Government has taken the labour organisations into confidence recently, thus legislations lying idle have resurrected and speeded up their pace. Such a basket of pro labour reforms is something unique in the recent history of labour, probably after Dr Ambedkar’s period, writes the BMS national president
B ringing changes in Labour scenario had always been a tough task with every Government not only in India but in many other countries too. Since the advent of Globalisation, labour reforms, as a part of economic reforms, had become more contentious. The present Government also had to undergo turbulent times in the labour sector since its inception. There was problem in gauging the mindset of workers for want of proper labour advisors. At a later stage when the problem was realised, it became a game changer with the labour having a sigh of relief. Today Government has outperformed in the labour sector, thanks to the constant “Sangharsh and Samvad” approach of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) towards the Government. Now there are great expectations from the present Modi Government, since it had excelled the previous Governments in showering benefits to the world of work.
BMS Anganwadi workers Felicitating Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Looking at the hundred years’ history of labour in the India, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’ period can be termed as the golden period. Dr Ambedkar was India’s first Labour Minister in Viceroy’s council for a short period from 1942 to 1946. He was not only the maker of India’s Constitution, but was also the architect of India’s labour law reforms.
It was Dr Ambedkar who brought in the 8-hour working per day to India, bringing it down from 14 hours. ‘Minimum Wages Act’ was Dr Ambedkar’s contribution. ‘Dearness Allowance’ (DA), ‘Leave Benefit’, ‘Revision of Scale of Pay’ etc. are due to Dr Ambedkar. Dr Ambedkar framed many laws for women workers in India such as ‘Mines Maternity Benefit Act’, ‘Women Labour Welfare Fund’, ‘Women and Child Labour Protection Act’, ‘Maternity leave Benefit for Women Labour’ and ‘Restoration of Ban on Employment of Women on Underground Work in Coal Mines’. He has also contributed to the shaping of Employees State Insurance Act, Employees Provident Fund Act, Industrial disputes Act and Factories act. If workers can go on strike for their rights, it was because of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The new Labour Code on Wages presented in the parliament is historic and revolutionary in the sense, the last worker in the country will get a right to minimum wages. This if properly implemented, will not only change the face of Indian labour, but also will bring India’s sizable deserving population above the poverty line
BMS envisions a situation in which the interests of the nation, industry and workers should be protected equally and all the three should progress together. But the policy atmosphere in the country has never been congenial for such a holistic approach. It has become a religious faith for the successive policy makers that industrial empire can be built only on the graveyard of workers’ rights. This has prepared a battle ground in which BMS has to lead a constant struggle. Policy makers have no confidence to have consultation with stake holders before decisions are made. This had been a governance issue in India. One example is that we want a business ecosystem where any business can be started within 24 hours in India. But can the environmental, safety, health and labour protection be sacrificed? Hence there needs to have a system where the stake holders sit together and work out a golden mean to make the compliance system fast and user friendly. A beautiful blending of interests of all stakeholders has to be achieved. “Sustainable enterprises” in industry as well as “decent work” for workers are the two inseparable pillars of the paradigm which ILO (International Labour Organisation) wants to establish in the world of work. Can India move in such a direction? Our policy makers still need to re-shape their thought process towards such an integral approach, which Pt Deendayal Upadhyay dreamt in social relations.
BMS Asha workers felicitating Prime Minister Narendra Modi for increase of wages
The initial problems of the Government in the labour sector fortunately got corrected to a considerable extent in recent days. Of late, labour has many things to be happy about. Labour in India had benefitted from a change of direction in labour policy. The unilateral anti-labour reform process was stalled when the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi himself assured during Indian Labour Conference that changes in labour laws will be brought about only after consulting with Trade Unions and other stake holders. This has been a great relief for all those who were worried about labour.
The Calculation ceiling as well as eligibility ceiling in Bonus Act has been doubled after a long time. Maternity benefit has been more than doubled from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Gratuity payment ceiling has been doubled from Rs 10 lakhs to 20 lakhs which is a great relief for retiring employees. Minimum wages have been revised in many Central sectors and the bottom line has been increased from Rs 246 to Rs 333/350 per day. This was done at a time when CPM ruled Tripura State has fixed country’s lowest minimum wages at Rs 75 per day. ESI eligibility ceiling was raised from Rs 15,000 to Rs 21,000. ESI beneficiaries were given benefit of an additional dispensary at their native place also. This is highly beneficial to the family members of the migrant worker who live in a remote village, mostly in another state. Ayushman Bharat is the largest health insurance scheme in the world benefitting the marginalised people.
