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Dinner bait for labour leaders

New Delhi, Sept. 23: On the eve of the crucial Indian Labour Conference scheduled to begin this weekend, labour minister Sahib Singh Verma will host a dinner for trade unions to create a “friendly” ambience for the meet — a ritual that takes place before every labour conference.

But with the sword of retrenchments, layoffs and closures hanging over the heads of workers, a ‘friendly’ atmosphere may be hard to come by this time.

Leaders of five central trade unions — Citu, Aituc, Intuc, BMS and HMS — will meet hours before Verma entertains them at his residence, to put final touches to their battle strategy. The main issue in contention is labour law reforms, more specifically some of the stringent recommendations of the National Labour Commission (NLC) with regard to shedding surplus labour.

Ironically, Intuc president Sanjeeva Reddy, who was a signatory to the NLC report, will be one of the four delegates representing the trade union at the conference. Reddy did not submit a note of dissent to the NLC report even while the rest of his organisation was up in arms against it.

The Intuc chief has made it clear that he does not share his comrades’ views on labour law reforms — in fact, he is on the other side of the spectrum. “He is not the only delegate from Intuc who will be present at the labour conference. There will be other three also,” said Intuc secretary Chandidas Sinha.

The labour conference will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is expected to speak on the need for rationalisation of labour. But there are strong voices of protest from within his flock. “We are opposing the labour commission’s recommendations tooth and nail,” said BMS secretary R.K. Bhakt.

On the other hand, captains of the industry are mounting pressure on the labour minister to give the green signal to commission’s recommendations on labour law reforms.

Representative from FICCI are meeting the labour minister on Wednesday to urge him to push through amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA), which would ease restrictions on retrenchments, layoffs and closures.

According to the Act, any factory employing more than 100 workers needs the state government’s permission to retrench or lay off workers or close down a unit.

The labour commission suggests that a unit can retrench or lay off workers without the permission of state government, regardless of the number of workers it employed.

But it will have to seek government permission in case of closure, if it employed more than 300 workers.

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