News Frontliner Web Desk, 01 May 2019: At a time when Indian government’s own leaked report, says that unemployment is at a 45-year high ‘May Day’ assumes more importance than ever before. Data from India’s most respected private economic intelligence agency, CMIE, says employment has dropped from about 40.7 crore in 2016-17 to 40.1 crore in March 2019. That’s about 57 lakh jobs lost in the space of three years. RBI-KLEMS data shows a drop of 12 lakh jobs in the two previous years.
What happens when the opportunity for jobs goes down? Some people simply stop looking for work, while others take whatever they can. So, workers are forced to accept low-paid, short-duration contract jobs.
When Narendra Modi was bidding for power five years ago, he promised ‘minimum government, maximum governance.’ It was an industry-friendly mantra that India Inc fell in love with. It promised easy loans, quick permits and hire-and-fire laws.
In an effort to change the age-old labour law so as to make it industry friendly, Modi government had to go through a lengthy parliamentary process. But the BJP wanted to modify things faster.
The Rajasthan assembly, where the BJP had a four-fifth majority, took the first move to amend four key labour laws. The first change allowed factories with less than 300 employees, to fire workers without any prior permission from authorities. This reversed a 1982 law that had set the threshold at 100 employees. One mustn’t forget that Basundhara Raje’s Rajasthan government did the amendment in spite of the fact that the state has less than 10 percent workers employed in industry.
Over the next few years, Modi government brought the key features of these amendments to the Centre. The first of these was the Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill, 2015, which combined provisions of the existing Industrial Disputes Act and the Trade Union Act. While the bill made registering trade unions easier, stringent reporting rules were added, which would allow unions to be derecognised as easily.
Unions would have to give a six-week notice before a strike and if a strike were to be declared illegal, each member would face a Rs 50,000, fine and could also be sent to jail.
When workers go on strike, they have to live without wages. At times like these, they depend on money collected by their unions and funds given by well-wishers, friends and family.
While the government had to go slow on the Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill due to opposition from within, it managed to pass laws that adopted the Rajasthan norms on 100-hours of overtime per quarter, and allowed companies in every sector to hire contract workers.
The Modi government’s labour and economic policies were supposed to make it easier to do business in India; and it did exactly that. India has indeed gone up in rankings in the ease of doing business. But all this at the cost of cutting ’employment’ and making worker’s life more distressful’.
For India’s 40 crore workers, May Day is perhaps the time when the working class identifies it’s true class enemy and acts logically. Without getting diverted and divided by religion and community, the working class needs to analyze the economic and labour policies of the Modi government and unite.