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Labour reforms to face stiffer opposition in budget session
January, 29th 2016

The labour reforms agenda of the government is set to face stiffer resistance with all the national trade unions, irrespective of party affiliation, on Thursday announcing plans for a nationwide strike on 10 March—smack in the middle of the upcoming budget session of Parliament.

Coupled with the political criticism being faced by labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya over his alleged role in the suicide of a Dalit student at Hyderabad University, the strike action comes as a serious challenge to the labour reform plans of the government in the budget session.

The unions said that the government’s actions so far have not been in accordance with its promises on labour welfare and vowed to counter the ministry’s move on labour reforms.

The unions’ move and political mood are set to affect the government’s plans, which include tabling some important laws in the coming session.

Other than a nationwide protest, the unions will also hold conventions throughout March in several states to make workers aware of the “anti-labour moves” of the government.

Central trade unions, after a joint meeting, “resolved to continue their protest action against the anti-labour policies of the central and some state governments. We shall observe 10 March as All India Protest Day against the government’s indifference to the unions’ concern and its unwillingness to restart discussions for working out concrete steps for labour welfare,” D.L. Sachdeva, national secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), said.

Sachdeva said both the minister and the ministry’s “anti-poor moves” will see stiff protest in Parliament and outside.

In the upcoming budget session, the labour ministry plans to table a slew of bills, including the EPF and Miscellaneous Provision Amendment Bill to make the national pension scheme an alternative to the EPF and a labour code on wages to bring all wage-related legislation under one law.

The ministry also wants to introduce a proposed Labour Code on Industrial Relations that seeks to combine the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. The child labour amendment bill too is expected to be introduced in the coming session.

All the central trade unions, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, said in a joint statement that they have reviewed the “drastically deteriorating conditions of work and life of the working people and government going ahead with labour law amendments, disinvestment of PSUs (public sector undertakings) and allowing FDI (foreign direct investment) in strategic sectors”.

“The government it appears does not want to wait for legislating these anti-worker labour law amendments; it is taking away rights of workers by way of executive orders and directing state governments to carry out such pro-management amendments,” the unions said, referring to labour secretary Shankar Aggarwal’s direction to exempt “so-called start-up enterprises from inspection and application of nine major labour law legislations, thereby legitimising the violations”.

“Promoting start-ups... would need special handholding and nurturing,” Aggarwal said in a letter to autonomous bodies under the labour ministry like the Employees Provident Fund Organisation.

“Thus, such start-ups, as defined by DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion), may be allowed to self-certify compliance with the labour laws,” Aggarwal said in the letter, Mint reported on 25 January.

A labour ministry official said that despite criticism from the unions, the ministry is hopeful of successfully pursuing some of the labour reform bills which are a “need of the hour”. The official, who declined to be named said that the government’s commitment to workers “cannot be doubted and it’s visible from the fact that in the last one and half years it has taken several social security measures for them and effected an amendment to the bonus act to give better incentives to industrial workers”.

Suchita Dutta, executive director of Indian Staffing Federation, an association of leading staffing companies in India, said that labour reforms are a must to create an environment of job creation and industrial growth. “Unless we create an environment conducive to industrial growth, job generation wont happen faster,” Dutta said.

The central unions said that besides the conventional industries, unions from banks, defence, coal, ports and telecommunications will be part of the stir. The central government employees unions who are not happy with the 7th Pay Commission recommendations will also join in, the unions said.

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