ILO alerts trade unions against centre's move to curb legal protection

26 June 2015

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has severely criticised some of the recent labour reforms proposed by the Narendra Modi government, saying these would only help to rob workers of the protection against industrial abuse.

Amidst rising discord between trade unions and the government, the ILO is helping the unions prepare a position paper on the recent labour law reforms, industrial relations and industry development.

"For some time now, a concerted campaign by the government was on to create an impression that nearly 40 central and nearly 150 state labour laws were redundant. The labour reforms, trade unions have voiced, are aimed at making hiring and firing simpler and they are not devised to protect labour," said a draft concept note sent by the ILO to the central trade union leaders recently.

The ILO had convened a meeting of various central trade unions leaders in Delhi early this month to present the final inputs of the position papers, incorporating their views. This would be followed by a national-level trade union conference on 29-30 June in Delhi where these position papers would be discussed in detail.

The conference is being organised by the Bureau of Workers' Activities of the ILO, along with the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

"The conference will discuss the trade union position papers on labour law reforms, industrial relations and industry development. The papers will be finalised, which will serve as a reference toolkit for the trade unions' future actions," said the invitation letter extended to five leaders of each trade unions, including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Indian National Trade Union Congress, and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

The ILO rued the government's move to enact important labour laws ignoring concerns of workers and without consulting the unions (See: Government to make hiring and firing of workers easier for business).

The ILO said instead of taking into account unions' recommendations to simplify the laws, a separate law for small-scale industries was proposed, exempting factories with 40 workers from the ambit of 14 labour laws.

"This, in effect, has taken away a large chunk of workers from the protection of basic labour laws," said a draft concept note for the national trade union conference sent by the ILO.

"Unions feel that they have not been sufficiently consulted on the process... The strong statements issued by all trade unions indicate there is not an iota of doubt in their minds about what these reforms are all about and who stood to gain from them," the draft note said. "Most of the new laws announced are not in favour of workers or unions."

In the last two months, the ILO has organised regional seminars with the unions as well, discussing the issues of the labour law reforms and understanding their perspective on the reforms.

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