Trade unions set for strike as PM looks for consensus on labour reforms

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today called for a change of heart among trade unions and said it is essential for Indian society to develop a consciousness towards "dignity of labour," even as his meeting with trade union leaders on Sunday drew a blank.

Modi's meeting with trade union leaders on Sunday failed to bridge the differences between the government and trade unions over labour reform proposals and the unions have decided to go ahead with their planned nation-wide strike on 2 September.

The unions asserted their stance ahead of today's 46th Indian Labour Conference, where trade unions and industry came face to face to discuss various issues, including government's labour reforms.

Addressing the inaugural session of the Indian Labour Conference in New Delhi today, the prime minister said, in Indian culture, the worker is traditionally regarded as "Vishwakarma." The country cannot be happy, if the worker is unhappy, he added.

But he emphasised that laws alone would not bring about the desired objective and said it was the combined effort of the labour unions, the industrialists and the government, which would lead to results that are in the interest of the nation's economy. The prime minister said successful examples of this kind are worth emulation.

The prime minister called for giving importance to innovation among the workers and asked industrialists to encourage innovative workers to become entrepreneurs. In this context he recalled the recognition that had been given to innovators in the Indian Army, on the previous Army Day.

He said labour unions too should join in the effort to nurture innovation. Modi said there is a thin line that separates the good of the industry and the good of the industrialist. Similarly, he added, there is a thin line that separates the good of the worker and the good of the labour union; the good of the nation and the good of the government.

The prime minister said 46.7 million workers now have a portable provident fund account, through a Universal Account Number, which connects them to an online network. He also mentioned other welfare initiatives of the government, such as raising minimum pension to Rs1,000.

The function also marked the launch of the National Career Service Portal, and ESIC 2.0: reform initiatives of the ESIC.

Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Bandaru Dattatreya, MoS (independent charge) labour and employment were present on the occasion.

The prime Minister had, during a tea meeting with the central trade union leaders on Sunday, heard their views on various economic policies and labour related laws but gave no assurance to them on issues raised by unions.

He assured them that the government would take every effort to modify laws through consensus. As part of the concept of "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance," the prime minister said obsolete and unnecessary laws were being weeded out.

Modi had met leaders from various trade unions, over tea. The meeting followed extensive consultations that these leaders had with an inter-ministerial team headed by the finance minister Arun Jaitley, earlier in the day.

The trade unions represented at the meeting included AITUC, All India United Trade Union Centre, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, CITU, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Hind Mazdoor Sangh, INTUC, Labour Progressive Federation, National Front of Indian Trade Unions, Self-Employed Women's Association, Trade Union Coordination Centre, and United Trade Union Congress.

Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Bandaru Dattatreya, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Jitendra Singh were present at the meeting.