Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday the government was serious about the issues raised by trade unions during the recent general strike as there could be ‘no disagreement’ on some of them and that it was willing to engage "constructively" with the workers' bodies.
He said that while some demands such as containing inflation and generation of employment opportunities were ‘unexceptionable’, the government was already at an advanced stage for considering an universal social security cover for workers in both organised and unorganised sectors.
"Our government has paid very serious attention to the issues that trade unions have raised from time to time.
"The recent two-day strike by trade unions focused on a number of issues relating to the welfare not only of the working classes but also the people at large," Singh said inaugurating the 45th session of Indian Labour Conference in New Delhi. " These include demands on which there could be no disagreement such as demands for concrete measures for containing inflation, for generation of employment opportunities, for strict implementation of labour laws were unexceptionable, he said.
"There can, however, be differences on the best ways of fulfilling these demands and we are willing to engage constructively with the trade unions in this regard," the Prime Minister said.
He said the government was also considering fixing a national floor-level minimum wage and provision of minimum pension of Rs. 1000 per month under the Employees' Pension Scheme.
The Prime Minister was confident that ‘soon we will see some forward movement’ on some other issues which require further dialogue, for which the government has set up a Group of Ministers under the Finance Minister.
Noting that the economy was going through difficult circumstances and "our growth is not what we would like it to be", he sought enhanced partnership among the industry, trade unions and state governments to strengthen the economy and the society.
"Even as the government works for reversing this situation (the economic slowdown) and I am confident we can do so and we will do it, we need the cooperation of both captains of industry and our trade unions," he said.
The Prime Minister said the demands of the trade unions, during their two-day general strike in February this year, reflected the concern that growth and progress should be inclusive and should particularly benefit the under-privileged sections of the society.
"This is a concern that has been very dear to our government. “We believe that providing our people with productive employment opportunities is the best way of achieving this objective," he said.
Singh said ever since the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in 2004, it has endeavoured to work for the welfare of workers and has delivered on the promises, even though much more needs to be done.
"When I look back at what I had said when I addressed the 40th Session of this Conference in 2005, I feel a sense of satisfaction that we have delivered substantially on the promises we had made at that time.
"I am happy that we have achieved good results in these areas, though I would be the first one to recognise that there is much that still needs to be done," he said.
The Prime Minister said that despite the global meltdown, the government created 20 million additional job opportunities during the period between 2004-05 and 2009-10, leading to a drop in the employment rate from 8.3 per cent to 6.6 per cent.
Employment in the organised sector also registered a growth of more than 9 per cent from 26.5 million in 2005 to 29 million in 2011.
"It is heartening to note that women employment in the organised sector has also registered a growth of about 19 per cent during the same period," he said.
Singh also focused on the government's move to skill 5 crore people by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan, stating that this will not only help in generating good quality employment but will also provide industry with the skilled workforce they need to expand and modernise their operations.
Talking about the government's recent decision to set up the National Skill Development Agency, he said it would anchor and operationalise the national skills qualification framework thereby playing a vital role in transforming the quality of training in the country.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh