A number of trade unions will submit a common memorandum of their various demands to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on January 15 when they meet for pre-Budget discussions, making a departure from the earlier practice.
For three decades, while the unions used to present a common charter of demands on behalf of workers to the finance minister in pre-Budget meetings, they used to put in separate demands as well.
But this time, faced with new labour challenges, the unions will put in place a joint action plan adopted on September 14 last year.
The five demands that have brought the unions closer since September 6 last year, would also form the basis of their common memorandum for the Budget, says All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) national secretary D L Sachdev.
The demands are corrective steps to bring down prices, protection and creation of jobs, enforcement of labour laws, funds for the unorganised sector and a stop to disinvestment of central public sector enterprises.
The unions are asking for an increase in the tax exemption limit from the present Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh-Rs 5 lakh. While the CPI(M)-affiliated Centre for Indian Trade Unions (Citu) and the CPI-backed AITUC were till now asking for doubling the exemption limit, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the biggest of the unions, has asked for an exemption limit of Rs 5 lakh.
It could range between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh but it would be unfair to continue with the present exemption limits, says BMS vice-president R V Subba Rao.
CITUs national secretary M K Pandhe agrees: Today, even the workers who earn a minimum wage of about Rs 10,500 a month and get some allowances come within the tax net. Hence, increasing the exemption limit is urgent.
The unions are looking with concern at a possible tax on fringe benefits, the authors of the joint memorandum say.
The new draft direct taxes code is also an issue that brings together the unions. It is highly unfair to workers and we will take it up with the finance minister, says Pandhe.
The memorandum will also seek extension of the governments flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to the urban areas with double the existing remuneration. A draft of the memorandum says that NREGS work should be extended to two persons per family and for a minimum period of 180 days rather than just 100 days.