Over the last twenty-five years successive governments have violated the law and every labour right with impunity. In this period, we have also witnessed widespread destruction of livelihoods of all sections of working people. With perhaps no exception, every electoral party that has been elected to parliament during this time has contributed – directly or indirectly – to this attack on the working class. And yet the BJP’s attack, since it came to government in May 2014, has no parallel. As the attack on workers and their wages has intensified there has been a fall in the share of wages in the national income which has reduced demand in the economy and therefore driven down growth.
The present BJP government has taken the position that in order to deliver its election promises to both indigenous and global capital for cheaper labour and other resources and to revive economic growth, it must change the basic framework of labour and wage rights by rewriting the statute books to institutionalise the attack on the working class. Cost of labour in totality can be lowered by cutting (i) conditions of work and (ii) wages. Thus the BJP government is determined to drastically change both the conditions of work, including through an attack on the freedom of association and collective bargaining, and put in place a statutory framework that allows low wage labour.
Testing the waters in the states with BJP governments, this government has amended the Factories Act and raised the floor for establishments mandatorily to be registered under this act from 10 to 20 thereby effectively taking 7 out of 10 workers out of its protection. Simultaneously, at the centre, this government has proposed a Small Factories Bill that will cover establishments of workers with less than 40 workers. This bill, if legislated, will take away the right to strike and the right to form trade unions of workers in these establishments. For larger establishments, the BJP is proposing to replace the existing Trade Unions Act, Industrial Disputes Act and the Standing Orders Act with an all-in- one Industrial Relations Code (IRC). The IRC among many other issues seeks to (i) withdraw the existing tripartite mechanism of dispute resolution by taking away the power of the executive to issue reference while not providing an adequate bipartite mechanism in its place; (ii) take away the right of workers in establishments with less than fifty workers to challenge existing standing orders thereby further diminishing the rights of workers in small establishment; (iii) in the case of closure, change the existing provision of government approval in the case of establishments with 100 and more workers to establishments with 300 and more workers. This amendment has already been brought in by the BJP governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; and finally, (iv) impose fines on workers and deregister the trade union in the event of an illegal strike, thereby gravely undermining the right to strike of workers. The IRC further gives government the suo moto right to interfere in the internal affairs of a trade union if it deems, or even apprehends, existence of inter- or intra-trade union disputes, thereby undermining the autonomy of trade unions. These changes in conditions of work if implemented will take us back to the darkness of the 18th century pushing more and more workers to insecure and unsafe contract, casual and irregular jobs.
Through the proposed Wage Code (WC) that seeks to combine the existing Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wage Act, the Payment of Bonus Act and the Equal Remuneration Act, the BJP government is also set to remove basic wage rights of workers. Again, amongst other things, the WC undermines the definition of minimum wage by diluting its relationship with inflation indexation or dearness allowance. It restricts the role of trade unions in the tripartite institution that sets the minimum wage by leaving appointment to the Minimum Wage Advisory Board to the arbitrariness of government. It narrows the definition of wages thereby leaving the field open for unequal remuneration violating the principles of the Equal Remuneration Act and the principle of equal work for equal pay. In the case of bonus, the WC does away with the mandatory disclosure of the profit and loss account and balance sheet of an establishment that allowed workers the right to negotiate a bonus higher than the minimum of 8.33 percent while allowing for a productivity bonus. And finally, when there is no doubt that the Minimum Wage Act is the most violated piece of labour legislation and that it has been held by the Supreme Court that non-payment of minimum wage amounts to a condition of bondage, the WC virtually does away with the entire machinery of inspection and enforcement opening the way for the privatisation of this machinery. The fines are also limited for what in effect amounts to a criminal offence. The assault on wages is dovetailed with an attack on statutory provisions of social security and in particular the cardinal legislative protection provided to millions of workers under the Employee Provident Fund and the Employee Social Insurance that addresses retirement benefits and healthcare, including compensation and wage losses as a result of work place accidents and disability. The legislative proposal allowing workers to opt out for cheaper, market based social security preys on the desperation caused by low wages and the loss of disposable income.
On the other hand, decades of rural immiserisation due to sustained agricultural crisis and lack of alternative rural employments, employment under NREGA, in government programmes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as teachers and MDM workers, in ICDS as Anganwadi workers, in primary health services as ANMs and ASHAs, despite their limitations, were seen both as providers of wage and of social protection. But the BJP government has brutally cut budgetary provisions for each of these. The reduced government expenditure on social protection will cut employment opportunities (NREGA) and lower the availability of necessary social services and health care further eating into incomes of the lowest income section of the working people. Simultaneously, the proposed changes in the LARR through successive ordinances, takes away the democratic right of people dependent on a particular tract of land to give consent for acquisition of that land. The amendment takes away the crucial Social Impact Assessment clause of the LARR that was institutionalised after the struggles against land acquisition. This amendment also moves compensation to only the landed, excluding the landless dependent agricultural workers while widening the definition of ‘public purpose’ to include all manner of private interests and restricting judicial remedy. This will lead to greater migration from rural areas leading to a further drastic lowering of wages and working conditions in urban and industrial centres.
