The informal sector will recover sooner from the lockdown: Saji Narayanan

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on April 20, 2020

Saji Narayanan   -  THE HINDU

The govt should have discussed all worker-related matters with trade unions prior to lockdown, says BMS President

The country’s largest trade union, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), has been critical of the ruling BJP’s labour and economic policies. During the lockdown, the BMS sent a series of missives with different recommendations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The trade union’s national president Saji Narayanan spoke to BusinessLine on the discussions BMS had with the Centre about the impact of the lockdown on the workers and the economy. Edited excerpts:

Opposition trade unions have criticised the manner in which lockdown was implemented. They said the Centre pushed workers to distress. What is your view?

India has done relatively better than even some of the developed countries to fight Covid-19. The prime reason for this is the timely intervention and preventive measures taken by the Centre. The BMS’s official stand is that we will support whatever directions come from different governments — be it the Union government or the State governments. We do don’t want to politicise this issue. For example, we are supporting all efforts taken by the Communist government in Kerala despite our vast differences with them. We believe if we work collectively, it fetches better results.

The lockdown has now been extended. It can be withdrawn only in a phased manner. The government is trying to do that by giving some minor relaxations.

One argument is that the Centre should have consulted the central trade unions about the logistics and parameters of the lockdown...

The government should have discussed all matters related to workers with the trade unions. The Labour Ministry had given certain suggestions to the government on this. The BMS had taken up a number of issues with the Centre, particularly from the informal sector. Workers in non-essential services have faced a huge crisis. A good percentage of the workers in essential services have also had to face problems. So, what we demand is a return to normalcy while the lockdown is relaxed in a phased manner.

There were some rumours that the Centre was increasing work hours. Another rumour was that the ESI and EPFO funds are being merged with PM-Cares. We contacted the Union Labour Ministry as soon as such reports appeared in the media. The Ministry clarified that it has no such plans. On the other hand, the EPFO got money from the exchequer to help companies that have less than 100 employees. There were politically motivated campaigns on this. The Rajasthan government issued a guideline increasing work hours, but they ensured that the increased work hours will be considered as overtime.

There is also a suggestion that the lockdown days should be considered as national holidays. Such suggestions should be discussed with tripartite constituents.

What will be the impact of this lockdown on the economy and the workers?

Considering the nature of our economy, the formal sector will face maximum hardships during this lockdown. The informal sector, we think, will recover sooner. There will be losses in areas such as harvesting in the farm sector, and the IT and IT-enabled services and export-oriented sectors. The informal sector has survived the 2008 financial recession and demonetisation. Since we are fighting this pandemic is a coordinated manner, I am sure that problems in the economy now also can be fought in a similar manner.

Our exports and foreign trade have been in loss for years. But Covid-19 has also provided some opportunities. We can seek the possibility of enhancing our competition with China, particularly in sectors like healthcare. We can focus on areas such as health tourism and export of medicines.

What is the lesson to be learnt from this crisis?

This pandemic re-emphasised the role and importance of the public sector. Some of our public sector pharmaceutical companies were closed down by governments in the past. The private sector was in a state of shock, but the public sector discharged it’s duties in an effective manner. This is a lesson not just for the government. When we revive and reshape our economy after the pandemic, such issues must be discussed in an innovative manner.

The situation in many foreign countries is alarming because they treat the coronavorus-affected expatriate workers from other countries differentially. Compared to other countries, our people are getting help from embassies. There should be specific attention into this issue.

Published on April 20, 2020

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