Millennium Post

Government’s labour pains

The union labour ministry under Mallikarjun Kharge seems to be waking up to the fast growing labour problems in the country, which need to be attended to urgently. The ministry claims to have evolved a five-year 'strategic plan' to deal intensively and extensively with problems of organised and unorganised labour.

It is also significant that, for whatever reason, the ministry has cared to prominently display its 47-page long Five-Year Strategic Plan (FYSP) on its web site last month. Even as a delayed action if the ministry’s performance matches its professions, it may help it neutralising its critics accusing the ministry to have remained paralysed due to the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance-II government’s corporate-centric anti-labour policies.

In its assessment of the workforce in the country the FYSP draws on the National Sample Survey (NSS) and says, the total employment in both organised and unorganised sectors in the country in the year 2004-05 was of the order of 45.9 crore comprising 2.6 crore in the organised sector and the balance 43.3 crore in the unorganised sector. As for the unorganised sector itself, 26.8 crore were employed in the agricultural sector, 2.6 crore in construction work and the remaining in manufacturing and service sectors.

The strategic plan, taking a retrospective view of the ministry’s work, says that two-pronged-strategy has been followed to take care of welfare of the unorganised workers; this includes legislative measures and implementation of welfare schemes. In this context, it mentions all acts ranging from the Minimum Wages Act 1948, Workmen Compensation Act 1923 to Building and Construction Workers (Regulation and Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996. Not only that. It also mentions the enactment of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008, meant 'to ensure welfare of workers – including weavers, handloom workers, fishermen and fisherwomen, toddy tappers, leathers workers, plantation workers, beedi workers etc. And for this purpose, it says, National Social Security Board has been set up to recommend necessary social security schemes such as life and disability cover, health and maternity benefit etc.

The FYSP also cares to take note that the labour and employment ministry 'has always been striving to promote harmonious industrial relations in the country', and that it is 'committed to the ethos and culture of tripartism'.

This claim of the ministry is evidently meant to cover up its almost complete absence from the tense industrial relations scenario which had compelled all the 11 central trade union organisations belonging to the Left-Right-Centrist orientations – as well as all public sector workers/employees federations to join hands to fight anti-labour policies of the government. It is not surprising that the ministry has placed its so-called strategic plan on web site and not involved the other stakeholders in either evolving it or even later at least informing them about it. Such a manifestation of the FYSP does not yell with its 'tripartite ethos', to say the least.

The ministry’s FYSP claims to have a vision: Enhancing employability through employment services and skill development on a sustainable basis.

The ministry’s FYSP has a mission too: Improving working conditions, quality of life of workers through laying down and implementing policies/programmes/schemes/projects for providing social security, welfare measures, and also strengthening enforcement of labour laws.

FYSP also clarifies that its main functions will be related to 'central sphere', for instance, for promoting harmonious labour management relations; for speedy implementation of labour laws, awards etc; for conducting evaluatory studies of implementing labour laws in public sector undertakings; for regulating working conditions in mines; for preparing ground to formulate National Wage Policy; for evolving programmes relating to employment potential of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; for assisting rehabilitation of bonded labour; for monitoring social security schemes i.e., Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) and lastly for laying down Policy Framework for National Employment Service and implementation of National Vocational Training Programme.

Going by the 'outline of strategy', the ministry is all set to create new schemes, extend coverage and reach of the existing schemes and also take legislative initiatives on labour related laws, acts. The ministry claims to have enough 'inhouse knowledge and capacity', which it says, will be strengthened through capacity building programme 'by the divisions concerned in the ministry'.

The ministry, then unfolds how and on what issues it proposes to take 'strategic initiatives' and mentions as many as 32 of them. These range from covering of BPL families under the Rashtriya Bima Yojna scheme; revising ongoing schemes of national child labour project to align with Right To Education (RTE) Act; formulating new social security schemes for unorganised sector workers and finally end with promise to provide assessment of employment and unemployment situation every year and revising the base year of CPI of industrial workers to make it more representative of the present consumption pattern.

In between the 'outline of strategy', there is also mention of 'Finalisation of National Employment Policy'; formulation of guidelines for implementing the protocol trafficking in child labour; framing rules under the Child Labour Act, 1986 for providing safety and health for children and reorganisation and modernisation of offices of Labour Welfare Organisation. There is emphasis on all round computerisation of process in EPFO, ESCI, etc.

With due respect to the labour ministry’s sudden waking up and jumping on to its web site with a detailed so-called strategic plan and that too for five years, to attend to labour problems and propose to shower them with new welfare schemes, laws etc., appears like a flash in the pan when seen in the light of the fact that in last three years the ministry’s absence from the labour scene was much more eloquent than its presence.

There are other reasons for being sceptic about the ministry’s 'strategy' to deal with the seriousness of the labour situation. Reports show that industrial growth is declining so also growth of exports due to eurozone crisis; thousands have been rendered jobless in the textile industry; even land under agriculture is decreasing and above all there is the miserable plight of the Rupee – all these point out that the labour ministry’s strategic plan is more phoney than real.

The strategic plan’s timing is also significant. It was uploaded on the eve of the June International Labour Organisation (ILO) session in Geneva. All the 11 central trade union organisations (CTOU) were united against the UPA government’s labour policy and their united struggle had won the support of all continental labour movements. Their representatives would have gathered together at the ILO session. It can be assumed that this had made the government to publish its strategic plan so as to preempt criticism of the India Government’s Labour Policy.

In any case, it is now left to the CTUOs’ to watch the performance of the ministry’s strategic plan in the period to come. It proposes to enhance employability through employment services and skill development – the much talked about Manmohanomics formula to silence demand for growth with jobs and not jobless growth. IPA
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