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'Certain trade unions demands are impractical'

August 11, 2007 13:23 IST

Arjun Sengupta, chairman, National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, talks to Business Standard about why he wants two separate Bills for the agricultural and non-agricultural workers.

Don't you think your report, "Condition of workers and promotion of livelihoods in the unorganised sector," has come a bit late considering that the unorganised sector Bill is on the verge of being introduced in Parliament?

Deliberations on the report have been on for some time and we are in discussion with the government. Yesterday, we submitted the report to the prime minister. I hope the government notes the recommendations of the report while formulating its social security schemes.

The commission has recommended separate Bills for agriculture workers and other unorganised sector workers. But Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes says the government is not considering two Bills.

I cannot comment on that. We were only told that our recommendations were under active consideration of the government. Even states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala (which has opted for separate Bills) and Bihar are in favour of a separate Bill for agriculture workers.

What do you think about the Bill that was passed by the Cabinet in May?

We are not satisfied with that Bill because several of our recommendations were not taken into consideration. That is why the prime minster reconvened a group of ministers with specific instructions that the commission's recommendations deserve serious consideration.

 What about the financial commitments in the Bill?

I think the Bill should have proper financial commitments in order to deliver. We have recommended an amount of around Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion) to cover both agricultural and non-agricultural workers for five years. This amounts to just 0.5 per cent of GDP, which the government can very well provide for the benefit of around 90 per cent unorganised/informal workers in the country.

Though your recent reports have been worked out in consultation with trade unions, differences seem to persist. Why?

Yes, our report calling for two Bills was prepared after discussions with trade unions but some of their demands -- like allocation of 3 per cent GDP for the sector and that workers need not contribute to the scheme -- are a bit impractical.

Your commission has suggested advisory boards, which have no teeth, for implementing the schemes.

What we had recommended was not just advisory boards but some implementing bodies with powers to deliver specific benefits to unorganised workers.

Can the schemes be made a part of the legislation? Also, the government appears to want to deliver the schemes in a phased manner (beginning with BPL families).

We have recommended that the schemes should be a part of the legislation in order to give them a legal basis, as is the case with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Though we have not recommended phased delivery, the system can be followed. But the government should ensure that all unorganised workers are covered and no sector is left untouched.

Prasad Nichenametla in New Delhi
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