FEATURE

Bury Rajasthan’s Anti-labour Amendments in the Sands of Thar

‘With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple….’

- Marx, quoting from T J Dunning, in Genesis of Industrial Capital

The BJP government in Rajasthan is emerging as BJP’s laboratory for its intended onslaught on labour. The Rajasthan cabinet has cleared some major anti-labour amendments in the labour laws such as Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Labour Act and Factories Act. These amendments will come into force once they are passed in the State Assembly and then get Presidential assent.

The amendments seek to further facilitate the already existing hire and fire process by raising the minimum limit of employed workers for an industrial establishment to need permission from the government for retrenchment, from 100 workers to 300. An industrial dispute has to be raised within 3 years. Only a trade union with a membership 30% of total workforce can register, contract labour legislation will apply in an establishment only where the number of such workers is 50 (earlier it was 20) and Factories Act will apply to an establishment which uses electricity and employs 20 workers and which does not use electricity and employs 40 workers (earlier it was 10 and 20 respectively).

These amendments are sought to be done in the name of ‘creating 15 lakh jobs per year’ in the state. The chief secretary of Rajasthan government says the existing labour laws are anti-employment and without these amendments it is not possible to generate employment. Let us examine this claim more closely.

As per the ASI 2011-2012, the report published in March 2014, the total number of factory workers, and thus protected by the existing labour laws, in the country is 1,34,29,956. They are distributed in 1,75,710 factories. TN has the highest number of factory workers with 19,40,819 workers in 26,654 factories, which is closely followed by Maharashtra 18,80,606 in 22,615 factories and distantly followed by Gujarat by a difference of around 5 lakhs (13,83,773 in 17,529 factories). Rajasthan has 4,74,883 workers in 7,622 factories. In none of these states, the average number of workers in a factory exceeds 100.

Of the total 1,75,710 factories 1,25,301 factories employ less than 50 workers which is 71.31%. Factories employing 200 or more workers constitute just 8.94% of the total factories. Factories employing 5,000 or more workers constitute a meagre 0.21% of the total factories. 1,60,009 factories employ less than 200 workers. The number of factories with 200 – 499 workers is 9,094. In Rajasthan, where amendments to labour laws are proposed, the number of factories employing workers less than 200 is 7,102. There are 343 factories with 200-499 workers. Even if an average of 150 from this is added to the factories employing lesser number workers it will be 7,252. The remaining number of factories in Rajasthan is then just 370. Of the 1,34,29,956 factory workers in the country 36,10,056 workers are employed through contractors. In Rajasthan these corresponding numbers are 4,74,883 and 1,33,080.

These numbers fly in the face of Rajasthan government’s claim of creating 15 lakhs jobs a year.

Creating jobs should essentially mean creating a livelihood for the whole life of the worker and his family. It is not creating a temporary, insecure green patch for a while. Employment generation has got to do with the lives of the workers and not just numbers. The number of ‘jobs being increased’ by the proposed amendments means just throwing the existing workers away and recruiting new workers in their place! Even if this is done, Rajasthan cannot see 15 lakhs jobs a year. The announcement about amendments is not accompanied by any statement regarding setting up new industries in the state, private or public, which can bring jobs as claimed. In the existing conditions, if the amendments get clearance, workers of 7,252 factories in Rajasthan can be thrown out by their employers without seeking any permission from the government.

The first round of struggles of Maruti workers was for registration of their new union. The Haryana government refused to register their union, and workers could succeed in this only after persistent struggle. Now BJP government in Rajasthan is legalizing such refusal by amending that 30% workforce should be members of the union to make it eligible to register. This essentially takes away the right of collective bargaining of the workers.

What about the rights of workers of some 370 factories in Rajasthan which are employing more than 300 workers? The latently turbulent industrial scene in TN can explain why they too are not protected by labour laws. AIADMK and DMK rulers usually claim they have made TN numero uno in terms of attracting foreign and domestic investment. ASI figures correspond positively to this claim too. But Nokia, which has enjoyed tax reliefs and other related investor benefits of an amount equal to that it invested, has closed shops in TN after the Microsoft take over. Microsoft did not take over the 9,600 permanent, contract and trainee workers employed by Nokia. They are in the age group of 25-28. The contract employing 3,000 workers was terminated in January 2014. 750 trainees had to take the compensation Rs.2.5 lakh offered. 5,000 permanent workers have opted for the VRS offered by Nokia. The amount ranges from Rs.6.2 lakhs to Rs.3 Lakhs based on the years of service.

