Workers Lives Should Matter
Labour Codes Cannot be in the Service of Employers
Public Assets Cannot be Handed Over to Private Players
Workers lives do matter. Workers who toil at the construction sites in the cities and towns and at the myriads of the industrial estates and projects in the country were pushed out of jobs during the lockdown and many have no work even today. They were pushed out of their shelters as a result and had to walk to their villages. Some walked to their death. In fact workers were victims of the ill-planned lockdown. A huge part of this workforce in the villages or those who have returned cannot eke out a livelihood. The hamals, who do the work of loading and unloading in the various market yards, transportation centres were out of work in the lockdown period that meant a life without income. Most, without whom goods cannot reach the markets, are jobless thereby meaning wageless. Many auto-rickshaw workers fled the cities to their villages as they had lost work during this period and consequently unable to bear the burden of paying rents. The self employed have been pushed out of their works. Five months into the lockdown millions of workers who eke out livelihood in the unorganized sectors of the economy live in deplorable conditions. MSMEs employ around 11 crores of workers in the country and have been the worst hit in the lockdown. Many have not opened and the workers are jobless. There are cases where managements of factories and establishments refused to pay wages for March, April. In some cases workers are on 25% or half the salary. It is estimated that over 12.2 crores lost jobs in this period adding to the already existing army of unemployed. The ILO estimated that some 40 crore people ran the risk of being pushed into poverty. While the corporate sector is given a slew of concessions by the Modi government running into lakhs of crores of rupees, it does not respond to the sustenance needs of these jobless, wageless workers. IFTU demands a cash transfer of Rs 10000/month for the next six months to these needy workers.
While the lockdown has created havoc in the lives of the various segments of the workers, the pandemic has come in handy to the government to aggressively push through its pro-corporate, anti-people reforms agenda, including labour reforms. The Union Minister for Labour declared that 2020 will be the year of labour reforms. These are “reforms” which go against the interests of the working class and lends full freedom to employers. While the process of these reforms had begun long time back it has picked up momentum in the last six years with the compression of 44 labour laws in the country to four labour codes. The Code on Wages was notified in August last year. To bring this into force the central government recently issued the Draft Rules. Both the Code and the Rules are not in consonance with the needs of the workers but serve the interests of the employers. Determining the criteria for fixation of minimum wage, allocating a mere 10% of expenditure of food and clothing towards house rent are flawed. Dismantling the inspections system by labour officers who will now be called facilitators and replacing it with web-based self certification scheme will in effect protect violations by employers. Employers flouting laws can now be free from any penalties. The most important piece of labour reforms is the Code on Industrial Relations which is going to be tabled in the winter session of the parliament. Since long the World Bank, the corporate in India and the MNCs have been demanding changes in the law pertaining to industrial relations. They have been demanding freedom to realize labour market flexibility, as if they did not have despite the existing industrial and trade union laws. The present IR Code grants this demand for freedom. State governments can increase the threshold for retrenchments from 100 to 300 as has been done in some states. The employers can now fire workers without having to seek permission from the government and close down factories at their will. The IR Code contains another demand of the employers for bringing certain legitimate protest actions into the ambit of strike like go-slow, mass casual leave. The 13 laws including the CLARA that have been subsumed into the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions has more benefits given to the employer than to the workers. While CLARA laid responsibility of maintaining registers and records on employers and contractors, the same is eliminated in the Code. In short, all the Codes that have done away with 44 labour laws are changes in favour of the employers and they imperil workers rights. These are in tune with the government slogan of “ease of doing business”. 2020 should be the year of intensified struggles of the working class against the policies of the BJP government that are responsible for its worsening conditions.
The country”s economic resources, public assets are up for sale at discount rates. For developing the economy and generating employment foreign capital in every sphere of life is an imperative need, say the rulers. We will continue to shout aloud about Atmanirbhar, but don’t worry about our dependence on foreign capital, say the rulers. Public assets in the form of public sector companies are being handed over to private players since the World Bank, foreign and domestic corporate say that businesses or economic reins should not be in the hands of the government. So give them away on a platter to them. That is what the government is doing. Look, what our Finance Minister said in May while announcing the financial package. She said all non-strategic PSUs will be privatized and strategic PSUs excepting four will also be privatized. Railways and rail routes have come under the axe of privatization. Profitable PSUs like the BPCL, SAIL, Shipping Corporation etc are out for privatization. Why are they handing over PSUs to the foreign and native corporate? Is it that they are running in losses and have turned white elephants? It is simply a policy to do so in the economic reforms package and has nothing to do with the profit or loss account of the PSUs. Otherwise why will a PSU like BPCL, a Maharatna Company, a huge jewel according to the government, come under privatization. A company that has earned some 35000crores as profit and that paid a tax of 19603 crores and 9000 crores as dividend to the government is for sale. On the other hand the government gives concessions to the corporate to the tune of 1lakh40crores. Should this loot of PSUs coupled with more and more contractualization of workforce be allowed? The wealth of the country cannot be transferred to the big capitalists and this process has to be resisted.
Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)