The United Progressive Alliance government has initiated a move to revive a 20-year-old controversial bill which seeks to give representation to workers on company boards. As a first step, Union Labour Secretary Prabhat Chaturvedi met human resource directors and other senior officials of 12 'Navratna' PSUs in Delhi.
In the two-hour meeting, Chaturvedi is believed to have asked the officials if they had any objections to the proposal. Written views of the leading industry chambers were also tabled. Among those present were representatives of BHEL, NTPC and Coal India. A representative of the International Labour Organization was also present, sources said.
The Participation of Workers in Management Bill was introduced by the government during the prime ministership of V P Singh between 1989 and 1990. It had sought 25 per cent representation of workers on the board of directors and had proposed a fine of up to Rs 20,000 on a company failing to do so.
The bill was moved in the Rajya Sabha, but it did not make much headway. "The private sector had vehemently opposed the bill...and it still continues to do so," Tapan Sen, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told Business Standard. "I don't know if the government will muster enough courage to bypass this pressure."
Since the bill was moved in the Rajya Sabha, which is a continuing house, it is still alive. At present, only some public sector banks give trade unions a seat on their boards. The labour ministry is hopeful that if the PSUs take the lead, it will be easier for the government to convince the private sector to create a quota for workers on their boards.
The ministry has told the PSUs and the industry bodies that business should not be seen only through the perspective of production and profit but also in the light of greater participation of workers. It also made it clear that roping in workers at the lower level of management will not be enough.Trade unions, affiliated to the Left parties are, however, cautious of the move.
"It is too early to comment because we are yet to see the exact proposal," Sen of CITU said. "The trade unions should be given a meaningful participation at all levels of the company. In a big bunch of bankers and independent directors, if there is just one or two workers' representative, it will be a meaningless exercise." The representative of the workers, Sen added, should not be a hand-picked man of the management. "Representatives must be elected through secret ballots."