The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Split unions stall labour reforms

New Delhi, Oct. 19: The three-day Indian Labour Conference has failed to break the stalemate between the Centre and trade unions on labour law reforms.

Labour leaders opposed the government’s move for contractual appointments and amendments to the Contract Labour Act. “There was no agreement on rationalising labour laws. The trade unions are themselves divided on the issue. There is also division between trade unions and employers,” Union labour minister Sahib Singh Verma told a news conference on Saturday.

But countering him, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh president Hanusbhai Dave said: “There is no division among trade unions on labour law reforms. All of us are opposed to it.”

“At the same time, we feel there can be some ground for reaching an agreement on this contentious issue,” he added.

The possibility of such a breakthrough, however, seems remote with the trade unions bent on opposing labour reforms every inch. “The ILC is over. Discussions were held, recommendations were made. But there has been little ray of hope. It has been a ritualistic exercise without any tangible results,” said All India Trade Union Congress (Aituc) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta.

“Trade union representatives debunked the government’s move to introduce a hire-and-fire regime. All admitted to a need for changing labour laws but sharp differences persisted in the direction of such changes,” said Centre of Indian Trade Union (Citu) general secretary M.K. Pandhe.

Though Verma claimed the trade unions had supported his ministry’s move to introduce an umbrella legislation for unorganised sector workers, the unions maintained it would be “meaningless” without proper funding.

Differences between the government and the trade unions were too many. The Aituc opposed the government notification for introducing contractual appointments in every sector.

“This will enable employers to put in place a hire-and-fire system as they will prefer to recruit ‘fixed-term’ employees rather than permanent employees,” Pandhe said.

The most contentious issue in the gamut of labour law reforms is the proposal to relax the present guidelines on closures, retrenchments and lay offs. The second National Labour Commission in its report favoured a relaxation but the unions, barring the Indian National trade Union Congress (Intuc), are opposed to it. Intuc, though not fully in agreement with the government, is prepared to meet it half way because its president Sanjeeva Reddy was a signatory to the report.

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