27th August 2016
Dear Shri Bandaru Dattatreya ji,
This refers to your D.O No. 21(24)/2016-IR dated Nil requesting reconsideration of the proposed strike call on 2nd September 2016 given jointly by the Central Trade Unions in view of the “proactive steps undertaken by the Government to address the charter of demands raised by the Central Trade Unions”. Your letter has been received by us on 26thAugust 2016 through e-mail.
At the outset, we are constrained to mention that we find no tangible ‘proactive steps’ in the details furnished by you, either in your letter or in the enclosed updated status of action taken, in favour of the workers so far as the 12 point charter of demands of the Central Trade Unions is concerned. In fact the ‘updated status’ enclosed with your letter is almost the same as that you circulated exactly one year ago, in the joint meeting with the central trade unions held on 26th and 27th August, on the eve of the general strike in 2015.
But the government has definitely taken several proactive steps, totally ignoring the opposition of the entire trade union movement and totally against the interests of the workers, during this period. To mention just a few: 1) Introduction of Fixed Term Employment in apparel manufacturing sector through an executive order, 2) Increase the permissible limit of overtime work from 50 hours per quarter to 125 hours through an amendment to the Factories Act, 3) Divert workers’ money in the EPF for investment in the share market, 4) Attempts to appropriate huge amounts of workers’ money in the EPF for other purposes unrelated to them, 5) Introduce the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill with atrocious provisions attacking the road transport workers en masse. All these ‘proactive’ initiatives are against the basic interests of the workers and their rights. All the central trade unions have vociferously opposed these measures.
Your argument that ‘the running theme of the Labour Reforms is to ensure employment security, wage security and social security to all workers’ is totally contrary to reality and the experience of the workers. In fact, the focus of the so called ‘labour reforms’ has been to push the overwhelming majority of workers in the organised sector out of the purview of all basic labour laws including those providing social security. They empower employers to ‘hire and fire’ at their whims, legitimise contractorisation of regular jobs and deployment of apprentices/ trainees etc on payment of a small fraction of minimum wages. It is crystal clear to anybody objectively examining the entire ‘Labour reforms’ programme that it is designed to impose conditions of slavery on the workers. The conditions of even the miniscule proportion of workers in the organised sector who are at present entitle to a few benefits will become insecure, in terms of their employment, wages, social security etc. No trade union worth its salt can mortgage the interests of the workers by accepting such retrograde measures lying down.
Moreover, we cannot accept the claim that all your moves on labour law reforms are the outcome of tripartite consultations. It is a matter of record that all the central trade unions, repeat all, have unanimously opposed many of your proposals of labour-law-reforms and opinions of the trade unions have been totally ignored undermining the spirit of tripartism. Ignoring labour’s opinion on the measures by which labour will be affected most cannot be construed as consultation, which we urge upon you to appreciate.
We request you to verify your claim that ‘labour inspection system through the Shram Suvidha Portal has improved efficiency and transparency and expanded coverage’ with facts. Your own statement that only 12 lakh units have been issued Labour Identification Number (LIN) itself contradicts and refutes your claim. This is only an insignificant percentage of the total number of establishments in the country. While the data of establishments and workers captured by your Shram Suvidha Portal itself is insignificant compared to the total, routing inspection through this portal on the basis of 10% randomised selection is nothing but an attempt to minimise inspection and allow more freedom to employers to violate labour laws with impunity. It is strange, to say the minimum, to claim this as expanding coverage. To give a few examples: The total number of subscribers to EPF is only 3.71 crore while as per gross estimate another 3 crore workers in the organised sector itself, mostly contract workers are not covered by EPF, despite being legally eligible. ESI coverage is even less at 2.03 crore despite the fact that all establishments employing 10 or more are entitled to be covered by ESI while it is 20 in the case of EPF. These are just two examples of the horrible state of affairs related to implementation of labour laws and social security coverage. The basic purpose of the ongoing ‘labour reforms’ is to legalise and legitimise violations to ensure ‘ease of doing business’. You will kindly appreciate that no trade union worth its salt can sell out the interests of the workers by accepting this situation lying down.
Claims are being made to extend coverage of social security schemes like EPF and ESI to scheme workers since last more than a year. But what has actually happened till date? For example, ESIC proposed to cover the scheme workers viz., anganwadi and mid-day-meal workers to provide limited benefit on payment of Rs250/- per month which means 8.33% of the paltry honorarium of anganwadi workers, 16% for the helpers and 25% for the mid-day-meal workers. Whereas for other workers covered under ESI Act, the contribution is only 1.75% of their monthly wages for full ESI benefits. Can the anganwadis and other scheme workers afford such high burden of contribution out of their paltry honorarium ranging from Rs 1000/- to Rs 3000/-? This is nothing but a posture made by the Govt for publicity and real game is to deny them the actual coverage through backdoor.
Your statement that ‘disinvestment is being made to bring in efficiency’ and FDI ‘for infusion of capital’, is also unacceptable since that does not stand the test of rationality. The government today is, clearly, not confining itself to ‘disinvestment’. It is reported that NITI Ayog has prepared a list of 74 PSUs including the highly profit making ones for total sell out in the name of ‘strategic sale’. The government has not issued any rejoinders to these reports. No patriotic trade union, for that matter, no patriotic organisation can accept this policy of sell out of PSUs which hold the foundation of our national economy. Similarly, unrestricted FDI in defence, railways, banks and insurance and retail trade cannot be accepted by us, as it is against the greater interest of our people and the national economy.
In view of the above, it is not possible for us to reconsider the decision to go for countrywide general strike on 2nd September 2016, which we request you to kindly take note of.
In this connection, we also convey our strong protest against the discriminatory treatment meted out to the central trade unions by the government, while openly patronising one. It is highly regrettable and shocking that the Group of Ministers formed by the government to discuss with the central trade unions on the 12 point charter of demands, of which you are also a member, is patronising and confiding with one union which is not a party to the call for general strike by holding discussions with it, while the central trade unions which have given the strike notice are ignored. We denounce such undemocratic bias on the part of the government, which is unprecedented in post independent India.
( TAPAN SEN )