Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of making deliberate attempts to weaken labour-related laws which was creating dissatisfaction among the workers.
Alleging that Modi has launched a “big assault” on the workers, a combative Gandhi vowed to fight their battle like the Congress did for the farmers on the land acquisition bill.
“Like we fought for the rights of farmers, we will fight for the cause of the workers and stand with them and would not retreat an inch. We will fight the Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” he said amid applause at the 31st Plenary Session of INTUC, the trade union wing of the Congress.
Gandhi said although he agreed with the PM’s idea of turning India into a global manufacturing centre to make it more competitive than China, the unanimity ends there.
This, he claimed, was because the PM considers Indian worker as “dishonest, shirker and one who could be made to work only by wielding the stick”.
He said that is why the labour laws were being diluted, so that the workers come to his knees. “If you look at the new laws being made in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana, you will see that Modi has started a big assault on workers,” he said.
He claimed the prime minister feels that there was need to weaken the labour laws and “discipline” the workers so that they could be forced to work. Modi feels that with ‘hire and fire’ policy and weakening of unions, the workers will be made to work, Gandhi claimed.
“I do not agree that our worker is either a shirker or indisciplined... Our worker is scared. He is scared of his future, the future of his children. The worker is scared whether the job he has today will be there tomorrow. Will the factory gate open for him tomorrow,” the Congress leader said.
Insisting that the government should become “judge” between the labourers and the industry and “not advocate” of industry, he told the PM that if he is able to remove fear from the mind of the workers then India would be able to surpass China in no time.
Addressing the gathering, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the “dissatisfaction” of workers with the “anti-labour and unimaginative” economic policies of the National Democratic Alliance government was obvious from the one day general strike observed in the country on September 2.
Gandhi’s attack on the Modi dispensation came after INTUC chief G Sanjeeva Reddy accused the government of launching an assault on interests of the labourers in various ways.
Reddy alleged that the government was not recognising INTUC as the largest trade union organisation in the country with 3.31 crore members despite “submission of all documents for verification”.
Gandhi said Modi had attempted to acquire lands of farmers by promulgating the land ordinance thrice but Congress MPs resisted and ensured that it was not done.
He alleged that now the PM’s attempt is to break the safety net for workers which was built over decades by the Congress when it was in power.
Claiming that whosoever was advising the PM on labour matters was “wrongly advising” him, Gandhi said the workers would take India to greater heights if their “pain” is removed.
Taking a dig at the PM, the Congress vice-president said “these are days of Twitter and selfies” and Modi has a penchant for using new words and phrases.
He assured the INTUC leadership that he would accommodate their representatives in Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies as also in the ministries so that the issues of labour get their due attention.
Former Prime Minister Singh said that in the name of structural labour reforms, attempts are being made to reduce the scope for secure industrial jobs in favour of contract labour and ‘hire and fire’ approach.
“It is generally agreed that we need at least 500 million skilled workers by 2022. The actual pace on the ground is only a fraction of this target,” he said.
At the same time, he said that industrial strife, strikes and lockouts are “not the best means” to resolve unrest. “We must enlarge the available space for resolving industrial problems through peaceful dialogue involving all the stake holders of the tripartite process -- namely workers, industry and government.”
He said the trade union movement has to be made aware that at present Indian economy faces a fragile recovery and inadequate expansion of employment opportunities and public enterprises face an uncertain future.
Image: Rahul Gandhi with former PM Manmohan Singh at the plenary session of INTUC. Photograph: PTI