The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Union ire at labour reforms
- Central note rejected, ‘lock, stock and barrel’

New Delhi, Oct. 28: A fresh battle between the Centre and the Left trade unions is beginning to take shape around labour law reforms.

The Centre has circulated a note among trade unions suggesting a string of labour reforms, including amendments to the Contract Labour Act and the Industrial Disputes Act.

Trade union leaders from the Left and the Sangh parivar met this evening to discuss the note and rejected the suggestions “lock, stock and barrel”.

Unions such as the CPM’s Citu, the CPI’s Aituc, the Sangh’s BMS and the socialist HMS were represented at the meeting but the Congress-affiliated Intuc did not participate because its leaders were out of town.

“There is no question of accepting the reforms suggested by the government,” said Aituc general secretary Gurudas Das Gupta.

The unions feel that an amendment that will allow more companies to retrench and close shop without prior approval will ring in an undeclared hire-and-fire regime in the country.

The amendment to Industrial Disputes Act says establishments employing less than 300 people will not have to seek prior permission of state governments for retrenchments, lay-offs and closures. At present, the clause applies to establishments with less than 100 workers.

Another bone of contention is the stress on contract labour. “The emerging reality in the world is the increasing use of contract labour. It is important that this reality is recognised and appropriate changes are made in the existing legal framework,” according to the note.

The Centre also proposes to streamline the inspection system covering small-scale units. “The system of multiple inspections under different laws may be replaced by a system of self-certification that may be treated as prima facie compliance,” the note says.

“Routine inspections may be discouraged except where safety and health of workers and issues related to minimum wages, child and bonded labour are involved,” it adds.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier said he wants to reform the labour law regime as soon as possible and the Left parties had asked their unions to take a decision.

Left to themselves, the leadership of both the CPM and the CPI may take a flexible stand on labour law reforms.

As in the case of pension reforms ' the CPM yesterday said it was willing to discuss the issue ' there is a contradiction between the stands taken by the Bengal government and the unions on labour law reforms. The Left Front government is now contracting out more and more jobs but the unions are refusing to accept that contractual jobs have become the order of the day.

“Hire-and-fire” is a dirty phrase for the central coalition’s common minimum programme, too, but it “recognises industry should have some flexibility in labour policy”.

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