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Labour reforms need new genre

Workers are left to fend for themselves without adequate platform to voice their plight.

Labour reforms need new genre

Even as the NDA government is being pilloried for generating growth sans job for legions of job-seekers of both the formal and informal sectors, the employment situation as it exists in the country, even in organised and new activities that cover the gig economy extensively using technology, is quite unenviable. It is not only the known problems like demonetisation of high denominational notes on November 8, 2016, that played havoc with the informal sectors pushing many a wage earner to impoverishment, but also cognate moves like the advent of the GST has caused trade and industry a plethora of problems in focusing on other core activities that have led to labour problems in a continental country of our size and diversity.

A major national daily published from the capital has catalogued how existing employment to thousands of people had vanished, citing official figures, from sectors ranging from textile to capital goods, information technology to start-ups and energy industry, in the recent months, have hobbled by the slowdown in the economy and the abysmal lack of private investment. No doubt, the worst fears of layoffs, retrenchment and termination of temporary and semi-permanent employees by industries had not been admitted by concerned employers, lest they should invite the ire of the authorities. But the stark fact that the underlying little pressure for wage hikes from even organised employees in the light of creeping inflation smacks of safeguarding the extant position even at the expense of foregoing fringe benefits, for which, in normal times, obstreperous demands would be made by the restive and vocal workers.
For the government cruising to victory on the promise of ushering in better days for all by building the sinews and muscles of the nation's economy through purposive policies, the Modi Government's track record from year to year on the economic front does not inspire hope of redemption by the pledges so grandly made during the run-up to the 2014 general elections. It is an open secret that private investment is not doing the heavy-lifting to push growth, provide jobs and generate the feel-good factors across different sectors of the economy by meaningful activities.
For a government that goes by the call to ensure inclusive economic growth, the agenda appears to be woefully absent because there is no concerted move to kickstart the process of increasing job opportunities, particularly outside agriculture, simplifying labour laws, promoting formalisation and encouraging participation of women in the labour market.
Even as the precise estimates of overall unemployment in the country are difficult to surmise in the face of the lack of contemporary labour data from official records, the quality of job that goes around in the country is not a matter of comfort. This is because a large proportion of workers are employed in poorly paid or subsistence level jobs with tedious working hours that provide no relief or relaxation to the overtaxed mind and body. According to the Employment Outlook of the Paris-based Inter-governmental think-tank of 34 rich industrial countries, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), published in July 2016, the gender pay gap in India has fallen by a quarter over the past decade but remains high at 37 per cent, reflecting the discriminatory wage disbursed to the female gender. It rightly ascribed wage gaps and job insecurity as key drivers of disparities between women and men in the labour market.
It is relevant to note that as recently as July 24 this year, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Bandaru Dattatreya, told the Lok Sabha in a written response that his ministry has taken steps for drafting four labour codes. This followed the recommendation of the Second National Commission on Labour, which suggested that the extent labour laws in the country be broadly grouped into four or five labour codes on a functional basis. Accordingly, the four labour codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and welfare and safety and working conditions respectively, would be evolved with a view to simplifying, amalgamating and rationalising the relevant provisions of the extant central labour laws. The minister said the draft codes are at a pre-legislative consultation process and that "these legislative initiatives will improve wage security, job security and social security of the workers."
The First National Commission on Labour was set up in 1966 and it submitted its report in 1969. It took close to three decades for the Second National Commission on Labour to get set up in 1998, after India opened its economy and liberalised its policies to attract investment, both domestic and foreign, in 1991. The Second National Commission on Labour presented its voluminous report way back in 2002 and still well-nigh one decade and a half later, the government is in the midst of a pre-legislative consultation process to perk up the labour sector and address its litany of woes!
What is astonishing is that ever since India liberalised its economy, the organised workers, who had some remnants of trade union movements to bank upon, had lost that too to the winds of sweeping changes. The Left parties, which traditionally championed the cause of the workers by taking their issues to the streets, stopped that long back, which in no small measure contributed to their extant moribund existence. In the absence of no platform or support base to air their grievances, the workers at all levels, be they organised white collars or shop-floor workers toiling in factories, are left to fend for themselves, the result of which is the apathy by the authorities even to take up the initiatives for their welfare.
With defined contribution pension funds no longer there for legions of employees and pay-as-you-go system being the name of the game, workers of all genres need to be alert and on their toes, if they are to survive, leave aside thrive. At least the government represented by the state should ensure that the legislative initiatives to safeguard their interests do not get delayed or derailed lest the assets of the nation should get run down by sheer apathy of the authorities, policy wonks wryly say.
There is little merit in belabouring the point that labour reforms meant fast-tracking exit policy and contract labour to safeguard the interest of capital, particularly when without labour capital has no value for regenerating growth and profit!
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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