The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has aired its differences with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government, announcing on Sunday that it would join several other central trade unions in a one-day all-India strike on September 2 to oppose amendments to labour laws.
These changes will dilute workers's rights and protection, the joint forum of central trade unions says.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh said that it had decided to join the strike because of the government's “anti-worker decisions".
In a public statement issued after a meeting of the union's central working committee in Bhopal between August 12 and 14, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh general secretary Virjesh Upadhayay said the Modi government had failed to fulfill assurances made to workers last year. “The Modi government has failed to implement the Payment of Bonus (Amendment) law, or provide social security to contract workers, anganwadi workers and others,” his note said. “The government had assured us of implementing a statutory minimum wage but nothing has been done since then.”
It added: “The government is succumbing to the pressures of employers by not implementing the proposed wages for contract labour. The Employee Provident Fund Organisation is repeatedly being attempted to be privatised against the interests of workers and its automony eroded gradually.”
Though the union's senior leadership has been invited to meet with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other members of a five-member working group on labour on August 16, Upadhayay said that he was “apprehensive of the outcome of such a meeting considering the past experience”.
This was a reference to a meeting the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh held with the government last August, after which it decided to withdraw from the all-India general strike called by a joint forum of all central trade unions for September. Other central trade unions went ahead with the strike, in which an estimated 10 crore workers – a fourth of India's workforce – had taken part.
Charter of demands
The joint forum of central trade unions, which is opposing the government's plans to amend labour laws, has drawn up a 12-point charter of demands. This includes fixing a legally-binding minimum wage floor of at least Rs 15,000 a month, curbing food inflation, equal pay for equal work for contract workers, regularisation of mid-day meal scheme workers and para-teachers, abolition of ceilings in calculation of bonus and gratuity. It also opposes disinvestment in public sector units and increasing foreign direct investment in defence and strategic sectors.
“From 2015 to 2016, labour rights have gone from bad to worse,” said AK Padmanabhan, the president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “Instead of regularising contract workers, the goverrnment wants to introduce new shorter contracts through fixed-term employment. The government claims credit for increasng maternity leave for women workers to 26 weeks, but its Small Factories Bill says 14 laws including Maternity Benefits Act will not apply to factories employing upto 40 workers, which comprises a majority of industrial units.”
Padmanabhan said that up to 15 crore workers to take part in the strike on September 2.
Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, and a former member of parliament of Communist Party of India said it would be a “good decision” if the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh also joined the strike.
Last August, while withdrawing from the joint strike, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh had argued that the government needed more time to implement pro-worker demands. But this year, on June 4, it organised a demonstration agianst the government's failure to implement the Payment of Bonus (Amendment) Act, which redefined workmen as those earning less than Rs 21,000 per month from the earlier classification of those earning under Rs 10,000 a month. It also revised the “fixed amount” in bonus ceilings from Rs 3,500, to Rs 7,000.