CUTTING ACROSS party lines, all labour unions in Maharashtra have joined hands to oppose the Labour Department’s move to ease norms for closure of factories in the country’s most industrialised state.
Following a meeting Saturday in Nashik, labour unions affiliated to the CPI(M), Congress, RSS and Shiv Sena have asked the state government to make it mandatory for factories with even 50 employees to seek official permission before closure.
Currently, according to the Industrial Disputes Act, any unit that employs 100 or more people has to seek government permission before it can shut down. Following representations from factory owners, who cited growing automation, Maharashtra’s Labour Department proposed to increase that number to 300 — implying that factories with 299 or fewer staff can close down without government permission.
According to the proposal, factories with 300 employees or more may be permitted to close if employers pay staffers, who are being retrenched, 60 days’ average pay for every completed year of continuous service. Besides, it has also proposed to add a new section in the Act to raise disputes related to retrenchment or dismissal.
The state government proposed these reforms based on a model law circulated by the Union government and considering amendments made by the Rajasthan government. While the state government planned to introduce the bill on labour reforms in the winter session of the Assembly, the move was deferred owing to opposition from labour unions.
Anil Dhumane, general secretary of RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), said: “We completely oppose the government’s move to allow factories with up to 300 employees to shut down without seeking permission. Companies should not be allowed to invest, make money and then go away without caring for labourers. It should be brought down to 50.”
Two days ago, at the state-level conference in Nashik, a resolution was passed demanding that the state government reduce the number of employees from 100 to 50, making factories with lower staff strength also liable to seek permission before closure.
Apart from BMS, other labour unions that supported the resolution included Trade Union Joint Action Committee, CPI(M)-linked Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Congress-linked Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Shiv Sena-linked Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, Hind Majdur Sabha and other organisations.
“With use of advanced technologies, the number of employees required in any factory has reduced. At the time when the law fixed the number of employees at 100, there wasn’t so much automation. So there is now a need to change the law keeping in mind labour welfare, and hence it should be reduced to 50 employees,” said Dr DL Karad of the CITU.
Suryakant Mahadik, president of Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, said this was the first time that all labour unions have come together. “We have kept our ideologies aside for the cause of labour welfare,” said Mahadik.
Others said the demands are to ensure there is no exploitation of labourers due to the use of technology in the manufacturing and service sectors. “The resolution has been passed with the demand of reducing the number of employees to 50 for companies to close factories without seeking government nod, equal pay for contract workers, bringing contract workers into the definition of workers, and other demands,” said Vishwas Utagi, convenor of Trade Union Joint Action Committee.
Utagi said the unions will launch a district-wise campaign across the state, with signatures of labourers supporting their demands. He added that labour unions would also hold a protest march, including a lakh of people, in the first week of April.
“We have decided to come on the street to raise the voices of labourers,” said Anil Ganacharya of INTUC, adding that a meeting would be held next week to decide the campaign plan.
According to the Maharashtra Labour Department, there are 37,234 registered factories with 25.16 lakh employees in the state. Of registered factories, 32,443 employ less that 100 labourers, with a total of 7.95 lakh employees. There are 3,426 factories that employ between 100 and 300 labourers, with a total of 5.84 lakh employees. The remaining 1,365 factories, which employ more than 300 labourers, have a total of 11.37 lakh employees.