Trade union representatives are expected to meet finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on 14 January to voice their opposition to the proposed goods and services tax (GST) regime, ahead of a planned nationwide strike on 5 March to protest the recent price rise.
Nine national trade unions, including the Congress party-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc), have joined hands after nearly two decades to press the government to take action on five issues, including controlling prices of essential commodities, creation of a national social security fund to protect workers against job losses and strict measures against violations of labour laws. They are also opposing disinvestment of profit-making Central public sector enterprises.
Trade unions cutting across political lines who have come together under a common platform include Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the left-wing All Indian Trade Union Congress (Aituc) and Centre of Indian Trade Union.
The Union government’s planned tax-code reform is the latest to come under attack from the unions, which they have described as regressive. GST is India’s most ambitious indirect tax reform that seeks to stitch together a common market.
The labour groups are also opposing the government’s move to impose taxes on savings under provident fund, superannuation funds, life insurance and pension schemes. Currently, contributions to these are exempt from levy but savings income are taxed on withdrawal.
“Benefits to workers and the working-class and professionals will be badly affected by the new taxation system, and we will jointly fight these issues,” said Sanjeeva Reddy, president of Intuc, adding that many of the matters the unions are raising are “non-political” and would affect the living standards of a large number of people.
The trade unions came on a common plank to raise their issue-based agenda on three occasions last year—14 September, 28 October and 16 December—when demonstrations were organized across the country.
“But it appears the government is not listening and we taking our action a step further,” said M.H. Mahadevan, deputy general secretary of Aituc.
On 5 March, tens of thousands of workers are expected to court arrest in the biggest ever joint union initiative to voice their concerns, Mahadevan said. Most of these workers are from the informal sector, representing 90% of India’s 450 million-plus workforce, he added.
Several associations, including the All India Bank Employees Union, which represents around 400,000 employees, have extended their support, according to C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the association.