ON May 26, the Modi government enters its second year. Without any doubt, one can assert that this government has created a record for its assault on the rights of the working people of this country. In its eagerness to satisfy the investors – foreign and Indian – the offensive against the hard won rights of the working people had begun in right earnest. The modus operandi has been to chant Shrameva Jayate (victory to labour) and attack the workers.
It is now a three pronged attack. The “Reform Cell” of the labour department of the Government of India, on the one hand is busy churning out amendments to labour laws - Factory Act, Apprentices Act, EPF Act, ESI Act and so on, apart from creating a new law for small Industries. On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s Office directs all the states to follow the BJP’s Rajasthan government on labour law amendments, where almost all the major laws have been amended and the Government of India has given its assent for all these amendments made to these central laws.
Many states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have gone ahead with their own amendments. Some of them are in such a hurry that they want to proclaim ordinances on amendments to labour laws, in one go. And for this, they are getting prior consent from the Government of India. The ‘commitment’ of the Madhya Pradesh government to the employer class is such that even the Government of India could not accept certain proposals from them. 38 amendments in seventeen central laws are to be made through ordinances and except for two, all have been approved by the Government of India. Three state laws are also in the list of proposed amendments.
It needs no emphasis that all these amendments are made to make it easy for the investors and to ‘liberate’ them from the hassles of trade unionism. The actual words used by the MP government in a power point presentation is – “Amendments mainly deal with the Nuisance of Inspectors and Nuisance of Trade Unions”. Another example is that the explanatory note on amendment to facilitate easy retrenchment of workers says - by giving two months notice instead of one month, worker will get more time to seek alternate jobs!
While proposing a ban on ‘outsiders’ to be office bearers of unions, the MP government says, ‘workers would not be exploited by outsiders in the name of union funds’.
These are only a few examples of the BJP government’s ‘care and sympathy’ for workers. The Rajasthan chief minister says all the amendments to labour laws are not aimed at workers, but for creation of employment! She pats herself for this push for reforms in a recent interview to a daily.
The third phase of the trident of attack is the project of codification of labour laws! There are 44 central labour laws. All these labour laws are to be amalgamated into five codes – on wages; industrial relations; social security; health and safety and working conditions.
The code on wages amalgamates Minimum Wages Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Payment of Bonus Act.
Suffice it to say that even after all the amendments, there is no clause to fix a scientific minimum wage in the country! In the tripartite discussion on these proposals, one senior labour department official from UP had to openly comment that these amendments are being proposed without understanding the reality at the ground level.
Now, the second code has been proposed as a Bill on Industrial Relations. Here, Trade Union Act, Industrial Disputes Act and Standing Order Acts are amalgamated.
In total, these proposals make the registration of a union almost impossible, bans non-workers to be leaders of unions in organised sector, limits number of non-workers to two for unorganised sector unions, takes out large majority of industrial workers out of the purview of labour legislations, makes almost all strikes illegal and imposes severe fine and punishment for such strikes.
In total, these amendments are furthering the attacks on the fundamental rights of workers and their trade union functioning.
Here also, there is no provision for recognition of trade unions or for ensuring the rights of collective bargaining. These proposals are against natural justice, fundamental democratic rights, International Conventions of ILO and also against decisions of highest tripartite committees of the country.
In a tripartite meeting chaired by the central labour minister, all the trade unions vehemently opposed these proposals as being one sided, hasty and against all norms. On the other side, employers heartily welcoming ‘the much delayed action from the government’, noted that the government seems to be in haste and the clauses require close scrutiny and finetuning so as to avoid future problems!
In such a situation, the minister has decided to form a sub-committee of two each from the three sides to go into the clauses, within 15 days and to discuss it again in the tripartite meeting.
As we all know, it is not only amending the labour laws. The much trumpeted Social Security Schemes in the country like EPF and ESI are in effect being dismantled. EPF subscribers are being given an option to shift to NPS (National Pension Scheme) which in no way is a pension scheme. Those in ESI are given option for insurance policies. EPF money is being taken to share market. The finance minister, in his budget speech, announced an appropriation of Rs 6000 crores from EPF corpus, to form a Senior Citizens Social Security Scheme!
As far as other sections of workers and schemes of social benefits are concerned, there is a severe reduction of allotment of funds. For the anganwadi (ICDS) it is more than 50 per cent and the MGNREGA is almost getting killed. Various schemes in health, education, women and child welfare – all are under attack.
All these are being implemented at a time when working people face serious attacks at their work places and also on their livelihood. It is not only the workers, but the peasantry also, who are up in arms against the new Land Acquisition Bill. With fall in the prices of agricultural produces and increasing indebtedness, suicides by the rural working people are increasing day by day.
Meanwhile all the Central Trade Unions have jointly called a National Convention in New Delhi on May 26 to decide upon further untied actions including countrywide General strike. This will be in continuation to the December 5, 2014 and February 26, 2015 demonstrations and protest actions. Many agitations, independently and jointly have also taken place including the two-day strike of 2.25 lakhs of BSNL employees and executives and the countrywide strike by more than 2 crores of road transport workers on April 30.
Modi government is hell bent to attack the working people to subserve the interests of their masters, the corporates and investors. Working people all over the country are also tightening their belts to fight back.
Yes, the coming days are going to be the days of intensified class struggles against the pro-corporate, pro-monopoly, anti-working people policies of the ruling class.