For the BJP government ‘Ease of Business’ is necessary for ‘Make in India’. What this means in reality is that government will put itself at the disposal of the private sector and global capital through tax breaks and concession and place the capacity and strength of the public sector at the disposal of the private sector. The delinking of coal mining and the end user; majority private and foreign control over defence production, the railways and the insurance sectors are steps to open the economy to the private sector and global capital without any safeguards. In much of the public sector we have already witnessed, apart from creeping disinvestment, privatisation by stealth through outsourcing.
Achieving all of this will not be easy for the BJP government even with the rest of the political class and thus it has resorted to ordinances and executive orders where it cannot get legislation through parliament. And for the citizenry, it will use every means to divide people along lines of religion, caste, community, region, language and gender. It is our collective understanding that the undemocratic actions and intentions of the BJP government warrant spirited and sustained resistance from all sections of the working class. We all recognise that a one-day action will not be sufficient to meet this attack. We learn from our experience of the recent strikes in the coal industry, amongst state transport workers and others that there is already a strong resistance to the government’s actions. The one-day strike will contribute to this resistance. Whether or not we are a part of the 11 CTUOs platform our organisations have always responded to every joint-call in the interest of working class unity. We commit ourselves to together ensure the success of the strike. Where ever we are – we will join the strike or lead the strike to mark our resistance against the BJP governments’ actions. We call upon all sections of the working class to come together in strike action on 2nd September 2015 and call upon all sections of the working class to join this strike. At the same time we commit ourselves to a more sustained resistance in the days and weeks ahead.
Resist the Attack on the Labour Rights, the Minimum Wage and Trade Union Rights
Repeal the Land Acquisition Ordinance
Win a Minimum Wage of Rs. 15,000 a Month
Ensure Safe and Secure Jobs for All
Ensure Equal Pay for Equal WorkAICCTU
New Delhi, 2 September 2015: In record numbers workers across the country struck work today. Through the length and breadth of the country, workers from all sectors in tens of millions stood in solidarity with one and another to tell the BJP government that its writ will not run and that they will not accept the attack on wages and trade union rights.
The New Trade Union Initiative salutes its members and the entire working class who stood up courageously today against the onslaught of government and employers, the attack from political parties and their goons, and the opposition from trade unions of parties of government in power, in numbers that mark a turning point for progressive trade unions and the militant working class. Today’s strike was different in that it was not restricted to enclaves of trade union strength but brought forth the political power of the working class to enforce its strike in so many towns and cities across the country.
The NTUI in particular celebrates workers in irregular, contract, ‘honorary’, daily wage work mostly in unsafe and insecure jobs – many of whom face the possibility of losing their jobs when engaging in industrial action. The NTUI also celebrates the strike action in the private sector especially in the National Capital Region, where repression for standing up for trade union rights is perhaps at its highest, as also its members across the private sector including in global firms: in Alstom, Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Auto, Blue Star, DHL, Holcim, Hyundai Earth Movers, Knorr Bremse, Novartis, Sanofi, Siemens, Tenneco, Thermax, Valeo and so many more. Our members were also able to bring in coordination with other progressive trade unions a near complete shutdown in the Bhilai and Adityapur (Jamshedpur) industrial areas. In Jamshedpur and elsewhere in Jharkhand and in the tea plantations of West Bengal, our activists were arrested.
Of course the strike was not entirely uniform at all locations. In some of public sector mines, electricity generations and steel plants where our affiliates unionise contract workers the permanent workers did not join the strike action. Persistent divisions such as these remain challenges to be addressed. And yet we, like other unions, also broke new ground. In several districts in northern Karnataka, members of our agricultural workers’ affiliate joined the strike in the thousands. In many district towns of Assam daily wage workers joined a general strike for the first time.
Today’s strike was critical signal to government that the working class has a capacity to resist when democratic rights of workers are attacked. It became all the more important as this was a call by the 13 recognised trade unions of which the trade unions affiliated to the parties of government broke ranks and opposed it last week as the government threw sops at the trade unions. The government last week proposed a revision of the minimum wage and annual bonus in a failed meeting with the trade unions. What today’s strike unambiguously signals is that progressive trade unions and our members are not willing to negotiate our demands in a piecemeal manner.
The working class will not be bought over by a virtual tweaking of the minimum wage and the annual bonus but it will stand up for comprehensive wage rights including social security and social protection and for trade union rights. We know that nothing can be defended or won without the right to collective bargaining and the right to freedom of association.N. Vasudevan
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