It is being argued that this amount is hefty in the general standards of VRS offered these days. With Rs.6.2 lakh they cannot invest in another Nokia company! This will vanish in a few months’ time in feeding the families of the workers. All of them have joined the army of unemployed and have started looking for a livelihood. This virus of VRS for young workers below 30 years old is now spreading to the factories which are supplying spare parts for Nokia such as Foxconn and BYD (Build Your Dream). 600 BYD workers were arrested for blocking the road on June 21. They are not demanding employment. They are forced to demand a better compensation package at least on par with Nokia workers. BYD employs 1,000 workers and Foxconn has another 1,700 permanent workers, 3,600 contract workers, and close to 1,500 trainees. Hyundai and its subsidiaries in Sriperumbudur sent out 5,000 trainees, who were filled with dreams of going in a Hyundai car after being regularized, three years ago. They are yet to get a decent job.

Thus all these numbers, 9,600, 1,000, 5,000, 6,000 have not done anything to protect employment created, which were claimed as success stories by AIADMK and DMK. These numbers once added at the time of setting up the factories will remain ever in the statistics and get counted as ‘jobs created’. This side of industrial situation seldom attracts attention of mainstream media and the affected workers are washed away in the floods of next round of talks about investment and job creation. While Jayalalitha at the age of 66 and Modi at the age of 63 will continue to be government employees and Karunanidhi at the age of 90 will make another bid to become Chief Minister, workers at the age of less than 30 will go on VRS!

If the Rajasthan model is photocopied (as suggested by neoliberal ideologues like Manish Sabherwal) to create ‘29 centers of job creation in the country’, we will have 29 centers of slave generation in the country. We will have permanently temporary workers, permanent trainees and permanent contract workers who will be constantly under the pressures to produce more and receive depressingly less, forced to compete among themselves to grab any job for a temporary oasis of survival in a sea of despair.

To quote T. J. Dunning again, “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” While the ‘Mazdoor No.1’ has a posh, sprawling, security-decked government house, office, hefty salary laced with attractive allowances, special but free air travel, different helps for different tasks including simple ones such as holding his cell phone, giving him a sip of water every now and then and so on and so forth, the nth Mazdoor of this country of 121 crores will be denied the dignity of being human, of even having the right to visit the toilet as often as s/he needs.

The TN government passed an amendment to the Industrial Establishment Standing Orders Act which has the scope of limiting the number of trainees in an industrial establishment in 2008 during the DMK regime. The amendment was unanimously passed by the TN Assembly. But it has not got the mandatory Presidential assent to take effect. Around 4 lakh powerloom workers in TN have raised the demand of announcing their workplace as factories under Section 85(1) of Factories Act. This will bring them the rights of a factory worker. Workers of Pricol and Hyundai are in the forefront in raising the demand to amend Trade Union Act for recognition of TU with majority of workers. These demands are alive as they are related to the day-to-day lives of the workers.

The BJP’s Election Manifesto had promoted the concept of ‘Industry Family’, in which “industry owners and labours bond as a family.” Inside a ‘family’, there can be no room for Unions and workers’ struggles and entitlements; and the BJP Manifesto had, likewise, promised to “bring together all stakeholders to review our Labour laws”. But the Rajasthan Government’s amendments to Labour laws have not even been through a nominal tripartite process. In the tradition of the good old feudal-patriarchal family, the ‘mai-baap sarkar’ has snatched away the rights of workers to promote the profits of industrialists.

Any amendment made to labour laws will have to widen the contours of industrial democracy in the country and improve the working and living conditions of the workers. The number of workers in this country is far larger than the number of industrialists in the country. The new government at the center and government in Rajasthan will have to bury the anti-labour amendments in the sands of Thar else the workers of this country will take the lead in doing it.