Bearing the brunt

Published : Oct 05, 2012 00:00 IST

Migrant labourers from neighbouring districts arrive in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, for construction work.-RAJU V.

Migrant labourers from neighbouring districts arrive in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, for construction work.-RAJU V.

Neoliberalism has ensured a collusion between the state and private capital and a steady erosion in the rights of labour.

Two months ago, labour unrest and violence led to the death of a senior manager of a leading automobile company on the premises of its plant at Manesar in the National Capital Region ( Frontline, August 24). Workers were arrested indiscriminately. The company removed 500 workers from its rolls. The incident sparked a debate on industrial relations in India and was analysed by workers representatives and industry leaders alike.

However, except for instituting a regular inquiry into the incident, the Central government declined to take serious note of it. To it, taking the trade unions into its confidence was not a priority. Meanwhile, the Haryana police cracked down on workers and their families, booked charges against a hundred of them under various sections relating to rioting, arson and murder, and threw them in jail. Even those who had little to do with the agitation were not spared.

Manesar continues to be analysed for a number of reasons. A state of paralysis in industrial relations as the possible impact of this incident in a prominent automobile company was not a light matter for industry. All central trade unions were rallying together for the workers cause. And, it had the potential of snowballing into something major and widespread.

Industry voices

Against the backdrop of the Manesar incident, on September 11, office-bearers of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) discussed the vexed issue of industrial relations and identified five focus areas needing the immediate attention of all stakeholdersthe government, industry and labour unions: co-creating a code of understanding and behaviour of all stakeholders; propagating the code across the country through conferences and workshops; placing industrial relations on the radar of the top management; pinning the focus on capability and education; and reviewing the law on contract labour.

In the media briefing that ensued, R.V. Kanoria, president of FICCI, used a new term hire and hire as the desired objective of labour policy to create employment opportunities. Flexibility was required in the way industry functions, and rights and responsibilities of the stakeholders need to be underlined. Better understanding and harmony to recognise the importance of labour laws are needed, his statement read. Other issues that were flagged at the briefing included the need for vocational courses, skill development through vocational education, and a change in the mindset of people regarding this form of education.

Interestingly, FICCI vice-president Naina Lal Kidwai observed that the incident had given industry and other stakeholders an opportunity to look for long-term solutions that would help in preventing such outbreaks in future. She emphasised that the focus be on regulation of labour laws as the present structure was complex, with some laws needing immediate review. Industry was in support of preserving social security benefits and skill development measures for contract workers, she said, adding that it had to invest both in capital and labour.

Rajeev Dubey, president of the Employers Federation of India, underscored how dialogue between various stakeholders was essential, not just short-term arbitrage. The speakers, however, shied away from identifying the main causes of the Manesar flare-up though they indicated at the meeting that one of the reasons could have been the feeling of differentiation between permanent and contract workers and the demand for equal pay for equal work therein. It wont be fair to come to a judgment regarding what happened. We need to look at it holistically, said Dubey, who is also the president (Group HR, Corporate Services and After Market) of Mahindra and Mahindra.

Trade union voices

What is there to discuss with employers organisations? First of all, they should undertake to follow all labour laws. Today it is the democratic right of a worker to join a union of his choice; that is being questioned. On that itself, the employers have been taking an illegal position, said A.K. Padmanabhan, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). He said central trade unions were not averse to workers having their individual trade unions at the plant level. All trade unions have demanded unequivocally that Rs.10,000 be declared as the minimum wage and that the yardstick of equal pay for equal work be applied. The third issue is social security. The employers organisations are not agreeing even to this, he told Frontline.

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