs like Maruti Suzuki in Haryana, Nokia and Foxconn in Tamil Nadu, Jessop, Hind Motors, and several jute mills and tea gardens in West Bengal etc. Yet no action has been taken against any of these owners. They enjoy the blessings and patronage of the government.
Suppression of labour rights and inhuman loot and plunder of working people are integral parts of the neoliberal economic policy regime. Under these policies being implemented by successive governments at the centre during the last more than two decades, the share of wages in the industrial sector have been continuously declining from around 30% in 1982-83 to 12.9% in 2012-13 while the share of profits increased from around 20% to 50% during the same period, even while labour productivity has been continuously increasing. According to the Annual Report of the Labour Ministry, labour productivity in India measured in terms of GDP per person employed per hour is USD 4.17, i.e. around 250.20 or Rs 2000 per day. The extent of exploitation of the workers becomes glaringly visible when this is compared to the average statutory minimum wages prevalent in different states/ sectors.
Under neoliberal regime, a jungle raj is being unleashed at workplaces all over the country. It is not without reason that, today, more than ninety percent of disputes between employers and workers throughout the country relate to only implementation of labour laws and nothing else. In this twenty first century we are living in such an obnoxious situation in a so called civil society that workers face victimisation and oppression from both the employers and government when they agitate for implementation of laws passed by the Parliament!
It is to make the state sponsored violation of labour laws hassle free and smooth that the government seeks to curb and suppress trade unions using the state machinery. Forming trade unions and registering them are becoming increasingly difficult, even impossible in some states. Thousands of applications for registration of trade unions are gathering dust in the labour departments in almost all the states, in brazen violation of the Trade Union Act.
With the present BJP government coming to power at the centre, this has assumed an even more aggressive character. The labour law amendments and the bundling them together into Labour Codes are all measures to legalise what till today are legal violations and attacks on the hard won rights of the workers. This intention is sought to be masked with attractive slogans like ‘job creation’, ‘simplification’, ‘rationalisation’, ‘ease of doing business’, ‘attracting investment’ etc to deceive the gullible. It is not only necessary for the working class to understand the real nature of these labour law amendments and their implications on their working conditions. It is also necessary to expose the myths behind these slogans among the people and gain their support in the struggle against not only the anti worker labour law amendments but also the anti people neoliberal policies.
BJP government in Rajasthan leads the way
Rajasthan government all along had a very bad reputation about labour law enforcement. Thousands of complaints of violation of all labour laws, related to minimum wages, contract labour, PF, ESI, working hours, unlawful retrenchment etc have been piling up for years without any redressal in almost all the industrial areas in the state.
In August 2014, the BJP government in Rajasthan has amended the Industrial Disputes Act, Factories Act, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act and Apprentices Act. Several atrocious anti worker provisions have been incorporated in these amended Acts. The BJP led government at the centre has recommended these to all the state governments as a model to attract investments.
The amended Rajasthan Industrial Disputes Act empowers the employers to retrench workers at will, without prior permission of the government in all establishments employing up to 300 workers. It denies trade unions in any establishment the right to represent the grievances/demands of the workers unless they have at least 30% membership among the workers of the concerned establishment. Moreover, almost all provisions protecting the interests of contract labour, particularly the responsibility of the principal employer, have been removed. The definition of ‘go slow’ has been widened in the Act, enabling the employer to blame the workers for any failure in production or operation. In an overwhelming majority of industries in Rajasthan, the employers are now free to retrench the workers at their will; they can freely engage contract workers in permanent and perennial jobs and denying them all rights to statutory wages and social security; they are free to victimise workers as per their whims and fancies.
The amendments to Factories Act has increased the threshold limit of employment for the factories operating without power from 20 to 40; for the factories operating with power the threshold level has been raised from 10 to 20. Under the amended Act, the court cannot take cognisance of any complaint related to violation of law against the employer without prior written permission from the state government. On the other hand, punishments for violation of labour law have been relaxed. Thus changes a large number of factories and workers have been pushed out of the coverage of the Factories Act.
The amendments to Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act also follow the same line. All contractors employing up to 49 workers have been removed from the purview of its coverage. In effect, this means that almost all, if not all, contract workers are thrown out of the coverage of almost all labour laws. It also encourages the employers to convert the entire workforce in any establishment into contract workers.
The amendment to Apprenticeship Act provides scope for the employers to replace regular workers, even contract workers with apprentices by paying them only ‘stipend’, a small fraction of the wages and forcing them to work for several years without giving them the certificate.
In sum, these amendments to labour laws give the capitalist class total freedom to loot and exploit the workers. They are meant to legalise and legitimise all those attacks of the employers on workers which were till now against the law. They will establish a jungle raj at workplaces. As a result of these amendments, 7252 factories employing less than 300 workers each, out of total 7622 factories in Rajasthan come under the ‘hire & fire’ regime. All of the more than two lakhs contract workers are thrown out of the coverage of all labour laws including Contract Labour (R&A) Act. At least 70 per cent factories and their workers are removed from coverage of Factories Act.
Several other state governments including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana etc have followed in the footsteps of Rajasthan government and willingly implemented the recommendations of the government of India. They have passed the bills amending the labour laws and sent for the assent of the President. Several other state governments including in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh etc have announced their intentions to do the same.
Moves by the Central government
The BJP government at the centre has taken up labour law amendments as of topmost priority on the plea of attracting investment in its ‘Make in India’ campaign and climb up the ladder of ‘ease of doing business index’.
It has been posting its proposals to amend the labour laws in the website without any prior discussion with the trade unions. Two Acts – the Apprenticeship Act and the Labour Laws (Exemption from furnishing returns and maintaining of registers by certain establishments) have already been passed by the Parliament.
The government of India has already amended the Apprenticeship Act. The definition of ‘workers’, under the amended Act, has been changed to include contract workers, casual workers and daily rated workers. This allows deployment of more apprentices as a ratio (30%) of total workers in the establishment. It provides enhanced flexibility to the employers to decide new trades for apprentices. It encourages and facilitates the employers to replace contract/ casual/ temporary workers and even regular workers with comparatively low paid apprentices in the production process and thereby reduce the overall labour cost. The section providing the penalty of imprisonment for violation has been totally deleted. Penalty for violation is now limited to a fine of Rs 500. The impact of this amendment can be understood when we note that already the practice of using apprentices/ trainees in regular production jobs is widely prevalent including in major automobile companies like Maruti Suzuki.
This transfers all authority from the Central Council to the State Apprenticeship Council under the state governments. Practical shop floor level training of apprentices has been outsourced with a portion of the cost being borne by the government.
Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining of Registers by Certain Establishments) Amendment Bill 2011
The amended Act raises the threshold level employment from 19 to 40 for any establishment to be treated as small establishment. On the pretext of simplifying the procedures for filing returns and maintaining registers, the amended Act virtually exempts these establishments from 16 major labour laws including Factories Act, Payment of Wages Act, Minimum Wages Act, the Weekly Holidays Act, Plantation Labour Act, Contract Labour (R & A) Act, Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, the Payment of Bonus Act, the Equal Remuneration Act etc. At the present level of technology, large number of establishments having large capital investment and high level of turnover and profit employ less than 40 workers. According to some estimates, more than 72% of factories in the country will now find it much easier to violate all these 16 labour laws with impunity subjecting workers to more fierce exploitation.
Through amendment of section 56 of the Factories Act, the spread-over of time period within which a worker can be detained for getting his work for eight hours including lunch recess is proposed to be increased from 10.5 hours to 12 hours if state govt is so satisfied. As per existing provision increase of the spread-over from 10.5 hrs to 12 hrs could be done only when the Chief Inspector of factories would, giving specific reasons in writing, allow such increase. Such concurrence by Chief Inspector would naturally require due inspection process involving all concerned. Following the amendment, the State Govts can straightway increase the spread-over to 12 hrs without the concurrence of Inspector. Provision for ascertaining actual and technical necessity through inspection for increasing the spread-over to 12 hrs is replaced by “satisfaction of the state govt or in that matter the bureaucracy” making a bigger way for manipulation and manoeuvres by employers. Increase in spread- over would allow the employers to detain the workers longer hours in the workplace without any extra remuneration and will add to their harassment.
Through amendment of section 64 and 65, the existing limitation on overtime work of 50 hours per quarter has been straightway increased to 100 hours and through provision of exemptions by state govt through the Chief Inspector such overtime work can be extended to 125 hours in so called “public interest”. This amendment along with the enhancement of spread-over period will lead to harassment of workers and make way for victimisation. Secondly enhancement of overtime work will directly affect the employment generation as well as will enable the employer to economise in labour cost. Through amendment of section 66, restriction and regulation on deployment of woman workers in night shift is being sought to be liberalised and relaxed.
And the most retrograde of all above, is that the Amendment Bill proposed to empower the state governments to freely increase the threshold level employment, for the factory to be covered by Factories Act, subject to a ceiling of forty. Given the race between the states to attract investment, this is most likely to promote an ugly competition between the state governments to appease the capitalist lobby by pushing majority section of the workers out of the coverage of the labour laws.
What will be the implications of these changes for the workers? According to the Report of Annual Survey of Industries 2011 -1 2, published in 2014, 125301 factories, or 71.31% if the total 175710 factories in the country, employ less than 50 workers. Most of them employ less than 40 workers. All these factories and their workers would go out of the coverage of Factories Act due to the increase in threshold limit of employment. Thus overwhelming majority of the total 13429956 workers including 3610056 contract workers would be impacted by the amendments to the Factories Act.
The Small Factories and Other Establishments (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Services) Bill 2014
The BJP led government posted a Bill titled the Small Factories and Other Establishments (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Services) Bill 2014 in the Labour Ministry’s website. Later it was sent to the central trade unions for their comments. This was later followed with a tripartite discussion. CITU has totally rejected the proposal.
This bill is even more atrocious. Irrespective of usage of power or not, all the factories employing up to 40 workers are termed as small factories and pushed out of the purview of the Factories Act. Not only that. All the small factories so defined will also be out of purview of 14 basic labour laws viz., Factories Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, Payment of Wages Act, Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act, Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, Employees Provident Fund Act, Employees State Insurance Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Employees Compensation Act, Inter State Migrant Workmen( Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, Shops & Establishment Act, Child Labour(Prohibition & Regulation) Act etc. This means workers in the establishments employing up to 40, which constitute around 80% of country’s industrial workforce will be at the mercy of the employers in respect of every aspect of the working conditions and employment rights from working hours, safety, social security, trade union rights and grievance redressal, equal remuneration, maternity benefit, in short, they will be thrown into a condition of virtual slavery.
Latest Move of combining labour laws into Labour Code
Recently the government of India has started a process of comprehensive dismantling of whatever minimal protection the labour laws were providing to the workers. It may be remembered that the attempts to change the labour laws, particularly the Industrial Disputes Act, at the behest of the employers date back to the seventies and have been going on for decades now. These have intensified under the neoliberal regime. However the governments could not succeed till now because of the stiff resistance from the working class and the trade union movement.
Now the BJP led government has changed tack. Instead of attempting amendments to such basic individual laws as the Industrial Disputes Act which would evoke strong united resistance from all sections of the workers, it has decided to bundle up 44 labour laws into 5 Labour Codes under the pretext of rationalisation and simplification. Two such Labour Codes, the Labour Code on Wages bill and the Labour Code on Industrial Relations have been placed on public domain by the Labour Ministry. These aim to totally disarm the working class and prevent it from getting organised and fight for its rights. At the same time the employers are being gifted with more powers to exploit the workers and suppress any resistance.
Labour Code on Wages Bill
This Bill seeks to combine four wage related legislations viz., Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act and Equal Remuneration Act into one labour code.
