‘We will not let anyone bulldoze our interests’

Print edition : June 12, 2015

Virjesh Upadhyay, BMS general secretary..

THE Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), despite being ideologically close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre, has found it difficult to turn a blind eye to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s proposed labour reforms meant to ease the norms for industry to operate. The BMS is a co-signatory to a 10-point charter of demands that the central trade unions have had since 2009. BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay spoke to Frontline on the kind of expectations unions had from the government.

Excerpts:

What would you say has been the government’s record as far as labour is concerned?

Labour issues are not new. The reforms that the present government is talking about are in continuation of what was practised by the previous United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government. I do not say that anything particularly negative has happened. Yes, the expectations we had in view of the massive mandate the BJP received may not have been met. This is the public perception.

Do you agree with the manner in which labour reforms are being undertaken? Trade unions were not consulted, were they?

If I really analyse, I can say that there is a direction change. That the government is interested in a direction change is evident and inevitable. There have been some initiatives that have been progressive; the measures for social security and the setting up of the MUDRA Bank are positive steps. I cannot confirm the lack of consultation. We have had consultations on the Employees Provident Fund Act, and the Labour Minister has said that he will accommodate our suggestions. I am not against industry or capital. But if the government decides unilaterally, there will be unrest, which will go against industry and workers as well. Enforcing the law is still a big challenge.

The government has made crucial amendments to labour laws and they have been passed by Parliament.

We were opposed to the amendments to the Factories Act and the Apprentices Act. There were many clauses that we did not appreciate. Labour reforms are required, but the safety and security that legislation provides for workers should not be removed. Trade unions and workers will come out on the streets; they have been doing so. In a democratic set-up, there is no other option. Whenever challenges have come up, forces have emerged to safeguard their interests. Workers in the railways, electricity departments, road transport and banking have been protesting. This is a proactive government—people are apprehensive. One thing is clear, we will not let anyone bulldoze our interests.

What do you feel about the proposals for amalgamating several laws and for codes for wages and industrial relations?

The very basics are sought to be changed. The definition of industry, workmen and the basic class will undergo a paradigm shift. We have registered our strong objection to it. In the beginning, the government brought in amendments to three crucial pieces of legislations. We say that in any kind of meeting, be it bilateral, trilateral or multilateral, labour should be on the agenda.

Wherever the Prime Minister goes visiting and arrives at economic agreements, labour does not seem to be on the agenda at all. Labour has never been on the agenda, whether it was the UPA or the NDA. Never in the course of the last one year was the 10-point charter of demands of 11 central trade unions discussed. It is only now that they are talking about it.

But the government seems to be claiming to do a lot for employment generation, skill development and labour. “Make in India”, for instance.

The “make in India” slogan is not a new concept. Multinationals have been “making in India” for several years now. It sounds different because of the way the government is posing it. None of these multinational corporations observes either the laws of its country or the labour laws in India.

If this is going to be the trend, then it is not acceptable. Japan was known for its best industrial practices, but everyone knows what happened at Maruti Suzuki. We are, however, an independent trade union, working in the interests of workers. If the government takes steps in favour of labour, we will support it, if it does not, we will have to oppose it.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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