A year when labour was seen and heard

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on December 23, 2011

labour   -  Business Line

Policy inaction in smoothening worker relations puts Govt in bad light

The year 2011 saw the revival of labour strife in many States. But, the highlight of the year was the prolonged unrest at Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant that led to the car company incurring a huge loss. About 3,000 regular, contract and trainee workers went on stay-in protests, thrice in five months, seeking recognition of their union, among other demands.

Significantly, the nature of the Maruti Manesar struggle, led and sustained by young union leaders most of them in their 20s, indicated a rising awareness among workers about their basic rights. For, the issue at stake was not economic, but concerned the basic right to organise and freedom of association.

After long years, other workers came out in solidarity in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt, which houses a string of MNCs. Workers from seven nearby factories halted production for one day in October in support of the Manesar workers. They belonged to Maruti's Gurgaon plant, Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Castings, Suzuki Motorcycle, Lumax Auto Technologies, Satyam Auto Components, Endurance Technologies and Hi-Lex India Pvt Ltd.

Through the year, reports of labour trouble also poured in from Tamil Nadu (Hyundai, Foxconn, Caparo), Bangalore (Volvo), Haryana (Voltas), Gujarat (General Motors) Uttar Pradesh (Moser Baer) and Andhra Pradesh (Dr Reddy's).

In the public sector, the one-day coal strike on October 10 crippled output in the country. Discontent is simmering in key sectors such as telecom, postal services, Air India, banking and insurance, ports, etc over issues such as downsizing, Pension Bill and wage revision, privatisation, corporatisation and disinvestment.

Also, for the first time in the country's history, Central trade unions of all hues, from BJP to Congress to Left, came together and held joint actions on workers' rights and demands, and have now called for a general strike on February 28, 2012.


On the policy front, however, nothing major was achieved during the year, apart from some initiatives in the field of skill development. Key labour reforms are still lying on the backburner. Comments by stakeholders on the proposed changes to the Factories Act 1948, recommended by an expert panel, were submitted in October, but there has been no movement yet.

A draft national policy on domestic workers awaits finalisation, and the social security scheme for unorganised workers, who make for more than 90 per cent of the total workforce, is yet to see the light of the day. The National Manufacturing Investment Zones, expected to generate millions of jobs, are also yet to kick off.

Of course, there were some piecemeal policy measures during the year, such as extending the cashless health insurance scheme, the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, to all registered domestic workers, distributing 2.5 crore RSBY cards to workers in the unorganised sector, initiatives to enhance skill development, etc.


In a country where the unorganised sector is growing by the day, it is time the UPA Government moves away from paying mere lip service and takes firm policy action in 2012. If it means serious business, it needs to create quality employment and appropriate skilling of the workforce. Fast action to make NMIZs a reality will help in creating jobs. For, a jobless “scarred” generation can pose a risk to society, the ILO has warned.

As 2011 ends in the backdrop of increasing global uncertainties, industry in India still awaits appropriate changes in labour laws to ensure smooth business, and a huge workforce faces job insecurity, high prices, large-scale casualisation and contracts.

Balancing the needs of both industry and labour by taking concrete policy action, therefore, seems the only way out for the Government to send out the signal that it means serious business, but also cares.

[email protected]

Published on December 23, 2011
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor