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Central Trade Unions Boycott Government Meeting over Labour Rules, Call Consultation ‘Farce’

Ronak Chhabra |
Mentioning that a one-day virtual conference would serve “no fruitful purpose”, the unions instead demand a physical meeting for each of the four codes.
Central Trade Unions Boycott Government Meeting over Labour Rules, Call Consultation ‘Farce’

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New Delhi: The ten Central Trade Unions boycotted a virtual meeting with the Centre over framing of rules for four labour codes on Thursday, saying that “no fruitful purpose” would be served by such an exercise.

The unions had instead proposed a consultation process in which the physical presence of stakeholders would be necessary to ensure adherence to the “international commitments of tripartism” in matters related to labour.

The framing of rules for the four labour codes – The Code on Wages, The Industrial Relations Code, The Social Security Code and The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code – is currently underway. Draft copies of the rules have been available to the public since November for their suggestions within a period of 45 days from the date of notification.

On Thursday, a tripartite “consultation” meeting, which was to enable representations by industry leaders, state governments and trade bodies, was called for over video conferencing. The decision, taken by the Union Ministry of Labour & Employment was apparently put down to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Refusing to participate in “such a farce,” the ten central trade unions said that the one-day video conference is “meant only for the record and would serve no fruitful purpose.”

“… this exercise is being under taken only to meet the criticism that this Government at centre is violating tripartite consultations, as on the one hand they cancel the winter session of the parliament, while on the other, throwing all precautions of distancing during the Covid pandemic, for the election campaign and their political rallies etc. (sic),” said the statement, signed by INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, and UTUC.

The Narendra Modi – led central government drew flak from various experts, workers’ organisations in the country, as well as from international labour watchdogs for pushing through the three labour codes in the last Parliament session in September without proper debate. The other code, Code on Wages, was passed last year.

The Centre, which has already came under severe criticism for denying the Indian Labour Conference – the apex level tripartite consultative committee – to be convened for the last five years, was also recently accused of not holding proper consultations with the trade unions before the codification of labour laws – a process that will see 44 existing legislations being subsumed.

In a letter dated December 22, addressed to Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge), the trade unions said that the process which concerns the working conditions, wages, collective bargaining among others, of “not less than 50 crores of workers and employees of formal and informal economy,” is a “serious matter.”

Through their letter, the aggrieved unions insisted that there should instead be a “separate meeting for each code and that too with physical presence.”

Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) told NewsClick that the Centre is “denying” the necessary procedures in framing of labour legislations “by holding consultations just for namesake through video conferencing.”

To illustrate her point, she cited an instance from earlier this month when union representatives were invited for a virtual meeting with finance ministry officials for “pre-budget consultations.”

First, each speaker wasn’t allowed enough time to put forth their viewpoints; the complete control over who could be muted or was allowed to speak was with the ministry’s admin,” Kaur rued, adding, “at least one union leader was not even asked to speak throughout the meeting due to time constraints.”

The lack of a proper internet connection available to each participant only added to the discomfort, according to Kaur. “To have consultation over the rules for labour codes in this manner would have been nothing but a mockery of the whole process – hence, we boycotted,” she told NewsClick.

The tripartism and social dialogue has been “weakened” under the Modi government, K. Hemalata, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) said, adding, “earlier unions also pointed this out to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).”

The international body had expressed “deep concern” to the Centre earlier this year in May after its intervention was sought by the central trade unions. They had alleged that adequate discussions and consultation with workers’ organisations didn’t take place before the labour regulations were amended – a violation to ILO’s convention 144, ratified by India in 1978.

The convention mandates a tripartite social dialogue in the development and implementation of international labour standards.

To ensure that happened, Hemalata reiterated that the unions have demanded a physical meeting. Asked what if the Centre doesn’t pay heed to their demands, she said: “In that case, we will decide on what we can do further.”

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