Workers’ Campaign : Against UPA Government’s Betrayal of ‘Aam Admi’
(Excerpts from a Campaign folder issued by AICCTU for its All-India Campaign, 9-31 August 2009. AICCTU launched the campaign against the UPA Government’s anti-worker agenda from August 9, Quit India Day.)
The UPA Government led by the Congress has taken its return to power as a license for aggressive and untrammelled implementation of pro-rich, pro-corporate policies. From the President’s speech to the hike in fuel prices to the economic survey and the Budget – all the Government’s moves till now expose its intention of serving the corporate houses and withdrawing from its own social responsibilities. Disinvestment in PSUs and hire and fire policies are also on the UPA’s agenda. The US imperialist stranglehold on India’s resources and national life is being tightened by the Government. At the same time, the Government is arming itself with draconian laws and intensified state terror on the pretext of fighting terrorism – but the real agenda is to crush the resentment and resistance rising within the working class against the proposed anti-worker offensive.
Mirage of ‘Skill Development’ in the Face of Job Losses
The rulers are talking about skill development and special initiatives are being announced. But, the government is maintaining a studied silence about the job losses that have arisen out of recession. More than 15 lakhs jobs are already lost, but the Government has even avoided gathering exact figures on this question. The export oriented industries like Information Technology, garments and textiles, automobile, gems and jewelleries and construction are the worst hit. The rulers have no plan for rehabilitation or for any assistance to this section of workers. The Kerala economy, that is dependent to a considerable extent on remittances of its workers employed abroad, is in doldrums as the foreign remittances have sharply declined in the period of recession. Moreover, more than two lakh workers have already returned to their home state of Kerala and are unable to locate themselves in any employment. Rehabilitation packages for these gulf returnees are yet to be worked out and the issue is becoming a social crisis. But, the central government is still silent on this explosive issue.
Skyrocketing Food Prices
In the period of recession, the prices have skyrocketed. But, nothing is being done to protect or compensate the workers for the price rise. Dearness Allowance (DA) component in wages is only a mirage for vast majority of unorganized workers. For organized workers too, when price rise is not sufficiently compensated in the context of recession, real wages are falling, existing wages are being robbed through backdoor and the DA is becoming a major bluff. Periodical review of DA and wages and also special relief for organized sector workers to compensate the loss is the need of the hour.
The UPA government’s economic survey and 100 days action plan of every ministry is a sufficient indicator of the government’s intentions. The Economic Survey says:
“… there is an imperative need to facilitate the growth of labour-intensive industries, especially by reviewing labour laws and labour market regulations. This is particularly important in reversing the current, not-so-encouraging manufacturing employment trends.” (Economic Survey, page 223).
Some of the specific measures recommended include the following:
• Disinvestment: Large-scale disinvestment of PSUs to generate resources to the tune of at least Rs.25000 crore every year.
• Outsourcing of operations and Jobs
• Retrenchment of workers: Amendment to Chapter V-B of Industrial Dispute Act that mandates prior permission from the government for closure, retrenchment, etc for companies employing more than 100 workers. The Survey recommends abolition of this procedure to companies employing 300 or less workers. The idea is to effectively remove the vast majority of factories from the purview of labour laws by increasing the number of workers criteria. The intended ‘human face’ is to increase the compensation for loss of employment from the present 15 days wages for every year of service to the maximum of 60 days of wages. Meagre monetary compensations can in no way compensate the loss of jobs and in turn, the livelihood of workers.
• Contract Labour Law: The Survey recommends amendment of the Contract Law to allow use of contract labour in non-core activities or in core activities too, when the activity is of intermittent nature during the year. This is a sufficient plea for the bosses to employ contract labour in core and perennial nature of activities. The proposed amendment makes the objective of abolition of contract labour redundant.
• Working Hours: Amendment of the Factories Act is recommended to increase the workweek to 60 hours (from 48 hours) and daily limit to 12 hours to meet seasonal demand through overtime. When 12-hour work day is legally allowed, it is not too far to remove overtime wages above eight hours.