It is aimed at converting the law virtually into a toothless piece of legislation making enforcement and implementation casuality. The concept of inspection for the purpose of enforcement has been given a go-bye as inspectors will be replaced by facilitators. The facilitators shall conduct inspection only in accordance with the scheme notified by the appropriate government from time to time. Thus the binding character of the provisions of inspection/enforcement mechanism is totally diluted making other provisions of the law practically meaningless to workers. Some of other retrograde features of proposed wage code bill are the following:
The Equal Remuneration Act has been totally diluted to restricting gender discrimination only to payment of wages, doing away with other types of discrimination related to recruitment, conditions of service such as promotion, vocational training etc.
Having ratified ILO convention no 111 it is obligatory for the government of India to end discrimination in respect of wages and conditions of service between different sets of workers doing same or equal value of work. In the face of massive contractorisation at the workplaces, this issue is most crucial for the hundreds of lakhs of contract workers across the country. The wage code bill should have made provisions for ending such discrimination. Instead, the government is going ahead just in the opposite direction to further aggravate such discrimination. Amendments to Contract Labour (R&A) Act in the same lines as the Rajasthan and other state governments will deny all contract workers in the private sector and large sections in PSUs the coverage of almost all labour laws. The employees in more than 80% of factory establishments and more than 90% workforce in the services sector will be totally under the tyranny of the employers’ class.
The definition of employer and employee and also ‘competent authority’ in the proposed wage code bill is vague giving room for misinterpretation to the disadvantage of the workers.
The concept of schedule of industries/establishments has been done away with in the proposed wage code bill. Does it mean that the minimum wages, to be decided by either state or central government, will be the same for all industries? There is no answer. Further, according to the bill, minimum wages will be decided by the state government. Does it mean that the responsibility of minimum wages, so long vested with the government of India in respect of certain sectors ensuring a national level uniformity, will now be transferred to state governments? If so, what will happen to national level parity of wages so long prevalent in these sectors? The bill remains totally vague on these aspects.
The bill provides for advisory boards for recommending minimum wage, which appears not to be mandatory. But it is totally silent on the consensus recommendation of the 44th Indian Labour Conference on minimum wages. The 44th ILC reiterated the formula for fixing minimum wages as recommended by the 15th Indian Labour Conference along with direction of Supreme Court in Raptakos & Brett case. For the sake of fairness and propriety, this wage fixation formula should have been incorporated in the Wage Code Bill. But this government, committed as it is, to the employers and corporates shamelessly and deliberately ignored this aspect. Wage fixation has been left totally to the arbitrary discretion of the state governments.
Governments have also been vested with the power to make any changes in the time limit for payment of wages. The draconian provision for deducting eight days wages for one-day strike has been retained in the proposed bill, if the strike is considered illegal by the government. And, no strike can ever be legal, if the proposals made in the Labour Code on Industrial Relations are enacted.
The right of the workers or their unions to question the accuracy of the balance sheet of the company or demand clarifications, to ascertain ‘allocable surplus’ while bargaining for bonus above the minimum level, which is available in the present Bonus Act is totally done away with in the proposed labour code on wages. It also empowers the employers not to enclose any information contained in the balance sheet, if they so want. This is nothing but abrogation of workers’ right to collective bargaining in respect of bonus by the government.
Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill
This bill merges three existing Acts - Trade Unions Act 1926, Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946, and the Industrial Disputes Act 1947.
The basic purpose is to provide a comprehensive instrument for the employers’ class to suppress the workers, drastically curb workers’ rights to protest and agitate and press for their grievances, to prune trade union rights to the extent of making it almost impossible even to form a trade union. It is nothing but a direct affront on the rights to freedom of associations and collective bargaining as envisaged in the ILO core conventions no 87 and 98. It is a blatant attempt by this government to ensure a trade union free workplace for its corporate masters.
According to this code on industrial relations, it is necessary for a trade union to have 10% of the workers in an establishment or industry or 100 workers, whichever is less, as applicants for registration. Although it provides for granting of registration of union within 60 days from the date of receipt of the application subject to application being in order, it vests wide discretionary powers with the Registrar under section 10 of the bill to grant or not to grant or reject registration. Wide powers have also been vested with the registrar for cancellation of registration of any trade union.
All the office bearers of the trade unions in the organised sector must be persons actually working in that industry. No outsider is allowed. Here office bearer means committee member also. As per existing law, one third of the office bearers could be non-worker organisers/whole-timers. For unorganised sector, not more than two non-worker/whole-timers (instead of existing 50% of the committee members) will be allowed to become office bearer of the union. Any office bearer of a registered trade union could be disqualified if he or she is already office bearer of 10 unions. Office bearers of trade union can also be disqualified by Industrial Tribunal but criteria of such decision by Industrial Tribunal has not been spelt out giving scope for arbitrary decision.
Despite so many restrictions in formation of trade union in an establishment, granting of recognition and negotiating right to the trade union continues to remain the absolute prerogative of the employer. The demand of the trade unions for making recognition of trade union mandatory in all establishments has been totally ignored.
Right to hire and fire has been given to employer in all establishments employing up to 300 workers. In these establishments, employers are not required to take prior permission of the government for retrenching workers or closing down establishments. This means more than 90 per cent of the workforce in the factory sector and almost all the contract workers in manufacturing sector will come under ‘hire and fire’ regime. They will be at the mercy of the employers in respect to their employment. This will ultimately impact all other lawful rights of the workers. The employers can ignore or deny these rights as per their sweet will.
The retrenchment compensation, of course, is proposed to be enhanced to 45 days per year of service rendered. But this means nothing to a worker losing his livelihood owing to the lust for profit of the employer. Even in establishments employing more than 300, the appropriate government has been vested with all powers to exempt them from their obligation of taking prior permission for retrenchment and closure. Can criminality go any further?
This labour code on industrial relations also empowers the employers to unilaterally change the service conditions of the workers. They are required to give 21 days’ notice for making such change which is provided by the existing Act also. What is new in this bill is that after 21 days, the employers can unilaterally impose those changes even during the pendency of conciliation proceedings in the labour department or case in Tribunal on those changes based on disputes raised by the union/worker.
The bill imposes several restrictions amounting to virtual ban on strikes and collective agitations by the workers. The right to strike and collective agitation by the workers will be snatched away. As per existing Act, workers/unions are required to give 14/21 days notice for going on strike in public utility services. According to this bill, six weeks’ notice is required to be served before going on strike in all establishments whether public utility services or not. Conciliation proceedings will be deemed to have started on the date on which strike notice is received by the conciliation officer, irrespective of whether conciliation has been called by him or not. Workers cannot go for strike during pendency of conciliation proceeding and up to seven days after conclusion of conciliation. This makes it virtually impossible for the workers and their unions to go on a legal strike. The Bill also proposes to introduce ban on agitations like go-slow, demonstration etc during pendency of conciliation proceedings. Definition of strike has also been arbitrarily extended for casual leave availed by fifty percent or more workers in the establishment.
Huge penalties ranging from Rs 20000 to Rs 50000 or imprisonment of one month or both are sought to be imposed on workers for participating in a so called illegal strike. Incitation or helping a strike action too attracts a huge fine ranging from Rs 25000/- to Rs 50000/- or one month imprisonment or both.
While retaining the employers’ prerogative to recognise or not to recognise the union or negotiate with it on issues that have been raised, the bill severely restricts the workers’ right to access justice through adjudication/ tribunal etc. According to the section 95 (4) of the bill, workers’ side would be entitled to legal representation in any proceedings before a tribunal, only with the consent of the employers. As per section 95(3), no party to a dispute shall be entitled to be represented by a legal practitioner in any conciliation proceedings or in proceedings before a court. These restrictions are only designed to put the workers and their unions into difficulty.
Restrictions are imposed on the Tribunal itself in the matter wording their awards. Section 70 of the bill provides that the award of the Tribunal shall not contain any information obtained in the course of investigation or enquiry which is not available otherwise than through evidence given before the Tribunal, if the firm or company in question has made a request in writing to that effect. This, while intruding upon the Right to Information, would also create problem for the workers and their unions to fight the case of appeal against the award of the Tribunal in higher court. Further, section 58 restricts the power of Tribunal in the case on discharge/dismissal of workers only to rely on materials on record and debarred to take any fresh evidence in relation to the matter.
