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India: May Day 2018 - Text of Public Statement by New Trade Union Initiative

1 May 2018

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May Day 2018

We remember the martyrs of May Day. We remember those amongst us, the 68, who lost their lives in workplace accidents across the country at NTPC-Unchahar, at Bawana and at Cochin Shipyard and the so many more who died on the country’s sewer lines, electricity lines, construction sites, factories, and fields and plantations, restaurants, hotels and every other possible workplace. These deaths have been the ‘profits’ of ‘ease of doing business’ and self-certification in the country under the BJP government.

The Draft Code on Occupational Health, Health and Working Conditions 2018 released by government if legislated will allow employers to make workers work as many as four hours overtime each day, create differential levels of compliance for permanent and contract workers, absolving the principal employers’ responsibility in the safety and health of contract workers. All of this is to be monitored by employers themselves with labour inspectors to be replaced by ‘facilitators’ who will provide prior notice to employers if they propose to visit their premises. Hence, this paves the way for government to become a facilitator in ensuring lack of safety at workplaces, in complete contravention of the ILO Convention 81: Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 that was ratified by India in 1949.
To make it ever easier for employers to ‘hire and fire’ at will: the BJP government has through executive order made employment through fixed term contracts (FTC) legally permissible in all employments. The reference to FTC in the central rules under the Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act 1946 does not even provide for protection from unfair labour practices, including victimisation, by employers. This is not just about violation of labour rights but about the right to natural justice that every citizen is entitled to under the constitution.

Along with this the BJP government moved the Wage Code Bill 2017 in the Lok Sabha in August that seeks effectively to do away with the existing mechanism of minimum wages under the Minimum Wage Act 1948 replacing it with a ‘national’ minimum wage that need not be amended every five years nor be indexed to inflation. That the BJP government would like to push the minimum wage below subsistence is clear from how the BJP government systematically, year on year, has eroded the NREGA wage. The NREGA wage was increased on 1 April 2018 for the year 2018-19 at a countrywide average of 2.91 percent which is well below the rate of consumer price inflation. In many states it has not been increased at all. The NREGA wage is now well below the minimum wage for agricultural workers across most states. The Wage Code Bill also undermines the existing, albeit weak, provisions for equal pay for equal work for both women and men workers. The existing provisions for equal pay for equal work and on the responsibility of principal employers are also sought to be undermined through amendments being proposed to the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.

In the name of ‘universalisation’ the BJP government seeks to take out existing provisions of provident fund, the employee state insurance and the sectoral social security boards and replace them with private insurance based private healthcare and market based private pension funds.

Over the past four years the BJP government has made its worldview very clear and that is employers the right to do what they want, how they want and when they want. The BJP believes that it is only the private sector, including global capita, that can grow the economy and it is the private sector that can create jobs at a time when it has become clear that the private sector, in the present economic environment, is unwilling to make new investments, to create new jobs and grow the economy.

Most lately, government has announced its intentions to replace hot cooked meals in Anganwadis under the Integrated Child Development Scheme with ‘factory-made’ privately produced nutrients. Similar proposals have been made for the Mid-Day Meal Programme. Provisions of food security under the National Food Security Act 2013 have already been replaced by direct (cash) benefit transfers. All this not just undermines government intervention, that is meant to alleviate poverty, but is aimed at systematically shift the work of government into private hands for private profit.

The BJP government has brought the greatest misery to the country’s rural working population. By shifting bulk of government investment in agriculture to promote crop and loan insurance and pushing down procurement prices government has literally pulled the bottom out of the rural economy. The crisis caused in the rural economy has driven down demand, lowered employment and wages. Together with the note-ban and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax the BJP government has spelt an economic crisis which has no end.

Together with the efforts of reshaping the economy the BJP is seeking to reshape society and the polity through a sustained attack on democratic rights. The past year has witnessed bans on legally registered trade union organisations and summary deregistration of trade unions without cause or reason. There have been attacks on Dalits and other historically discriminated communities by vigilantes appointed by BJP leaders. There has been a singling out of religious minorities especially Muslims. The BJP leadership has at best remained silent and at worst celebrated the most heinous crimes against woman. The interference of government in the affairs of colleges, universities and other institutions of higher education is complete. All this is being done to break all people’s resistance and dissent so as to pave the way for a society that is built on a majoritarian understanding of Hinduism that exists for the rich and serves their interest alone.

The BJP has turned on democratic institutions of the state. It has undermined the functioning of parliament, every legislation it moves seeks to abrogate powers from the legislature to the executive and it has done everything possible to ensure that the judiciary, the Supreme Court downwards, serves the interests of government and not the people.

The BJP government has also advanced it agenda abroad by aligning with imperialist governments and not isolating our neighbours but also drawing them into confrontation. The rise of the right wing in imperialist countries has provided an easy passage for the BJP.

The working class are under attack across the world and we stand in solidarity with them and shall strengthen solidarity across the world.

The past year has brought forward the resilience of the working class and the peoples struggle. This has translated into a strengthening of unity among trade union organisations in many parts of the country. It has also brought together the trade union and peoples’ organisations in defence of democratic rights and livelihoods of the working class. It is now our collective task to transform this coming together into a democratic resistance for a people’s alternative.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary