Labour Codes Workshop by MASADecember 27, 2021
Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA) organized a two-day workshop in Bangalore, Karnataka on 17-18th Dec 2021 which reasserted that the four labour codes are only going to snatch away workers’ rights and put them under even greater bondage. The codes make the intricate linkage between the Modi government and the capitalists-imperialists unambiguously clear.
The two-day labour workshop organized by Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA) on 17th and 18th December was successfully concluded with resolute opposition to the anti-worker labour codes as well as privatization/corporatisation.
MASA’s workshop began at Indian Social Institute’s Auditorium (Bangalore) with a pledge to carry forward the collective legacy of sacrifices made by the immortal martyrs of Kakori, Rajendra Lahiri (December 17) and Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan and Roshan Singh (December 19). Along with this, a two-minute silence was observed commemorating the workers and struggling masses who lost their lives in the course of farmers’ movement, COVID-19 and at various factories-workplaces.
ANTI-WORKER LABOUR CODES
On the first day of the workshop, there was a detailed discussion on the four labour codes created after the abolishing the 44 labour laws.
Code on Industrial Relations
Comrade Amrish Patel elaborately discussed about the various aspects of the Code on Industrial Relations. He said that the labour Code abolished numerous important labour laws such as the Standing Order Act 1946, Industrial Disputes Act 1947 and Trade Union Act 1926. The Code entails a huge attack upon the permanent jobs of the workers. It has changed the definition of ‘worker’. The factory owners have been given extensive rights over the working class. In the name of fixed-term employment, the owners have been offered a free hand to hire and fire the workers. Retrenchment, closure and layoff have been made easy for the owners. Various restrictions have been imposed upon the labourers raising industrial disputes.
He explained how the framework of labour Department has been largely weakened and even a provision abolishing the labour Courts has been brought into the code. An Industrial Tribunal has instead been created which will be under sufficient control of the administration. Various restrictions have been imposed upon raising of collective disputes. Instead, each individual worker has been given the freedom to settle his dispute with the management. This entails a direct attack upon the power of collective bargaining.
Stringent restrictions have been placed on the right to strike and form trade unions. The code counts the absence of more than 50 per cent workers on any one day as a strike. The provisions which allowed criminal cases to be levelled against the employers have been removed while at the same time, various provisions have been incorporated for prosecuting workers and union leaders. The pre-existing procedure for fixation of salary has also been drastically changed.
Code on Wages
Comrade Arvind delivered a detailed explanation on the Code on Wages. Referring to the erstwhile scientific basis of wage fixation and the committees which had been established for determining an accurate basis for the same, he told how that basis has been entirely undermined and how the employers have been given a wide leeway into the process of determination of wages under the new code. Wage Board’s suggestion for fixation of minimum wage has incorporated in a loose manner. It has also not been made clear that which forum the workers will have to approach for raising their disputes.
He said that on any one day, there can be a salary cut amounting to wages for 8 days, if the workers were found absent. No standard of national floor wage has been mentioned within the code. The basis of ‘equal pay for equal work’ has also been abolished. This constitutes absolute cheating upon the working class.
Code on Social Security
The Modi government and its media have been making noise that the workers would be getting tremendous social security benefits. Comrade Amitava Bhattacharya told as to how such all of this was nothing short of illusion or false narrative that was being continuously built. He told that the code instead snatched away the earlier legally guaranteed social security benefits of the workers like Provident Fund, Employee State Insurance, Gratuity, Maternity etc.
As per the new code, the owner could be freed from providing even basic facilities as well as his legal obligations after obtaining the consent of more than 50 percent of the workers. That no norms of social security will be observed in places with less than 10 workers.
There is no clear provision of social security for unorganized sector workers like rural labourers, domestic workers, gig workers, platform workers, ASHA and Anganwadi workers.
He told that the lofty claims being made by the Modi government in the name of social security are tantamount to beating of drums after abolishing the erstwhile 9 labour legislations.
Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions
Speaking on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code in the fourth session of the workshop, Com. Amitava said that the old norms of ensuring safety at workplace have been completely informed. The code does away with the mandate to form a Security Committee in an establishment deploying less than 500 workers. Similarly, there are provisions to not constitute any Safety Committee in coal mines having less than 250 workers.
