In response to your edit, ‘Labour gains’, Mint, 19 March, I want to say that all aspects of labour reforms must be considered. What is the ground reality for the labour force organized under the dreaded unions? They are supposedly misusing labour laws. The most widely ‘abused’ is the ‘right to strike’ as the only weapon for unions to make managements accede to their unjustified demands for better wages and better working conditions!
Has any one tried to find out why there are thousands of labour disputes in the labour tribunals and other higher courts of India? It’s simple: The ‘archaic’ labour laws are flouted with such disregard to workers’ rights that it becomes a mockery of law.
I have been fighting a court battle for the past 14 years to uphold the rights of 18 poor workers. Though we won the case in the tribunal, the management has appealed in a high court. Even if the high court upholds the tribunal’s verdict, the management would be well within its rights to take the case to the Supreme Court. I know from personal experience, how tough it is to defend your case in the highest court. It needs a lot of money and high-calibre lawyers. Our labour laws, enacted to safeguard the interests of the poor workers, can’t prove to be of much use to the working class since the entire legal process is time-consuming and expensive. This is mainly why unions have to resort to other pressure tactics to communicate their point of view to the managements. So the issue assumes an altogether different perspective that’s more ‘social’ in nature than merely ‘legal’ or ‘political’.
Think how, in the name of flexibility, an entire future generation of Indian workers can be ruined. No government is bothered about future job security or working conditions of our young boys and girls, lured by BPOs with five-figure salaries. These youngsters’ retirement ages would be between 30 and 35 years. And when the western corporate giants find other cheaper labour markets, they would move on immediately. How are unionized workers faring under the present labour laws? The big unions are strong, thanks to political patronage, but a number of small unions which have organized themselves under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, are struggling to survive. With further relaxation in labour laws, it is a matter of time before they perish. It is unfortunate that in a race to imitate affluent western societies, our politicians would allow free exploitation by big businesses without any social responsibility either on the part of the government or employers. I belong to no political party. I subscribe to no ‘isms’. I may accept all changes in our labour laws, but first let the government assure all workers that if they lose their jobs, it will pay for their well-being (with no cut in living standards from their employed, tax-paying status) till they find another job. Can the government assure the tax-paying workers of world-class health care and quality education for free for their children? If not, it should first change the archaic political system before turning to archaic labour laws.
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