CK Saji Narayanan
INDIA has completed two decades of Globalisation. It is high time to look back and take stock of its impact. Kaushik Basu, the World Bank’s economic advisor and former chief economic advisor (CEA) to Finance Ministry in a statement has canvassed for relaxation of labour laws, regulations, and greater flexibility in ‘labour market’ for the purpose of ‘employment generation’. Interestingly Kaushik Basu still cites the examples of US firms, which are now notorious worldwide as symbols of mismanagement. It is painful that World Bank trained intellectuals are still continuing and canvassing to bring Wall Street like tragedy to our country through such reform proposals.
Growth Versus Development
Through his maiden budget in 1992, Dr Manmohan Singh initiated the LPG reform process in India to replace the old LPQ raj. (The Author has contributed a lead article in a special issue of Organiser dt. 19-4-1992, strongly criticising the said budget). The main argument of the advocates of reforms was that the reforms will shoot up ‘employment generation’ which will address the most important problem of our populated country. The educated section and intellectuals of the society, as a fashion welcomed the new reform ideas with great expectations. Just after a decade of globalisation, in 2001, Shri Montek Singh Ahluvalia who was a strong exponent of the reforms, while answering to the queries of British journalists, had to confess that the growth phenomena in India is of a “jobless” category. So what our country witnessed was a ‘jobless growth’. Hence the word “growth” does not taste good as before.
In Indian situation, the million dollar question that all these reformists have to answer is who have benefitted from the reforms? There is vital difference between growth and development. Till 1990s we were hearing about the word ‘development’, whether it is in the planning process, World Bank development package or otherwise. But after the advent of the LPG reforms we are hearing only about the word ‘growth’. ‘Growth’ is uni-directional whereas ‘development’ is multi-dimensional. Our Jobless growth benefits only an affluent, elite section of the society. Indian streets flooding with BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari, Bugatti or Lamborghini cars may be a sign of growth. But the voiceless and side-lined strata of the society, especially in the villages and tribal areas still live like cattle.
In this matter, the successive Governments have shown to be anti-people, anti-swadeshi, anti-labour, anti consumer and anti-farmer. Common man, workers, farmers etc. have become orphans. All our social institutions like political parties, social organisations, society, media, judiciary, trade unions, etc. have done grave injustice to them by showing their back to their burning issues. Poverty, suicide, divisive tendencies like Naxalism, terrorism, separatism etc. are growing in dark India. In areas like Ranchi even local administration is under Naxal control, where the people are having bare living. As per Arjun Sen Gupta committee (NCEUS), 77% of the population live below ‘Rs.20 per day. But Ambanis are living in buildings of 44 stories. So there is gross mismatch between GDP growth and poverty, employment etc. Growth jargons, growth trajectory, logistics of the growth process and beauty of the words like ‘inclusive growth’ do not address the practical ground level realities of real India. Growth alone is not the panacea. So the one sided growth is slowly being distinguished from balanced development. All should share the benefits of growth to make it ‘inclusive’. Let us strive to march towards a more equitable, sustainable and harmonious Nation.
The global financial crisis started during the mid-September of 2008 from Wall Street and spread to all streets. There after the major countries of the world as well as leading economists have conceded that the so called reforms were responsible for the crisis especially the process of de-regulation in financial sector. Probably the only country which is least affected is India, mainly because de-regulation did not run amok here, thanks to the resistance raised by organisations like Bharatiya Mazdoor sangh, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch etc. Here our Banks are continuing to be under the regulations of RBI and insurance sector under IRDA. Globalisation has explicitly failed because of its deficits. Still if the reformists canvass for the same mistakes, it is to be probed, for whom the bell tolls?
Anyone who loves the country cannot ignore to see India as a land of paradoxes. We have the largest number of rich people; at the same time we have the largest number of poor population. In terms of numbers, India has the largest number of literate people in the world; At the same time we have also 1/3rd of the globe’s illiterate population; We have farm inflation in which the price of vegetables and food items are skyrocketing; at the same time our farmers are committing suicide for not getting sufficient price for their toil. Our growth indicators do not tally with social indicators. India is the 2nd fastest growing country in the world; but it is as mentioned a ‘jobless growth’. We have to rethink about the concept of GDP vis-à-vis raising the standards of the last man in the society, i.e. the concept of Antyodaya. Our unidirectional growth touches only the elite and creamy layer of society; we do not have multidimensional development that encompasses the rural poor. In the labour sector all are worried about the shrinking organised sector and expanding unorganised sector associated with poor wage and working conditions.
Our social indicators at the global level are disgusting. In Global Human Development Index, 2011 of UNDP, India ranks 134th position out of 187 countries. Quality-of-life index, 2005 prepared by Economist’s Intelligence Unit ranks India at 73 out of 111 countries. India is ranked at 67 out of 122 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2011 released by the International Food Policy and Research Institute. India has 20 crore hungry people, says GHI. The UNDP’s Gender Development Index gave India 96th rank among 174 countries in terms of gender equality. Corruption Perceptions Index, 2010 of Transparency International ranked us 87th out of 178 countries.
Building Castle upon the debris of the workers’ dreams
Now let us look at the labour scenario. During the last two decades, Indian labour has experienced job losses for lakhs of workers, massive closures, VRS, contractualisation, unorganised workers without the benefit of the social security law, suicide of agricultural workers etc.
ILO had been for long trying to bring “decent work” in all the Nations of the world. “Decent work” includes decent wages, decent working conditions, decent social security, decent safety, decent gender justice etc.
