Since the time UPA has taken reins of Central Government in hands, it has hardly shown any spark of performance for the labour field. The front clobbered in the name of UPA had been built on a basic document called National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) issued on May 27, 2004.
UPA recognised importance of welfare and well-being of workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector who constitute 93 per cent of work force.
To cater these needs, there were two issues pending since NDA was in power. First was bringing in legislation on social security and second was comprehensive law for Agriculture Labour.
On both these issues there was Consensus in social partners. But UPA government has so far only playing with words and deeds are much far off. Then there has been a loud mouth promise of protecting the interests of workers and families. And the channel is to have full consultation with trade unions. At start that sent wave of relief to the crores of workers.
But the past three years have seen UPA'sbland neglect to the process of faith building.
1. The unorganised workers could have enhanced social security provided their employment remained secured. During the past three years beedi workers have seen shrinking employment in the name of social awareness. It is a clear case nexus between cigarette lobby and government.
2. Cheap import has devasted the fortune of handloom industry the prices of colour have shot too sharp to cope up. The export promotion has caused great dent in prospects thanks to anti-worker Exim Policies of UPA. The NCMP promised pursuance of a dialogue with trade unions on such issues before coming up with specific proposals.
There have seldom been consultations and consensus sought. In three years P.M. found time to meet Trade Unions (TUs) only once and that too pleading favourably for labour reforms. It is the grit of TUs that has kept reforms at bay.
But the families of workers in public sector instead of enjoying security are facing axe of insecurity. The three thousand families of fertilizer factory ?FACT? of Ernakulam (Kerala) have been notified for closure and are being pressurised for offering consent.
The backdoor entry of private explorers in coal sector while Coal Bill 2000 still is on the floor of Parliament is an indicator of cunningness displayed by UPA by keeping Parliament in dark. While deep mining is left to Coal India to labour, the easy opencast mining is in the kitty of private sector players. The sad part is that the rampant exploitations of labour in private sector and lawlessness are order of the day and Central Govt. just remained a moot spectator to this orgy.
The reforms carried further in agriculture and retail trading have caused big upheaval. The N.K. Singh Committee recommendations had laid foundation of the thinking that arrogantly flaunted rationale and invited corporate in these sectors, while they all very well know that nothing much could be done to protect interest of poor labour, helpless farmers and petty vendors. A large number of employed would lose their work while only few would be employable.
As the unemployment during first year of UPA government went up from 7.5 per cent to 8.2 per cent of current daily basis, it was inevitable that this exploited lot may take to small trading/vending of supplying utilities in order to meet the two ends. Now they are from pan to fire.
Now the question is, how could they compete with big corporates who are selling potatoes, onions, vegetables and mangoes. This new era has been given an opening, thanks to those occupying high position in UPA government, and who enjoy pension from World Bank/IMF (perhaps to endorse such anti-poor policies favouring rich).
Wealth in past three years has accumulated at a faster rate, the high wage islands are getting wider and stronger during these years. A warning from PM to corporate in this regard is enough evidence to prove point. On economic front the government thus fails to ensure equinominity.
The development funda namely ?SEZ? hits at the basics. No one in the government has explained to the common man what is so much special in production that it requires such a zone in the first place. There is no long term special promise from industry that needed a long-term social cost from farmers and agri labour. The only special feature is that SEZ has been the enabling factor to keep NCMP and labour laws at bay and go ahead flagrantly with ? hire and fire?.
Here ?hire and fire? is not selective but the order of the day. But this is dangerous game, since the law makers have played with fire and the whole set up of law has been shown a boot. Its deemed foreign tertiary. But where there are laws, they are only in books and are not implemented.
The government has come up with a plea for poor implementation of labour laws. Its paucity of man power that hurdles the implementation they pleaded. Tomorrow the same plea may come for poor law and order. The fact is government do not respect labour nor they respect labour laws.
The NCMP found first casualty in the form of privatisation of airports at Delhi and Mumbai. The patch-up was smooth and supporters of UPA took that lying low. This sell-off of PSE to foreign/domestic players was advocated shamelessly.
Since then the left parties have learnt an art of compromising issues of labour interests to political convenience. It is been choice between rights and easy for left parties. They have chosen the easy path and right path now is left way back. The failure of the left parties in forcing UPA to take to right choices and abide by NCMP has eroded their credibility among common people and they have been in ?sink or swim? situations with UPA.
On employment the NCMP promised enactment of 100 days employment guarantee on one hand and asset creating work programme was on the other. On the both counts the programme is a big flop. The process is other way round. First the unemployed people willing to work are taken and then are offered work to be got done under the schemes. There is no direction either from central or from a state government. There are no funds to provide jobs. And the rates are low, baggers get better alms in a day'sbegging than that is given to hard labour. Jail manual of Maharashtra prescribes work wage ratio for hard labour of prisoners. They pay Rs. 56.50/- per day and provide food, clothe and shelter.
Intriguing part is that experts in government are aware of this situation. But there is no emphasis from politicians for stern implementation.
The UPA government has no mechanism to consultation and consensus-building. Perhaps politics of managing the supporters of UPA (the Left) seems to be their whole time engagement. That is the game plan of Left. Thus the government is in limbo.
In nutshell the government is directionless, and is a confused lot. But the sole theme looked to be to keep NDA at bay and stay in power.
But in doing this the irreparable losses the government has caused to agriculture and retail traders is major issue that has far reaching implications. Its engine of unemployment growth.
The loose talk at WTO, the nuke deal, pro-USA foreign policy are some other facets of the government which offer a glimpse to their mind. But over all that confirms the impressions. The biggest sin thus of UPA is flagrant pro-rich policies brought at the behest of vested interest, domestic or foreign.
(The author is general secretary of BMS. He can be contacted at [email protected])