ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pushing Trade Unions to the Wall

The government is refusing to address labour issues by indefinitely postponing the Indian Labour Conference.


At short notice, without giving any reason, the 47th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) scheduled for 26–27 February was indefinitely postponed by the government. According to media reports, this was due to the threat by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) to boycott the conference and the government’s apprehension of potential embarrassment. However, not much attention has been focused on the two demands made by several major central unions (not including the BMS) that would have decided their participation in the ILC. They demanded that the government must invite the Congress party-affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) to the conference and protested the notification draft rules to allow the “fixed term employment” across all sectors that they allege would encourage contractualisation. These unions have called for an all-India general strike on 15 March to protest against the government’s anti-labour policies in which the BMS will
not participate.

The cancellation of the conference is especially significant given that it was being held after 2015, a gap of two years, and at a time when the working class faces serious challenges. For instance, the fixed term employment move will allow all sectors (until now it was only applicable to the apparel sector) to hire workers for specific projects on contract. While the Ministry of Finance touts this as a measure to improve “ease of doing business,” central unions have pointed out that this could lead to vast sections of workers becoming contract employees. In addition, apart from amendments to labour laws by several state governments that have invariably led to job security being compromised, the Code on Wages Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in mid-2017. Although its aim is to have a statutory national minimum wage, state governments have been permitted to arrive at a minimum wage separately. The bill also does not adhere to the formula for fixing the minimum wage recommended by two earlier ILCs. Interestingly, certain business and corporate quarters too have aired their misgivings about the bill. Despite labour protests against it, it has received cabinet approval. Apart from this, almost all major trade unions, including the BMS, have criticised the 2018–19 budget for giving nothing to the working class, being silent on corporate “tax theft,” doing precious little to generate employment and ignoring the demands on wages and working conditions of workers of central social welfare schemes. 

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Updated On : 7th Mar, 2018
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