Labour reform agenda has been one of the key demands of corporate sector ever since Narendra Modi came to power. So it is not surprising to hear both the PM and his finance minister speak of it very often. Not wanting to keep his corporate backers disappointed for too long, the PM unveiled a slew of reforms last October which could mark the beginning of an all round attack on the hard won rights of the working people in India.
The latest set of reforms include: self certification by industries themselves (!), role of factory inspectors have been curtailed so drastically and mandatory inspection redundant that it virtually guarantees corporates getting away with any violations, small scale units employing upto 40 workers now have no labour rights whatsoever. Insanity of allowing industries to certify themselves goes against every logical reasoning, especially when industrialist gives two hoots about industrial safety (eg., Bhopal Gas Tragedy) and maximizing profits is their only motive.
Keeping up with Modi’s proposal, Rajasthan govt. which is under BJP rule recently got accent from the President for implementing some of its own reforms such as amendment to the Industrial Disputes Act that now allows for companies employing less than 300 workers to hire & fire (85% industries here employ less than 300!). Unions can only be formed with 30% worker registration as against 10% earlier. Small scale units employing less than 20-40 (depending on whether they operate on power or not) are exempted from the Factories Act that are meant to ensure workers safety. It is widely expected that many BJP ruled states may follow suit.
For all the hue and cry calling for labour law reforms by the corporates, it was never really a threat to them in the first place. Laws in India as usual have never been fully implemented nor were they really worker friendly per se. But workers still had some rights and could fight back with proper trade union backing. And it was this threat that had to be removed. This is only the beginning.
Of course, these changes have to be passed in both houses of parliament. And States still have freedom not to implement them. While getting the amendments passed may take some time, but anti- labour legislations are on their way. They will be huge pressure on opposition ruled states to fall in line and given Congress/ regional parties track record, corporates won’t be disappointed. Also with more and more state govt. falling under BJP rule, anti labour reforms are coming one way or the other.
For all the talk of technological fixes in the new proposed law, there is nothing particularly impressive about it as some of them were already in use! Workers have gained absolutely nothing from the announcement and have everything to worry about. Longstanding demands like compulsory recognition of Trade Unions by the management finds no mention. Instead of making laws democratically accountable to the workers and more power to the unions, we see the exact opposite happening.
All Central Trade Unions including the BJP’s led union BMS, backed by CPI and CPI(M) have called for a nationwide protest on 5th December. While the protest is welcome, it is mere tokenism to the kind of action plans needed to counter the even greater attacks that are on their way. General Strikes and immediate mobilization of workers on a socialist platform are the urgent need of the hour. A determined struggle to fight for a Rs. 20,000/ month minimum wage (Rs. 100/ hr) along with other pro worker demands need to be formulated as transitional demands to take on the present right wing, pro business govt.