Unlike the farm laws, which allegedly saw no pre-legislative consultation with the concerned stakeholders, rules regarding legislation that concerns the country’s labour force are blessed with discussions before implementation – but the problem is that these are being described as “farce”.
The ten Central Trade Unions on Tuesday boycotted another round of virtual tripartite meeting over framing of rules for the four reform-oriented labour codes, saying that the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment has “failed to take cognisance” of the objections that were raised earlier by them against the required consultations being held through video conferences.
Saying that discussions over video conferencing regarding the legislations, which concern “not less than 50 crores of workers and employees of formal and informal economy,” would serve “no fruitful purpose”, the unions had last month boycotted the tripartite consultation meeting.
The unions had instead proposed, through a letter dated December 22, 2020, a consultation exercise in which the physical presence of stakeholders would be necessary, in other words, a face-to-face meeting – that too, one for each of the four codes.
Even though, the absence of representatives from ten unions, representing the employees, didn’t stop the Centre from going ahead with the tripartite meet, the agenda of the meeting was reduced from discussions on rules of all four codes to two.
The meeting was eventually attended by the government mandarins, along with employers’ representatives and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). Congress-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) leader Ashok Singh reportedly attended the virtual conference only to reiterate the demands of the protesting trade unions.
It saw discussions over the rules for the Code on Wages and the Code on Industrial Relations.
For consultations over the remaining two – Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, and Code on Social Security – another meeting was called on Tuesday, albeit again over video conferencing.
“Instead of taking our objections seriously, the government is trying to make a farce out of the tripartite consultations by setting up this kind of video conferences when we know that the physical meetings of the government at various levels are taking place including the negotiations with the farmers, as well as the election preparation rallies in various states etc.,” the ten trade unions said in their press statement on Monday.
The unions alleged the Centre of adopting the labour codes that will subsume about 25 central enactments by “flouting all Parliamentary norms” and “without Tripartite consultations.” On the drafting of rules for the same, they added that, “to deny the serious exercise through physical meetings smells of wilful anti-labour instance on the part of the Government.”
Incidentally, the press statement by the aggrieved trade unions was released on the same day when the Supreme Court came down heavy on the Narendra Modi-led central government for the way it has handled the ongoing agitation by farmers against the farm laws at the borders of the national capital.
“… You [Centre] made a law without enough consultation, resulting in a strike,” the Chief Justice of India Shrarad A. Bobde was quoted by The Hindu as remarking during the hearing.
The impression that the Centre took no efforts of bringing all the concerned stakeholders into confidence before enacting the three farm legislation and thereby triggering an unanticipated protests was further strengthened by the “nil” information that was reportedly shared by the Agriculture Ministry, when it was asked about the pre-legislative consultations under the Right to Information Act.
Tapan Sen, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told NewsClick that unlike in the case of the farm laws, the Centre can claim that they have conducted consultations with all the stakeholders on every count regarding the labour codes. “But what is the meaning of such discussions if they were to be held like this?” he asked, referring to the use of video conferencing.
“The Centre and the employers are ganged-up together to push through all their ‘anti-worker’ agendas. When met with arguments from us, they fail to refute the concerns,” Sen said. And that is why, they are only engaging in an exercise “just for namesake” to create a semblance of tripartism, he added.
Asked what the unions are planning to do going forward, Sen said that the workers cannot sit on borders in strike like the farmers as the former is required to show up for work daily. The situation with labour codes hence is “qualitatively different” than the farm laws, according to him, when it comes to the ways to protest.
“The workers will instead defy and resist it at the workplaces. They will have complete support from the unions in pushing back the changes,” Sen said.