New Delhi: A series of policy measures— either taken or lined up—that are aimed at improving the condition of workers will help the government shake off allegations that it is pro-big business, senior officials said.
Following a campaign by opposition parties and trade unions, as well as a nation-wide strike on 2 September, these measures taken by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the past few weeks are aimed at changing its image on workers’ issues.
After hiking the minimum wage for unskilled workers in central jobs on 30 August by 42%, the government raised the salary cap for employee state insurance corporation (ESIC) beneficiaries to bring more industrial workers under the social security net.
All industrial workers drawing up to Rs21,000 per month will be eligible for ESIC benefits that range from primary to tertiary care.
And it is now planning to hike the salary cap of EPFO subscribers to the same level as ESIC to bring more organized sector employees under the provident fund and pension benefits.
“While the ESIC decision brought some 30 million workers under the social security net, the EPFO decision will have more than 50 million beneficiaries. Like ESIC, the EPFO decision can be an executive order to effect the implementation faster," said a labour ministry official who declined to be named. “The government is clear about it and the EPF decision is set to be approved by the EPFO board soon," the official added.
Labour secretary Shankar Aggarwal said that at the policy level there is a conscious effort to do better for the working class.
“We may have faced political and trade union criticism and may have been labelled otherwise, but the reality is there is sincere effort," he added.
There are also plans to offer social security benefits like healthcare to more than three million unorganized sector workers in flagship schemes such as Anganwadi and mid-day meal scheme through employee state insurance.
“Opposition parties are free to blame, but we are pro-worker and we know that. We are working on extending ESIC benefits to millions of scheme workers," labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has in the past accused the Narendra Modi government of being anti-labour and anti-farmer.
He told a rally in Kerala in February, “You will never see the prime minister of India with farmers or labourers. You will never see a photograph of the prime minister holding hands with farmers or labourers."
Ten national trade unions went on a day-long strike across India on 1 September, affecting normal life in parts of the nation.
Dattatreya said an inter-ministerial panel is almost through drafting a labour code on wages.
The wage code is one of four labour codes that the union government is finalizing to consolidate 44 labour laws. Trade unions want it fixed at Rs18,000 per month for all organised sector workers.
“The government is high on rhetoric and low on delivery," said D.L. Sachdeva, national secretary of All India Trade Union Congress.