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Don’t bulldoze workers’ rights in India

Trade unions in India protested Friday 2 August against the Modi 2.0 government’s plans to worsen workers’ rights. In the name of rationalizing industrial relations laws, the government is levelling down workers’ rights and institutionalizing poverty pay, all in the interests of multinational enterprises. Following mass protests since the beginning of the year against Modi’s proposals, Indian unions have responded with unprecedented unity to the new government’s plans. They were announced in the 2019 budget put forward by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the beginning of July.

As the Rajya Sabha passed the Code on Wages, 12 Central Trade Unions held protest across the country demanding the Centre to withdraw the proposed Labour Codes. Terming the four proposed codes anti-labour, the trade unions alleged that the Bills are being passed without any tripartite negotiations with trade unions, chambers of commerce and the governments. At a demonstration here, trade union leaders said the two codes, which are in Parliament now, will ‘drastically curtail’ workers’ rights.

They said the bills are an attack on the interests of the workers. “Central Labour Minister has brushed aside the Indian Labour Conference formula on calculation of wages and the Supreme Court’s decision to add 25 per cent to it . He announced the minimum wages at ₹4,628 per month or ₹178 per day, even when the Seventh Pay Commission had recommended minimum wages of ₹18,000 per month in January 2016”.

The leaders also said that the code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions be applicable only for workplaces with 10 or more workers. Ninety per cent workers who work in the unorganised sector, on contracts or in home-based production, will get no rights in this legislation.

Expressing concern that the existing 13 labour laws will be subsumed in the two codes, the trade unions said: “Passed between 1948 to 1996, these laws regulated the working conditions in sales promotion, mines, bidi, construction, journalists and newspaper employees, migrant workers, and contract workers. These laws were a result of the prolonged struggle of the workers of these sectors and they gave emphasis to the specificities of various sectors. The unions alleged that there is a conspiracy to take away the right to work for eight hours and give the power to the State governments and the Centre to set working hours.

As well as calling for the proposals to be withdrawn and a higher national minimum wage, the unions are calling for a halt to privatization, and the creation of more and better jobs by increasing demand in the economy through higher pay, rather than attracting multinational enterprises by slashing labour protections.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “The global trade union movement supports the Indian unions in demanding that democracy works for working people. We stand for dignity not exploitation, and we are side-by-side with our affiliates in India who are standing up for workers’ rights in every workplace, a national minimum wage that people can actually live on, and a new social contract for every worker.

“The world is watching whether Modi’s government can override basic principles of social justice and decent work, so the struggle of our Indian sisters and brothers is our struggle too.

“Over 90% of working people still operate in India’s mammoth informal sector. Many of these workers are joining unions to have their rights recognised and their conditions improved. The government must be a partner in this effort, yet its measures have created new barriers to formalisation and eroded the rights of formal sector workers. Minimum living wages and social protection for all will support working families’ security and build a sustainable economy. The government has left a trail of broken promises in this regard and people have lost hope,” she added.

Joint Forum of Central Trade Unions and Federations protesting the Wages Code Bill , in Guwahati


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