The number of labour days lost in 2007-08 from strikes was merely around 2.4 million, just a small fraction of the nearly 35 million lost in some years in the 1980s, a decade marked by the textile mill workers’ strike in Mumbai. The World Bank says that greater flexibility in labour laws would help create more jobs and reduce poverty. The fact is that flexibility in labour laws will grab the wage and job security the organized workers enjoy today and push them into the unorganized labour market so that they have to struggle to earn the minimum amount of Rs.300/ pm to cross the poverty level.
The government owns 90-99% stakes in Public Sector Units today. The total may run into many lakhs of crores. An official estimate says that disinvestment proceeds from these PSUs is conservative. At current stock market prices, the government can mobilise around Rs 37,000 crore by selling up to 10 per cent in top ten PSUs in which it owns more than 90%. The cabinet has recommended disinvestment in ‘small doses’ so as to mobilize Rs.25,000 crore every year. The conspiracy of disinvestment in ‘small doses’ is a tactic to prevent workers from feeling a sudden shock. Manmohan asserts that the public sector nature of the company will be retained while government will go for large-scale disinvestment. There are arguments that suggest dilution of government stakes as low as 26% and allow private corporate in the company boards. Private corporate houses are waiting on the wings to loot the PSUs and have suggested total disinvestment in their pre-budget meet with the Finance Minister.
More important is the destination of this huge disinvested amount. Generally, the disinvested amount goes to National Investment Fund which has been legally mandated to be spent on social security and safety net schemes. It is another thing that the definition of social security can always be extended even to funding infrastructural projects that is needed for the bourgeoisie. The government is also considering amendments to the way the fund would be spent.
18 Navratna PSUs are earmarked for immediate disinvestment. Steel and coal privatization is much more imminent. Instead of tapping the domestic potential of extracting coal, the government is importing it. Thereby, the government is also promoting illegal mining in nexus with the mafia. On the other hand, it is also entering into agreements with African countries for mining. Outsourcing has become the norm of the industry. Steel workers are confronting the issues of multi-skilling and are quite dissatisfied with the long pending wage agreement. BSNL workers are also gradually joining the protests against the highly planned privatization drive. The government has already announced that it is selling out three units of Indian Telephone Industries to corporate houses.
The Mirage of Acts for Unorganised Workers
The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act has only legalized the already existing health insurance schemes and has done nothing to regularize wage or working conditions of 40 crores of unorganized workers. The legislation does not carry any meaning without any regulation of working conditions. The much trumpeted construction workers welfare board is throwing only peanuts to the workers while grabbing lakhs of crores of rupees from them in the name of contributions. The construction labour welfare board has turned into a board for death and disablement. The cess to be paid by the builders is a very meagre amount and even that meagre percentage is not collected by many state governments. The demand of the trade union movement for collecting 3% cess is not at all considered.
Beedi industry owners are evading payment of statutory minimum wages to the beedi workers and some companies are engaged only in trading while the entire production is left to contractors and brokers who act as middlemen between workers and managements. The demands for housing, wages and regularization of employment continue to dominate the beedi workers movement, in spite of the legislation in place. Tea and coffee estate workers are still languishing in inhuman conditions and the demand for wage increase is never met fully.
Feminisation of Labour Force
Not only agriculture but also sunrise industries like IT, garments, etc. are dominated by women workers all over the country. Women are the main workforce in health and education sector. Sections like ASHA workers, anganwadi workers, construction and domestic workers are witness to the cruel exploitation of working women. The demand for equal wages, equal rights and against sexual harassment at work places have once again occupied the centre stage of the trade union movement.
Major Agenda of the Campaign
• Stop Price Rise
• Stop Jobs losses and wage cut on the pretext of recession
• Stop Disinvestment of PSUs
• Stop reforming labour laws in favour of the bourgeoisie
• Stop Attack on the Working Class
• Stop the Attack on Democracy and Democratic Movements
• Stop Privatisation of Health and Education
For Workers’ rights, Employment and Democracy
For a meaningful legislation for Unorganised Workers
For making the government responsible for the social security of workers
For strict implementation of Contract Labour Act and abolition of contract system
For equal wages and equal rights for women workers
For Uniform Wage Policy and Rs.200 minimum wage a day