Current context in India
The Indian government is taking different steps to de-link the association between the unorganized workers and the trade unions. Previously, the leaders of the trade unions to which the workers belonged to were doing the work of enrolling and renewing memberships with the Labour Welfare Board. Presently, the government has passed a Government Order which says that the workers should go in person to the Labour Welfare Office to enroll their names and renew their memberships. If this becomes regular practice, the workers will approach the union only when they have to avail the financial assistance under labour welfare schemes. Doubtless, this will liquidate the interest of the workers in enhancing their awareness on workers’ rights and will dampen the fighting spirit of the workers in claiming their legitimate rights.
Therefore, the union leaders try to consistently keep the members in contact with the unions. They have to ensure an effective and periodical communication between the union and the members. In such times, a newsletter would surely be instrumental in bridging the workers and the trade union. For this reason, the Karur District Federation of All Unorganised Workers’ Unions has brought out this newsletter.
Some key issues from this newsletter
Here are the salients points that the first issue deals with:
1. Orientation on Karur District Federation of All Unorganised Workers’ Unions: In India, there are so many trade unions but they belong to different rightwing and leftwing political parties and they are completely in the clutches of the political leaders. As a result, their political interests surpass the workers’ interest. Therefore, an alternative, apolitical and secular trade union is the need of the hour statewide and nationwide. Karur District Federation of All Unorganised Workers’ Unions is one such.
2. The present state of unorganized workers in India: The workers of unorganized sector constitute 90 per cent of workers’ population in India. In Tamil Nadu, there are 17 Welfare Boards which implement social security schemes for the unorganized workers. However, only less than 20% of the unorganized workers have enrolled with the welfare boards and hardly 10% renew their membership periodically. As a result, most of the workers of informal economy remain unaware of and do not avail the benefits of social security schemes.
3. Current social security schemes are the welfare schemes of companies: in name of safeguarding the social security of workers, the central government has proposed certain changes in the existing Labour Laws. Contrary to the government’s statement, the proposals are entirely anti-worker.
Anti-worker stipulations in proposed India Labour Laws
The law states that if a company management choses to close down a factory with over a hundred workers, it should get legal approval from the government.
• But, the present government is trying to amend this law so that only companies or factories with over a 1.000 workers need to get legal approval.
After the implementation of the structural adjustment policy, industries and factories started replacing male workers with women workers, paying lesser salary. In addition to inhumane exploitation, women are facing sexual abuse. Therefore, the existing law prevents women from working in night shifts.
• But the new amendment proposed allows industries to have women work during night shifts.
Inspectors of Factories have to make official and surprise visits to industries and factories in order to inspect if the labour laws and labour rights are properly implemented and respected. Often, they get bribes from the companies that seldom follow labour laws and legal liabilities and so become accomplices.
• The newly proposed amendment states that Inspectors can visit the factories but otherwise, they can just receive reports drafted and sent in by managements.
An apprentice is a person who is learning trade by being employed for an agreed period at low wages.
• However, the proposed amendment stipulates that the factories or industries can hire apprentices in all their production or manufacturing, turning them not into learning experiences but cheap labour.
Both the government and private sectors have adopted contract labour system and engage thousands of contract workers or casual labourers. Though these workers do the same tasks as permanent workers, they do not enjoy the benefits of labour rights which permanent workers enjoy. The existing law says that after a certain period of time, contractual workers should be made permanent workers.
• But the new amendment proposed now stipulates that contractual system can be prolonged and not made permanent.