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TU to confront govt on plight of unorganised workers

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Aug 5: The government and the central trade unions (TUs) are heading towards a big confrontation over the issue of social security and other benefits to 370 million workforce in the unorganised sector with the unions deciding on individual and collective actions, including a general strike on August 9.

CITU, AITUC, BMS, HMS and other workers' unions are upset with what they term as the government's ''callous approach and apathy'' to the miserable plight of the unofficial labour force and its non-implementation of the commitment enshrined in the National Common Minimum Programme.

While CITU has decided to organise a general strike in the unorganised sector on August 8, the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions is set to launch a countrywide satyagraha to press for 2 separate government funded statutory schemes for old age pension and healthcare for agricultural workers and other sections of the sector.

The committee will formalise its action programme in its forthcoming meeting on August 19.

The bone of contention between the two sides is over provision of estimated funds to the tune of Rs 35,000 cr to Rs 40,000 cr for the two schemes.

The trade unions say they are forced to take to this recourse as the government so far remains non-committal despite a clear cut assurance in the Common Minimum Programme.

In separate interviews to the sources, the TU leaders said the draft of Unorganised Sector Workers Security Bill, posted on website of the Labour Minsitry, was ''totally unacceptable'' to them. They said they had made their stand known to the government because the draft made no provision of Central funds for providing social security, minimum wages and working conditions among other things.

CITU President M K Pandhe said, ''Now the government has left us with no option than to organise a general strike on August 8 to draw its attention to our long-pending demand, which has been committed in the National Common Minimum Porgramme of the UPA government.'' The veteran trade union leader claimed their strike call had got an overwhelming support from even the independent TUs. ''In Mumbai, the Maharashtra Action Committee comprising AITUC, HMS and Kisan Panchayats will join the strike.'' AITUC General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said the draft bill had to be opposed tooth and nail because it provided no relief to unorganised workforce for whom TUs had been fighting for over 20 years now. The Centre must provide funds for giving comprehensive benefits to them.

three drafts earlier discussed with the TUs''. ''We don't think that the government is serious on this issue.'' AITUC Secretary D L Sachdev said the government could not go back on its commitment as the Parliamentary Consultative Committee at its recent meeting stated that the bill would be brought in the Monsoon session of Parliament, commencing on August 10.

The TU leaders said that in a joint petition to the Prime Minister, they had rejected the draft bill on the grounds that it did not provide for fixed working hours and retirement benefits.

Mr Pandhe said the draft bill authorising states to prepare rules was nothing but an eyewash. The bill, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member said, could not be accepted in the present form as it showed lack of concern for major sections of the unorganised sector - the agricultural workers, rehriwalas, construction workers, vendors, hawkers and daily wagers.

Warning the government against ignoring the plight of the unorganised workers, Mr Sachdev said: ''Now the government will have to face countrywide protest, rallies and marches on the scale which TUs had organised to Parliament on November 23, 2006. Our All India strike on December 14, 2006 also highlighted this major issue.'' ''All eight TUs, including HMS, UTUc, UTUC(LS) and TUCC, have been agitating for enactment of two legislations - one for agriculural workers and another for all other categories of workers,'' Mr Sachdev said, and reminded that the Arjun Das Gupta Commission on Unorganised Sector had also made similar recommendations.

''It is unfortunate that the govenment has chosen to ignore the Commission's recommendation for adequate Central funds for providing social security to the unofficial sector,'' the AITUC leader lamented.

The issue figured prominentely in the Indian Labour Conference also, Mr Sachdev said, adding trade unions had been demanding social security for farm workers since 1950's.

Protecting the unorganised workforce now had become all the more necessary as it had increased manifold since 1991 when government started adopting the path of economic liberalisation. In the new economic scenario, industry had started outsourcing permament jobs, while Central and state governments as also state-owned companies had freezed recruitment, resulting in the swelling of ranks of the unorganised workforce.


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