Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said labour laws need to be changed but with consensus.

“A dialogue with trade unions began yesterday. I am confident that solutions will be found. The country cannot be happy if labourers are unhappy,” the Prime Minister said in his inaugural address to the two-day 46th Indian Labour Conference that began here on Monday.

Modi’s statement comes in the backdrop of labour law reforms facing stiff opposition from 11 central trade unions, who have given a call for a country-wide strike on September 2 on a 12-point charter of demands.

Modi said there was a thin line dividing the interest of industry and industrialists, government and nation, and labour and labour organisations.

“Often one talks about saving industry but ends up protecting industrialists. Or saving workers' rights but protecting their own organisations,” he said, adding there was a need to recognise this thin line and adopt a balanced approach to change the industrial environment.

He said, "It is my effort to simplify the laws so that even the poorest are able to understand their rights and avail them," adding that the web of multiple laws in the country needed to be de-cluttered.

Create more apprentices

The Prime Minister called upon industry to create at least 20 lakh apprentice jobs.

“China has two crore apprentices, Japan has one crore, while Germany has 30 lakh apprentices, but India with a 1.27 crore population has only 3 lakh apprentices,” he said.

Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley harped on the importance of investment to spur industry. “Only efficient industries will be able to create jobs and pay higher wages,” he said.

Unions not pleased

However, trade unions, who had a dialogue with the inter-Minsiterial group on Sunday on their demands, including privatisation, disinvestment, and higher minimum wages among others, said these were nothing more than ‘pious words’.

“The country’s youth need jobs, not apprenticeships,” said A R Sindhu of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

Earlier, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh leader B N Rai said labour organisations were not against development but ‘exploitation in the name of development will not be allowed.”

H Mahadevan, leader of AITUC said, ”Philosophy sounds good, but what is needed is action (from government).”