Opinion

Issues underlying January 8 strike call

KR Shyam Sundar | Updated on January 07, 2020 Published on January 07, 2020

The strike is taking place under a grim political and economic context   -  Prateek kumar

Central trade unions have flagged both job losses and poor working conditions, thanks to poor regulation

The 10 central trade unions (CTUs) and several independent federations have called for an all-India strike on January 8, to protest against the NDA government’s economic and labour policies.

Significantly, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella platform for over 100 farmers’ organisations, has called for a ‘Grameen Bandh’ (rural strike) on the same day. The Shiv Sena is also joining the strike, unlike in the past when the NDA was in power. However, the RSS-affiliated BMS conducted nationwide agitations on January 3. Seen together, these protests would involve a huge number of workers.

The strike is taking place under a grim political and economic context. It assumes a wider significance, beyond the narrow confines of traditional labour-oriented issues. Industrial protests could be seen as an articulation for an inclusive society in every sense — political, economic and the labour market.

Policy tilt

KP Kannan and G Raveendran (2019) have shown that during 2012-18, the Indian economy witnessed a transition from “jobless” to “job-loss growth”, wherein the rural women workers, less educated and vulnerably-placed social groups like the Muslims and the OBCs bore the brunt of job loss.

They show that the job loss problem is largely prevalent in rural India. Owing to, and using the pretext of, the economic slowdown, many firms have reportedly laid off thousands of workers, especially contract and casual workers.

Even in these hard times, the government is actively considering privatising profit-making public sector enterprises like BPCL, corporatising ordinance factories from being a government department, expanding the automatic route in FDI to the coal sector and raising the cap on FDI in defence from the existing 49 per cent to 74 per cent, merger of banks, etc. All these could arguably have adverse implications for labour rights in general, and employment in particular. In fact, the government has asked the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) to examine the issue of job-reservations for SC/ST and OBCs post-disinvestment, as the stakeholders have complained of loss of jobs for these sections of workers in the post-disinvestment scene.

The CTUs have asked for measures to combat the economic crisis by creating jobs and reviving demand; these include increasing the number of work-days under the MGNREGA from 100 to 200. Similarly, their demand for a higher minimum wage of ₹21,000 and widespread and higher social security could again boost aggregate demand.

The Economic Survey 2018-19 spoke of the need for effective compliance of minimum wage to ‘improve the welfare’ of the workers at the lower rungs. In fact, the CTUs’ demand for strict implementation of labour laws is their fundamental issue. Even though workers’ safety has not figured in the agenda of any trade union, and regrettably so, the rather frequent incidence of fire and other workplace accidents exposes the absence of effective governance of industries.

Perhaps, they show the darker side of ease and cost of doing business, and erode the serious legitimacy of reforms arguments by a responsible segment of the industry.

Dubious practices

The concern of the CTUs is not only about high and rising unemployment, but perverse employment practices as well. It has been reported that firms have been employing trainees in schemes like National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) during both peaceful and strike periods to do regular work.

In fact, in September 2019, the AICTE had to caution the NEEM agents against the practice of re-routing existing employees as NEEM trainees to avoid statutory provident fund and medical insurance liabilities.

This is akin to the judiciary’s rebuke on the sham practice of engaging contract labour to deny social security and other benefits to workers. The proportion of contract workers in the total workers in the organised factor sector has increased from 13 per cent in 1993-94 to 36 per cent in 2016-17.

The application of minimum wages and other benefits, apart from ‘government employee’ status, has been a long-standing demand of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) and other government employees.

In a pluralistic and democratic society such as ours, dissent and dialogue need to be accepted and respected. Being a signatory to ILO’s Convention, C144, Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976, the Centre will hopefully hold a meaningful and effective dialogue with the stakeholders at least post the strikes, to craft labour and economic policies that optimally cater to often conflicting interests of the social partners.

Trade unions need to appreciate the concerns of the industry for a genuine need for flexibility as much as the latter need to recognise that low-cost and indecent employment practices are unsustainable.

The writer is professor, XLRI, Xavier School of Management. Views are personal

Published on January 07, 2020

A letter from the Editor


Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.