On the other hand, numerous provisions have been incorporated on almost every aspect of industrial relations to empower the appropriate governments to exempt the employers from whatever minimum obligations they have even under the changed laws. For example, section 97 says that if the appropriate government is satisfied that adequate provisions exist for investigation and settlement of disputes within the establishment, it may exempt the establishment from any obligations under the changed law. The government can also exempt any establishment from the obligation of giving 60 days’ notice for the closure and of providing compensation of 45 days’ per year of service rendered for closure/ retrenchment and allow payment of only 3 months’ pay. The government can also exempt even establishments employing more than 300 workers from observance of procedures/ formalities/ obligations required under the law. However, no consideration of any sort is shown for workers and trade unions.
This is how the present BJP led government seeks to push the workers who produce the wealth of the nation and revenue for the exchequer into slavery. If this government is not unashamedly corporate servile, what is?
The Labour Ministry has called two formal tripartite meetings to discuss these labour codes. All the central trade unions have unanimously rejected the proposals, while the government and the employers’ organisations have ganged up as usual in support.
Onslaught on PF and ESI
The social security rights of the workers provided under the EPF and ESI Acts are also not spared by the present government, which is determined to demolish and destroy these to favour the market forces.
Without even consulting the EPFO, the Finance Minister announced in his Budget speech that Rs 6000 crores from EPF fund would be utilised for general old age pension, which is totally unlawful as EPF funds can only be utilised for the benefit of EPF subscribers. He also announced government’s intention to make EPF optional in favour of the New Pension System designed to utilise pension funds for speculation in stock market. Even before this years’ budget is presented to the Parliament, the Finance Ministry notified diversion of minimum 5% and up to 15% PF accumulation to stock market totally ignoring the unanimous opposition from the entire workers’ group in the Central Board of Trustees. Now the government has proposed to amend the EPF Act to make EPF scheme optional for workers in favour of New Pension Scheme. While all the trade unions rejected the proposals, the employers’ group totally supported the project of looting the hard earned life time savings of the workers.
Similarly the government has mooted a proposal to amend the ESI Act to make ESI optional in favour of medical insurance. In their eagerness to benefit the employers’ class the government totally ignored the fact that ESI not only offers comprehensive medical benefits to the enrolled workers and their dependents but also provides other benefits like cash benefits in times of physical distress due to sickness, temporary or permanent disability, and confinement for insured women. Dependents of insured persons who die in industrial accidents, employment injuries or occupational hazards are entitled to monthly pension under ESI. Whereas, medical insurance provides medical benefits only for in patient treatment for the insured person limited to the insured amount, ESI provides full medical benefits including out patient treatment to the subscriber workers and their dependents for a nominal subscription.
The main purpose behind these evil designs is to provide business to the private insurance companies that have mushroomed owing to the opening up of the insurance sector to private players, both national and foreign, under the neoliberal policy regime. This was affected by amending the Insurance Act. One misdeed is promoting another, in the process putting the social security protection of lakhs of workers at stake.
Deceptive ploy of Announcement of Social Security Scheme for Unorganised Sector
While aggressively pursuing their project for dismantling the entire labour legislation and enforcement machinery, meant for mainly the organized sector establishments, the government has been unscrupulously trying to project itself as pro labour by announcing some welfare and pension schemes for unorganised sector workers with great fan fare. It has announced three such schemes, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Atal Pension Yojana with media blitzkrieg. Despite carrying the tags of Prime Minister and the name of a former Prime Minister, the schemes are all contributory without any financial support from the government. There is no implementation machinery. And what are the schemes? Atal Pesion Yojana is the old Swabalamban scheme introduced during the UPA-II regime with pension guaranteed depending upon the contribution of the worker. Likewise, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana are modifications of already existing Aam Admi Bima Yojana. It is now expected that the new schemes will replace the earlier schemes. None of those earlier schemes could cover even an insignificant segment of 45 crore unorganised sector workers. In a span of 8 years, the Rastriya Swayasthya Bima Yojana could register only around 3.85 crore people, majority of who are from the unionised segments of unorganised workers like construction, private transport etc. Efficacy of these new schemes to benefit the unorganised sector workers are yet to be seen.
