Millennium Post

No country for our labouring classes

No country for our labouring classes
A substantial gap between the demand and supply of job seekers and job opportunities cannot be denied. But the crucial problem lies with the attitude of entrepreneurs and/or employers towards job seekers. Irrespective of their size, employers take job seekers as adversary and they approach to them with a tendency to exploit them. While the fact is that if the employers have job opportunities, the job seekers have the ability to work. Difference may be in degree but both are in need of each other. Respect to each is sine qua non for smooth running of any establishment. Unfortunately, giving any respect and dignity to contractual workers, is created by the management itself. Temptation to optimise short-term profit tends to create contractual job opportunities, instead of creating regular vacancies.

Despite being a prohibitory law for contractual employments, the management prefers to employ a large section of workforce on contract basis, even for permanent and perennial nature of jobs. The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970 (hereinafter CLRA Act) was enacted with twin aims; (i) to prohibit the employment of contract labour and (ii) to regulate the employment and working conditions of contract labour in India. Where the nature of job is of perennial nature, the employment of contract labour is prohibited. Where the nature of job is temporary and/or seasonal, the Act provides regulatory terms and conditions.

When the contract workers are employed on temporary and seasonal basis, the workers work therein knowing very well that they are temporarily employed for sometime. The provisions of CLRA Act provides that after obtaining a ‘valid licence’ from the licencing officer for undertaking the contract as per Section 12 of the Act, the contractor is to maintain a canteen, a rest room or a proper accommodation, if the work requires night halt, in an establishment where 100 or more persons are engaged and the work is likely to last for more than six months. Drinking water, urinals and first aid facilities are to be provided to them as per Section 16 to 19 of the Act. And in case such facilities are not provided by the contractor, the same shall have to be provided by the principal employer. The payment of wages to such employees is to be made by the contractor in presence of the principal employer/its representative. If the provisions are strictly applied, there cannot be any reason for the contract labour’s dissatisfaction.

Further the contractor is required to maintain registers and records, giving particulars of workers, nature of job, rates of wages in the register of contractors.

Nobody challenges the provisions or rules of the Act but at the same time they are rarely applied. If entrepreneurs find such provisions, mentioned in the Act, and rules as complex, cumbersome and/or infeasible, they must desist to employ contract labour and should go for recruitment of permanent employees. This will also increase permanent job opportunities.

Perhaps, this is the inherent intent of the Act. Instead of doing this, the management takes the other route i.e. employing contract labour. They try to dilute, design, twist and misinterpret the provisions and rules and mislead or impress the labour authorities for optimising their profits and in doing so they simply employ and exploit the contract labour. Since the beginning, they ill design mechanism to exploit the adversary i.e. the contract labour. They very well know that the person standing in front is at the verge of starvation and shall accept any terms and condition for the employment. Unilateral, biased and unsustainable and even unethical terms of contracts are framed and are put to them for ‘take it or leave it’. The workers, having no choice, are compelled to accept them. After sometime, when the workers start sustaining, their mind start working and they start protesting and thereafter, starts industrial disputes. But they hardly succeed in such cases and gain anything but the forced unemployment. Next morning they again find themselves at the earlier position.

Once the aforesaid provisions and the rules dealing the terms and conditions of the contract labour are in existence as to why the well educated entrepreneurs having access to big law firms and lawyers to defend them, do not choose to apply them. They put all their efforts and energy to escape the compliance of labour laws, adopt tactics and mechanism to oppress and to exploit contract workers and their vulnerable conditions. They simply forget that the contract labours too are human being and citizen of this country. They also forget that paying them adequately and providing them due facilities are not only beneficial to their business as the workers then work happily but also a source of their true satisfaction.

There are several decisions of the Supreme Court dealing with the relevant provisions of CLRA Act which prohibits the employment of contract labour in permanent or perennial nature of job. Despite this legal position, the situation has now reached to an alarming stage. Large number of contract workers keep working for several years continuously but they are neither made permanent nor they are given the legal facilities, social securities or even adequate remuneration. If such workers raise industrial disputes they are in variably proved to be on contract basis, having no legal ground to seek permanency or other consequential benefits. Such methods are patently illegal yet applied without any fear. The management strongly pleads Section 2(oo) (bb) of I.D. Act for keeping such workers on contract basis which is totally illegal and immoral.

Such a dubious mechanism or design to employ and to keep them on contract basis for decades and running the business is not only illegal but immoral, unethical and unsocial too. Isn’t it torturous for contract workers to work in such a situation. This not only adversely affects the financial, social and mental frame of the contract worker but also affects his family members. This creates a sub-class and brings more dissatisfaction and corruption. Full devotion to the work cannot be expected in such a situation.

For short term gains or for increasing profit, such tactics are neither appreciable nor advisable. Profits/gains must not be measured only in terms of number of rupees. Suitable and well-trained workers engaged through proper scrutiny  and applying recruitment procedures bring competent workmen on work. Reliability and competency of such workers are definitely higher. Providing them legal facilities, due promotions and due incentives is bound to bring a competent and congenial working environment and overall efficiency of business. Ten such workmen may be able to discharge the works of 12-15 contract workers who are dissatisfied but are compelled to work. Contract labour system is an abuse of the employer-employee relationship and must be desisted.

The author is an advocate practicing in the Supreme Court
K C DUBEY

K C DUBEY

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