Under EPF one major issue during UPA regime was regarding pension. Beneficiaries were getting pension as low as Rs 15 per month. Present Government fixed it at a minimum of Rs 1000 and now working on it to make it Rs 3000. The minimum assured insurance also had been raised from Rs 2.5 lakhs to Rs 6 lakhs under EDLI scheme. EPF Organisation has decided to open offices in every district in the country for better disbursal.
Anganwadi workers, mostly women were jubilant to get their central share of honorarium raised from Rs 3500 to Rs 4500. Honorarium of mini Aganwadi has been raised from Rs 2250 to Rs 3500 and that of helper from Rs 1500 to Rs 2200. Similarly for Asha workers, performance based incentive has been doubled from Rs. 1000 to Rs 2000. In addition, all these categories will be getting a total insurance coverage of Rs 3 lakhs. The Mid day Meal workers will also get their cooking charges increased by Rs 2 per day per child. The long pending demand of the neglected Gramin Dak Sevaks in Postal service to implement Kamalesh Chandra Report was met by the Central Government. They will be getting wages increased upto 4 times, together with ex-gratia and gratuity increased from Rs 60,000 to Rs 5 lakhs and group insurance from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakhs.
One demand of the Trade Unions jointly was that the Labour Departments, both in the central and state sphere, are refusing to register Trade unions. Hence the Central Government has given direction through a notification to all in Central sphere as well as to State Governments that registration of unions shall be deemed to have taken place after 45 days of applying for registration. Government has taken bold steps to ban all child labour below 14 years and all hazardous labour below 18 years with two exceptions. Further it has also ratified concerned ILO Convention No. 182 after a long time. This convention is considered as a Core Convention out of nearly 187 ILO conventions. Indian Government was congratulated openly in ILO conference in Geneva. Government’s digital initiatives have benefitted the workers when payment of wages is made compulsory through bank accounts and portability of benefits across the country is implemented.
The Trade Unions and policy makers in the country were worried about the fact that at present only about 7% of the total 50 crore working population is benefitted by the Minimum Wages Act. The new Labour Code on Wages presented in the parliament is historic and revolutionary in the sense, the last worker in the country will get a right to minimum wages. This if properly implemented, will not only change the face of Indian labour, but also will bring India’s sizable deserving population above the poverty line. Similarly the Labour Code on Social Security is also another historic and revolutionary legislation which ensures about 14 benefits to the last worker in the country. Sadly such a legislation is mixed with some controversial provisions. Government’s golden chance of creating another milestone was delayed because it needs better equipped policy and legislative machinery that can move faster. Government has taken BMS into confidence recently, thus legislations lying idle have resurrected and speeded up their pace.
Such a basket of pro labour reforms is something unique in the recent history of labour, probably after Dr Ambedkar’s period. Indian labour has everything to be jubilant over it. This has trapped the Communist unions while declaring a National strike that they were groping in the dark to find out genuine demands.
But the irony is that the aura created by an image of anti labour face in the initial pace is still haunting the Government thanks to the shortfalls in its propaganda machinery. Government needs to strengthen its propaganda machinery so that the recent dynamics of pro-labour reforms can reach the people. BMS considers that the changing face of labour is due to the success of its approach of “Sangharsh and Samvad” towards the Government.
When the Communist led Kerala Government has legislated anti worker Head load Worker amendment Act, brought through ordinance route without the mandatory consultation with Trade Unions the Shop Act that increased working hours of women, continue to implement Fixed term employment without any beneficial protection, not implementing Central direction for compulsory registration of Unions within 45 days etc., the Communist Trade Unions are helplessly supporting such moves. No other Central trade union in the country had ever played such a creative role as done by BMS benefitting the labour when their friends are in Government. Still this is not the end of history and many things are yet to be achieved. The lifeline of Trade Union movement is constant struggle. Hence the current decade will continue to be a decade of struggle for BMS.
(The writer is national president of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)