Workers’ situation likely to get worse in India with govt proposing to make changes in labour laws

women protestThe International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) a confederation of national trade union centres in different countries, in its new report, “The ITUC 2016 Global Rights Index”, has identified India as one of the worst countries for working people this year along with Belarus, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Iran, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE. Excerpts from the report’s portions on India:

Police has used disproportionate violence against workers protesting to call for the payment of due wages and workers were detained for exercising their rights guaranteed in national laws. Private security guards hired by companies also use violence against workers picketing to demand the payment of their wages. The situation is likely to get worse as the government has proposed to make changes to the labour laws which would undermine fundamental rights.

The draft law stipulates that at least ten per cent of the total employees or 100 workers would be needed to form a trade union. Another provision would allow companies employing up to 300 workers to lay off staff without government permission, as against 100 workers previously. In India 85 per cent of manufacturing firms employ less than 50 workers, and around half of these workers are kept on short-term contracts and earn just USD 5 or USD 6 per day. The government’s proposals would deprive them of vital legal protections leaving them in even more precarious circumstances.

200 childcare workers arrested following protest over unpaid wages: Up to 200 hundred Anganwadi (childcare) workers were taken into custody in December 2015 for taking part in protests to urge the government to implement the pay rise they were supposed to have received. Many reported that they had not been paid their low wages for over four months. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which helped organise the protests, condemned the arrests, saying the women were fighting for their legitimate rights. The workers were also helping pay for the upkeep of the childcare centres out of their own pockets. The government did subsequently meet some of the workers’ demands, including one month’s paid medical leave, and the release of funds to build new centres.

Protestors detained in long-running pay dispute: On 31 December 2015 police detained union activists employed as contract workers under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) schemes. They were protesting outside the secretariat of the state government to express their frustration over low pay. They had had many meetings with the Rural Development Minister and other senior officials over the past seven years, but their situation had not been resolved. Furthermore, there had been advertisements for vacant posts at higher salaries, yet the contract workers who had been employed for years had not been offered regular contracts. Police tried to move the protesters on to the children’s park – out of the way of the Ministry and irrelevant to their protest. When the protestors refused, they were taken to the local police station and detained until reports had been filed.

Government’s labour reforms set to undermine workers’ protection and trade union rights: In April 2015, the National Democratic Alliance government proposed integrating three labour laws – the Trade Unions Act 1926, the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946 – into a single code for industrial relations. The unions protested that they had not had sufficient involvement in the preparation of the laws, which would undermine trade union rights and workers’ protection. The draft code significantly altered how trade unions can be formed in factories and registered with the government. Under existing laws, seven members of a union could apply for registration irrespective of the establishment’s size. The draft bill proposed that at least ten per cent of the total employees or 100 workers would be needed to form a trade union. The new draft also modified the definition of a strike to include “casual leave on a given day by the 50 per cent or more workers employed in an industry”.

labour1The new law contained no provisions to promote collective bargaining, putting the emphasis instead on arbitration. Several provisions of the bill referred to either recognised or certified negotiating agents without providing for procedures for the recognition of such agents. Furthermore, the bill provided that all office bearers of a registered trade union would have to be actually engaged or employed in the establishments or industry with which the trade unions is concerned, restricting a union’s freedom to choose its own officers.

Another provision would allow companies employing up to 300 workers to lay off staff without government permission, as against 100 workers previously. In India 85 per cent of manufacturing firms employ less than 50 workers, and around half of these workers are kept on short-term contracts and earn just USD 5 or USD 6 per day. The government’s proposals would deprive them of vital legal protections leaving them in even more precarious circumstances. In September India’s central trade unions, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC and LPF, called a nationwide strike in protest at the proposed reforms. Tens of millions took part in the strike.

The trade unions had presented a charter of 12 demands, which in addition to opposing the labour law amendments included a new minimum wage, the end to contract labour in permanent perennial work and payment of the same wages and benefits for contract workers as for regular workers for similar work, strict enforcement of all basic labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers, compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days from the date of submitting applications, as well as immediate ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98. In response to the protests, the government constituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee and assured the unions that reforms will be based on consultations. No reforms had been passed by the end of 2015.

*Download report HERE. For infographics click HERE and HERE

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