The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unions slam unorganised sector Bill

New Delhi, June 16: Trade unions cutting across political lines are opposing a Bill meant to introduce welfare measures for workers in the unorganised sector.

The Centre is planning to introduce the legislation in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning next month. “We have written to the labour ministry demanding that the Bill be sent to a parliamentary standing committee,” said Centre of Indian Trade Union secretary M.K. Pandhe.

Union leaders had met labour minister Sahib Singh Verma last month and opposed the Bill, saying it does not address crucial areas like wages, job security or working conditions of unorganised workers.

“The Bill is merely an enabling provision, laying down guidelines for the states to implement,” said Pandhe. “The legislation suggests the government can do this or that. The rest is left to state governments. The Bill, therefore, is nothing but symbolic,” he said.

Touted as an umbrella legislation, the Bill will bring under its ambit approximately 37 crore unorganised workers. Incorporating crucial aspects of social security, it is expected to cover medical care, maternity benefits, old age pension, unemployment insurance and educational opportunities.

Those opposing the Bill say the onus of implementing the legislation has been put on the states, most of whom have depleted coffers. The finance ministry has agreed to provide Rs 1,000 crore towards a Central fund for unorganised sector welfare.

“The Bill asks workers to contribute Re 1 per day to the social security fund. How can they do so'” asked labour leaders. At present, unorganised sector workers have no social security benefits, despite assurances by many labour ministers. The workers include bidi makers, rickshawpullers, vegetable vendors, fishermen and cobblers.

Refuting Verma’s statement that a consensus has been reached, labour leaders say they will continue to oppose the Bill till it addresses their concerns.

The Centre has responded by saying the Bill has many welfare provisions that will make life easier for the unorganised workers, who have no rights or benefits at present. Labour ministry officials say the legislation will include the Life Insurance Corporation’s Janshri Bima Yojana, reaching out to 24 categories of unorganised workers.

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