In the name of competitiveness, flexibility is proposed which intrude into the dignity of workers. Reducing costs means reduction of labour costs. Fragile work relations and precarious employments destroy the fine fabric of industrial peace. Aspirations and perspirations of workers go futile. Industrial empire cannot be built up on the graveyard of the dreams of workers. Similarly workers never want to pick up their benefits from the debris of their industry. 40% of the total population of India constitute labour. Together with their family. They constitute more than 90% of our population. Worker’s interest is the nearest equivalent of National interest. Hence BMS has raised the slogan: “Protect the workers and save the nation”.
Our Labour Laws are totally unsatisfactory as they have less coverage and poor implementation. At the same time, labour law amendments are not safe in the hands of the Government as every change may end up in anti-worker proposals. So workers are looking upon every change proposed in labour laws with caution.
Recently, a draft National Manufacturing Policy (NMP) was released by the Ministry of industry and Commerce with anti labour proposals like- Contract Labour Abolition Act will not be applicable to the units in the NMIZ, flexibility to downsize, restrictions on the right to join unions, Labour Laws be made more flexible, employment of women in three shifts, maintaining temporary status of employees, extension of shift hours, ease the burden of payment to labour at the time of closure of unit etc. Government feels that development of industry can be achieved only at the cost of labour. The NMP contradicts the Government’s declared Industrial Policy (1991) clause that no one section of society can corner the gains of growth leaving workers to bear its pains and that labour should be an equal partner in progress and prosperity.
There is a widespread misconception that China has become the manufacturing hub of the world through relaxed labour laws in manufacturing units. This issue was raised earlier before the 2nd National Commission on Labour, which after visiting China has reported that no labour law is relaxed in SEZ or other manufacturing sectors in China. Low cost labour is the main feature of growth in China. Jobs without quality, is the secret of China’s cheap products. So we should not import
China model. Nation requires creation of quality jobs and productive jobs; and not mere ‘jobs’.
The present tendency is to shift all the blames of industrial failures on the shoulders of workers. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh maintains the view that Industrial sickness is primarily due to management failure. For the failure of management, worker should not suffer. In the name of reforms, Government is breeding Shylocks who seek the flesh and blood of labour. It is the settled view of BMS that even without making labour causality, our industries and manufacturing units can grow and compete in the world market. Development without retrenchment should be the new approach. So it is fundamentally wrong to say that labour laws are a hindrance to industrial progress. We require labour friendly reforms.
The idea of ‘social partners’ recognizes three groups interested in the industrial progress, viz. the employers, workers and the consumers. The fruits of gains and demerits of the industry should be shared by all the three partners alike. Then only all will display a real sense of belonging to the industry.
“Labour market” is a ridiculous term commonly used viewing labour as a mere commodity subject to sale and purchase in the “labour market”, just as vegetables are sold and purchased in vegetable market. It goes against the basic tenet of the famous ‘Philadelphia Declaration’ of International Labour Organisation which said, “Labour is not a Commodity”.
Expanding Unorganised Sector
Reforms have destroyed our quality of employment. India has the largest unorganised sector. 94% of our workforce is the voiceless lots namely the unorganised labour. In 1992 when the reform process was started, our organised sector was 8% and unorganised sector 92%. But in 2011 organised sector is calculated at 6% and unorganised sector at 94%. So two percent has been shifted from organised sector to unorganised sector, i.e. from decent work to indecent work. WDR (World Development Report) says: “the number of temporary workers in the country (India) grew more than 10% in 2009 and 18% in 2010; …….medium size businesses are not growing, and the share of informal workers in organised firms is up from 32% in 2000 to 68% in 2010”. Unorganised sector is without proper wages, service conditions and social security protections.
Tragic plight of unorganised sector and growing contractualisation in the organised sector will make Indian labour situation highly explosive. In many establishments about 80-90% of workers are now contract labour. The exploitative philosophy of capitalism prefer contract labour system because of two main reasons, viz. workers need be given only lower wages and they can be thrown out at any time. This is sheer exploitation.
From living wage to ‘food for work’- the great Indian tragedy
With lot of expectations about independent India, the Government appointed a Committee on Fair Wages in 1948 to formulate an ideal wage structure for independent India. The Committee recommended progressive implementation of wages of ordinary workers within a short span of time, in three stages: 1. Minimum wage, 2. Fair wage and 3. Living wage. Statutory Minimum wages is meant for unorganised workers. For organised sector it is the negotiated wages which is envisaged. Supreme Court in Asiad case, 1982 said that non payment of minimum wages amounts to ‘forced labour’. In the said case Chief Justice Chandrachud said:- “No work of utility and value can be allowed to be constructed on the blood and sweat of persons who are reduced to a state of helplessness on account of drought and scarcity conditions.” But even after 55 years of independence, in 2002, Supreme Court refused to consider the pitiable situation about a Government scheme called “food for work” scheme, i.e. a person doing work throughout the day will be given only food and not wages! Today even minimum wages is a distant dream for the majority of Indians, leave alone fair wage and living wage. When the urban elites are in the mad race of globalisation, poor Indians have to be satisfied with ‘food for work’. Even the Indian Labour Conference of 2012 attended by the Prime Minister himself discussed whether a National Minimum Wage is feasible or not! When do we move our debate from Minimum Wages to Living Wages?
Total Change is required
Do a more equitable, sustainable and harmonious world find a place in the growth dream? For that, a paradigm shift is required in developmental strategies.
The slow pace of social progression and governance will not inspire common man. Hence Governance for the people is to be reinstated. Radical change should be visible in the life of villagers, up to the last man, as starving people cannot wait. Instead of violent ‘kranti’, non-violent ‘samkranti’ is required. Empower and wake up the sleeping lion, the workforce. BMS in the last National Conference held at Jalgaon raised two slogans to show the thrust of our future work: “Organise the unorganise” and “March to villages”. At present BMS is upon this Himalayan task.
(The writer is President, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)