That the provisions pertaining to the welfare of workers has been completely left to the discretion of ‘appropriate authority’ i.e. central and state governments. Keeping the working hours on a weekly basis (as 48 hours), such provisions aim at providing flexibility to the owner to get the work done as per his whims and fancies. In the case of women workers working during the night shift, the employer can easily exempt himself from all sorts of legal obligations towards ensuring safety of women workers on the basis of a consent form signed by them.
In case of accidents at workplace, the employer has been provided with massive relief as criminal penalties like jail and compensation have been left to the discretion of the court. The provisions pertaining to the protection of migrant workers will be difficult to implement in reality. In the case of contractual labour, the employer has been made completely immune with the entire responsibility shifting on to the contractor.
Most of the provisions which allowed hearing to the worker on all disputes like health, safety, leave etc. have been removed and he has been asked to directly challenge before the High Court, which is almost impossible for any worker.
Post elaboration upon the codes, there was extensive discussion among the workers on the four labour codes and the speakers’ questions were also resolved towards the end.
‘COUNTRY ON SALE’ CAMPAIGN OR PRIVATIZATION-CORPORATIZATION
On the second day of the workshop, Comrade S Venkateswara Rao spoke on privatization and corporatization and explained Modi government’s various policies through which ‘sell the country’ campaign is going on. He mentioned the circumstances under which banks came to be nationalized and the manner in which today banks, insurance companies, railways, airports, mines and even ordinance factories are being sold to private actors. The government is indulging in handing over government assets, public enterprises to its capitalist friends.
He told that this game had started in 1991 during the era of Rao-Manmohan, which has now been allowed unbridled freedom by the Modi government.
Referring to his experience in the coal mines, he told how the number of labourers in the coal sector has been reduced by half on one hand, while the mines and production happening within it has increased significantly. In recent times, the whole round of selling them is going on. In such cases, a belligerent, uncompromising and complete fight by the working class is the only way left. The toiling masses will have to unite against this capitalist campaign.
REPEAL OF AGRICULTURAL LAWS AND CONDITIONS OF AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS
Comrade Shyambir said that the farmers’ movement has shown the mirror to the ruling BJP government. People did not get tired and exhausted and therefore the movement continued to move forward. It went through all the slanderous propaganda and gave a befitting reply to the godi media and ended in celebration of its historic victory. This fight was against the corporatization of agriculture. Towards the end, he cautioned about how the Modi government will now resort to adoption of new avenues and methods for implementing his tactics.
At the same time, Comrade Santosh told that a front has been formed by the 9 agricultural and rural labour unions in Punjab after the farmers’ movement ended and that they are taking forward this struggle with their legitimate demands. After the conference in Patiala, they have continued to make the movement larger. For now, the movement is present mainly in Punjab. Apart from this, he also discussed the issue of MNREGA workers in rural areas.
PARTICIPATION OF WORKERS IN THE OPEN SESSION
The last session of the workshop was an open session, in which workers from different regions shared their lived experiences. The struggle of Maruti workers against the anti-worker labour codes and other demands, the militant movement against PF by the women garment workers in Bangalore in 2016, the situation and struggles within IT sector to struggles fought by Bhagwati Micromax, Daikin, Lingraj-Parle workers etc. were discussed. The coal mine workers as well as the tea garden workers also kept their point.
Apart from this, challenges, problems and demands of the unorganized sector especially domestic workers, construction workers, MNREGA workers, agricultural labourers, women workers, street workers, beedi workers, contract workers, migrant labourers were discussed extensively and many ways of working amongst them were suggested.
During the workshop it clearly emerged that while on the one hand the rights of workers are being attacked continuously by the Central and State Governments, on the other hand, in the name of protest, the Central Trade Unions have just been performing tokenism and ritualism in the form of having one-day strikes on an annual basis.
In such a situation, the working class and its representatives will have to move in the direction of a continuous, militant and decisive struggle. The speakers acknowledged that the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA) is moving forward with this goal. MASA announced upcoming programs in this direction.
Workers from 16 states participated in the workshop. In this, the constituents and allies of MASA are Karnataka Shramik Shakti, Trade Union Centre of India (TUCI), Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), IFTU (Sarwahara), Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra (IMK), Mazdoor Sahyog Kendra, Struggling Workers Co-ordination Committee (SWCC), Grameen Mazdoor Union Bihar, Jan Sangharsh Manch Haryana, Socialist Worker Centre Tamil Nadu, Mazdoor Sahayata Samiti and Karkhana Mazdoor Union Punjab played their fullest role.