In a boost to the government’s efforts to modernise labour laws, Tomoko Nishimoto, assistant director general and regional director for Asia and Pacific, International Labour Organisation ( ILO) said that the move would help India become globally competitive. In an interview to Surabhi, Nishimoto who is on her first trip to India however, said that the proposed amendments to the Child Labour Act need to be debated more. Excerpts:
What are your views on India’s move to amend its labour laws?
This is much needed. For India to become competitive in a very dynamic global environment, streamlining, simplifying and making the labour laws effective to create an enabling environment for both the employers and the workers is very essential and imperative. I do understand it is a very long process because it is very complicated but I believe that the government is doing it thoroughly. It should be seen as a kind of crossroads or a turning point for India to modernise the labour laws and its economy.
But trade unions have termed many of these as “anti-labour”. What is the ILO’s perspective?
The fact that we are hearing the voices of the trade unions is a healthy sign as there is space for them to voice their concerns. I hope the end result of the amendments would be very rational and would incorporate all the different perspectives for the purpose of an inclusive economy. The ultimate purpose is to empower the whole nation and from examples of other countries, it is clear that if you leave your workers impoverished, the nation will not reach its full potential. I have met the labour minister and his officials and I understand that they are not looking at an exploitative framework but inclusive and decent work for all.
Trade unions have also said the government is not holding enough tripartite consultations?
From our point of view, the democratic space and the space for social dialogue that India has is good. It can only grow more. Before coming to New Delhi, I had gone to Kochi where international trade unions are having a meeting and India had a very strong delegation. ILO is building capacity of trade unions so that they have a good negotiating power — not just shouting but a very logical, evidence based negotiation. Workers also realise that the ultimate goal is not to kill the economy — they need to have a prosperous economy.
What are your views on the Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2012, that would allow children less than 14 years to help out in family enterprises after school hours?
Different views have been expressed. The proviso is very crucial as not only education but also health and welfare of children is important. But it is a clause that should be further debated. How do you monitor it? So the child labour law has to be set in the context. If you have a very abusive environment which tries to abuse that clause, of course it will not work. But if the whole environment and societal decision is to ensure that a majority of children are going to school and are not working in any exploitative form, then the clause will meet the purpose.