Reaffirming his government’s intent to press ahead with labour reforms and scrap obsolete regulations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday sought to take on board concerns aired by trade union leaders and said all decisions on the issue would be based on consensus.
“Every effort will be made to modify laws through consensus. As part of the concept of minimum government, maximum governance, obsolete and unnecessary laws are being weeded out,” Modi told the 46th Indian Labour Conference (ILC).
46th Indian Labour Conference video…
His comments came on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament where the government plans to table amendments to key labour laws.
While the Centre has amended the Apprentices Act, 1961 and the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, amendments to the Factories Act, 1948 are pending with Parliament. It has also finalised changes to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and is working on an umbrella legislation for small factories as well as easier laws of retrenchment of workers.
The government has also set up a high-level inter-ministerial committee under Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to evolve a consensus on labour reforms. The first meet, which was held Sunday, failed to make any substantive headway. On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister also met trade union leaders who had opposed the proposed amendments, and raised concerns that tripartite consultations were not taking place.
Stressing that labour reforms are not anti-worker as the country cannot be happy if the worker is sad, the Prime Minister referred to the amendments to the Apprentices Act, 1961 that would provide employment opportunities to the youth.
“China has about 2 crore apprentices, Japan has 1 crore apprentices, a small country like Germany has 30 lakh apprentices but India has just 3 lakh apprentices… it has to be increased to at least 20 lakh,” he said, asking trade unions whether the youth should also get employment opportunities.
“Trade unions need to consider the rights of future workers while protecting the rights of the existing workforce,” he said, asking the industry too to participate and promote apprenticeship and include it in their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Talking about different interest groups, the Prime Minister said there was a thin line dividing the interest of industry and industrialists, government and nation, and labour and labour organisations, which must be recognised and a fine balance should be made between such interests.
He also urged industrialists and employers to promote innovation amongst workers and help them become entrepreneurs. ‘Why should a worker always remain a worker?” he said.
The Prime Minister also launched the National Career Service portal and new reforms by the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation. Addressing the inaugural session, Finance Minister Jaitley too defended the government’s policies, pointing out that investments are required to promote economic activity, which in turn would generate employment.
“Neither trade unions nor employer groups will want economic activities to decline. A high growth rate will always protect the workmen and labour,” he said.
He also assured trade unions that their demands would be looked into. “The government is not ignorant of the demands of trade unions. We will continue dialogue to improve economic activity and improve workers’ lives,” he said.
However, trade union leaders did not accept the assurances. BJP affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh attacked the government’s policies, arguing that it is bringing about changes without discussion.
“The government has adopted few wrong policies by taking such actions which directly affect labour in particular and people in general,” said B N Rai, president BMS and vice chairman, workers’ groups at the ILC, referring to the unilateral enactment of Apprentices Act as well as allowing Rajasthan to make unilateral changes in the Factories Act and other labour laws, which has motivated Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and other states to follow the same line.
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said the government must create conditions for working together with trade unions. “None of the 12 points in the charter of demands have been discussed,” he told reporters.