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This article was first published 8 years ago  » Business » Labour minister on what led to the nationwide strike

Labour minister on what led to the nationwide strike

By Somesh Jha and Indivjal Dhasmana
September 02, 2015 13:05 IST
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Ten central trade unions will go on a nationwide strike on Wednesday, protesting against the government's labour reforms and inaction towards their demands.

Ahead of the strike, Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya (pictured below) tells Somesh Jha and Indivjal Dhasmana the union's attitude should change with the new industrial dynamics.

He also said the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) didn't call off their strike due to political reasons.    

Why did your government fail to convince a majority of trade unions against going ahead with the strike?  

We tried our best to convince them, as our approach was very rational and progressive.

Of the 12 demands, we are about to fulfil nine. Even in the rest, the government wants to have further talks.

Those are related to FDI (foreign direct investment), disinvestment of public sector units and contract workers. We have discussed all issues categorically.

Though we might not regularise contract workers, the major concern for us was how to enhance their wages. We also agreed upon providing a social security net (for them).  

How will you term the behaviour of the trade unions, since you claim that most of the problems have been addressed?  

It's not a question of behaviour, but their attitude should change. It should be in workers' and national interest.

The whole attitude should change with the changing times when we are witnessing new modes of business, diversified industry and the rising share of youth in the working population.  

Do you see political divisions among trade unions, with BMS calling off the strike but other trade unions going ahead with it?  

I can't say that. Inference can be drawn by people themselves. The government is trying its best and engaging in dialogue with the unions.

The finance minister (Arun Jaitley) gave them his maximum time and sat all through the meeting. In the first meeting itself, he made it clear that the government has taken steps in favour of workers.  

Do you find it more difficult to negotiate with other labour unions because they come from different political backgrounds than talking with the BMS?  

We held a dialogue and the issues were sorted out. The BMS realised issues can be sorted out in a phased manner. If the government is coming out with solutions what is the need to call a strike?

This is the perspective by which the BMS had agreed. They didn't call off the strike because of political reasons.

When we took the steps to provide social security to unorganised workers, these were all the demands of the BMS. Other unions also appreciated the government. When we are going two steps forward, you are going a step back. This should not be the attitude.  

The striking unions said BMS called off strike due to political reasons. Was there any pressure from your government on BMS, as it is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?  

There were no separate talks with BMS. BMS was more aggressive in their demands than other unions.

When they were convinced, they didn't agree to join and in fact they questioned the others as to why they are going ahead with the strike even after demands had been met.  

So, do you think the demands are irrational?  

The only point is their attitude should change.  

Do you think the unions are bogged primarily by their Left ideology?  

Naturally, yes. Left ideology can't grow. Look at what is happening in West Bengal and Kerala. What is their presence?

What is the percentage of the vote share? More important, there shouldn't be rigidity and their ideologies shouldn't be imposed on others.  

What is your assessment of the strike?  

There won't be much impact. However, misinformation is being spread a lot. Proper information should reach workers and we will develop that approach.

We will connect with workers through social media. Also, we have made some alternative arrangements.

Some mechanism to make sure production should not be halted. All the ministries are working towards it. We want to ensure the strike is peaceful.  

Going by the GDP numbers released on Monday, investments have not revived much in the first quarter of 2015-16.

With land Bill now taking a back seat, will labour reforms too be put in cold storage?

Land reforms will come with some more solution or through some other process. Labour reforms will continue and we will go ahead with them. I feel we will convince the workers. 

Don't you think this strike will be detrimental to the labour reform process initiated by the government?  

The point is this is only a one-day strike. The demands are also different. Rather than labour reforms, contract workers, minimum wages and bonus are the issues.

On labour reforms, we want to discuss with them before we take any step.  

But the unions said in their press conference on Monday that labour reforms should happen without consulting the industries.  

I feel first there can be a bipartite forum. Then we can also form sub-committees among the unions. But tripartite consultations should definitely happen.

Industries are important because they are also involved. Industrial relations are also about employers and not only employees.  

Another accusation of the trade unions is the government is favouring industries.  

It's not pro-industry. All labour laws were made long ago. For instance, the industrial disputes Act was formulated in 1947 and the trade union Act came into existence in 1926. If you don't want any change today what does it indicate?  

There is an allegation that your government is pro-rich. Do you think that image will get a boost with the strike?  

That does not arise because the government has come up with pro-labour proposals. It's time the unions' attitude should change.

Workers' attitude is changing and they want to work more and demand more wages. They want more productivity.  

You told reporters on Tuesday that the unions were divided…  

They are 100 per cent divided. The biggest trade union BMS is not participating and National Front of Indian Trade Unions is also not a part of it.

Some other three-four unions are also not participating. It is a wide division and let them understand.

How can this deadlock between unions and the government be broken?

Once strike is over, we will go ahead in our method. Tripartite mechanism will continue.

Image: The one-day strike called by trade unions to press their demands including withdrawal of proposed changes in the labour laws affected normal life across Kerala as shops downed shutters and vehicles remained off the roads.

Photograph: PTI

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