Lie Campaign to Befool People
The irony is that such inhuman attacks on the working people are being sought to be justified by the government through a total lie campaign putting Goebbels to shame. It is being claimed that these changes in labour laws would attract investment and generate employment. This in essence means that giving total liberty to retrench workers will encourage the employers to employ more. This has no basis and is contrary to all available evidence. The reality is just the opposite. As has already been mentioned, labour laws in our country are more violated than implemented. Despite this, during last three decades, employment growth rate in organised sector continued to remain negligible. The period 2005-2010 witnessed the highest GDP growth rate at 8.5% annually on an average. But employment growth rate collapsed from 2.7% during 2000 – 2005 to mere 0.7% during 2005 - 10.
During the entire three decades long neoliberal policy regime, the productivity of labour in organised sector has consistently increased. But their share as wages has gone down consistently in real terms. Along with this, the number of regular employment in organised sector consistently declined. The number in the unorganised sector has been consistently increasing reaching almost 90 per cent of the total workforce in the country. What is more alarming is that the permanent workers in the organised sector are increasing being replaced by contract and temporary workers with working conditions similar to those in the unorganised sector. This indicates that the employers in the organised sector have been seeking to drastically cut down on their labour costs to maximise their profits even in the midst of the economic slow down. They have been shifting to informal low paid employment taking advantage of the unemployment among skilled and young workforce in the country.
But there is a limit to manage the slowdown and economic gloom when impoverishment among the mass of populace got widened and deepened. So despite a low-wage scenario throughout the country, manufacturing sector’s growth started dipping since last couple of years reaching a negative figure in the last quarter of the last financial year. This phenomenon explodes the myth that ‘hire & fire’ regime and suppression of labour will lead to increase in employment.
This is the reality. Not only India, but the entire world is witnessing the same phenomenon. The World Employment Report published by ILO had once observed that the empirical evidences of employment scenario show that the countries with higher labour flexibility do not have any brighter performance in employment generation either. Subsequent ILO observations year after year confirmed the same reality. Hence the lie campaign justifying the move for retrograde pro employer amendments in labour laws by the Govt totally exposes their servility to the interests of corporate/big business, both domestic and foreign.
In fact, such all out onslaught on the working class and the bid to impose slavery on them is integral to corporate sectors’ desperate bid to tackle the deepening crisis the entire capitalist system is engulfed in; the present right-wing Govt in the centre, as the most subservient instrument of the corporate lobby, both domestic and foreign, is operating in that direction to perpetrate loot on peoples’ livelihood and national assets and to weaken the working class movement through such all out onslaught on workers’ rights and livelihood. What could not be done during last six decades in respect of pro-employer amendment in labour laws is being sought to be achieved by the Narendra Modi Govt in one year’s time. Working class movement is being targeted to facilitate hurdles-free crime on people and the nation.
United Combat –the Need of the Hour
These atrocious attacks on the working people of the country, who create wealth and build the nation, on whose labour rests the profit of the employers should be combated resolutely. The lie campaign by the stooges of the capitalist class, the anti worker character of the neoliberal policies and the politics behind these policies must be thoroughly exposed.
It is to resist and repulse these attacks on the working class that the united trade union movement gave the call for a countrywide general strike on 2nd September 2015. This strike must act as a strong warning to the BJP led government that the working class of the country, which has a great history of struggles and sacrifices, is not going to let these attacks pass. In its fight against the attacks on its basic rights the working class has to seek and gain the support of all sections of the people. Resistance to atrocious design of the corporate-servile Govt to accelerate the loot on the workers, on the people, on the national assets and the nation as a whole must be heightened by rallying mass of the people in such resistance struggle.