Policy Watch
Modi 2.0 Regime : Intensified Attack on Working Class

AMENDING labour laws, land acquisition laws, and privatisation of PSUs are three top-most priority agendas for the Modi 2.0 regime. None other than Amit Shah convened a meeting to speed up the process. Emerging out of the meeting, the Labour Minister declared that they would first pass the Code on Wages Bill and Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill and would take up the Code Bills on Industrial Relations and Social Security and Welfare later.

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of RSS and BJP, is also raising noises against the proposed codes in its present form as they are worried about their dwindling support among organised workforce in case of ESI and PF are merged with proposed Social Security Fund. They are also worried about certain provisions of Code on Industrial Relations while expressing whole hearted support to Code on Wages and also to some extent to Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions. All recognised trade unions in the country, barring BMS, are fully against all four codes and they also went on a countrywide two day strike last year.

Labour Reforms – Misconceived and Misplaced !

The Modi government has decided to enact four Codes – on wages, industrial relations, social security and welfare and occupational safety, health and working conditions – scrapping 44 central labour legislations that are in force now, so as to facilitate “Ease of Doing Business” for corporates and foreign capital. This amounts to an all-out assault on laws that have been enacted to protect the rights of workers.  

BJP-ruled Rajasthan was the laboratory for many of the changes the Modi regime is now making. Rajasthan amended the Industrial Disputes Act so that corporates need not take permission from the state government for retrenchment and lockout in companies employing less than 300 workers. Rajasthan was celebrated as model for labour reforms. But, no capital flowed in. This is the hard reality that even the former Labour Secretary acknowledged at one of the conferences on “Jobs and Livelihood Creation” jointly hosted by CII and NITI Aayog. But NITI Aayog pundits insist, without any logic or reason, that it is only because of ‘rigid’ labour laws that capital is not flowing in.

Modi visited each and every country in the world spending thousands of crores of public money but failed to attract any real investment worth mentioning. Even the Ease of Doing Business Index (2014), says only a little over one-tenth of the respondent firms in India perceived labour regulations as a major constraint.

Instead of addressing real reasons for slow growth and investment and growing unemployment, the government is using slow growth as a pretext to get rid of workers’ rights and give corporate big business a free hand to exploit and plunder.

Calorie Vs Diet, Minimum Wages Vs Floor Wages

The last government formed a committee to decide on the national minimum wage or Floor Wages that will be the lowest wage that can be paid in any part of the country. The committee recommended Rs. 9750 a month (Rs 375 per day) based on a new methodology that ignores calorie intake for generation of 2400 calories of energy for every individual worker. It says that diet intake is its concern and not the calorie intake.

It has also manipulated with consumer baskets that are the basis on which price levels and in turn, minimum wages are calculated. Following the above approach, the Committee recommends that NMW per day (per month) for Region I, Region II, Region III, Region IV and Region V should be set at Rs. 342 (Rs. 8,892); Rs. 380 (Rs. 9,880); Rs. 414 (Rs. 10,764), Rs. 447 (Rs. 11,622) and Rs. 386 (Rs. 10,036), respectively, as of July 2018, irrespective of sectors, skills, occupations and rural-urban locations.

Unfortunately, this is a committee that submitted it’s report in January 2019 while the 7th Pay Commission instituted by the same government that submitted its report in November 2015 has said that no worker, not even a contract worker, must be paid less than Rs. 18000. If we count compensation to inflation in the last three years, this comes to a minimum of Rs. 20,000 today.

For any worker in the central government, the 7th CPC has recommended pay on par with the lowest paid, lowest scale regular employee of the central government which is not less than 25,000 to Rs 45000 as on date.

Yet, the Karnataka High Court has dismissed petitions by employers who objected to paying a minimum wage fixed around Rs 15,000 by the state government. In Delhi too, the High Court relented, (in the wake of struggles of workers, especially DTC workers), and allow minimum wages to be revised and increased by the AAP Government in Delhi.  

The average minimum wages in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc., are around Rs. 15,000 - Rs 16,000. But, unfortunately, the Modi-constituted committee is suggesting less than Rs 10,000 as national minimum wage or “floor wages”.

As the minimum wage level keeps increasing based on market prices in various states, the Modi regime is pushing the concept of floor wages or national minimum wages - much less than the minimum wage in many states. NITI Aayog has praised this committee’s recommendations on floor wages.

Till now, compliance with minimum wages has been mandatory - though of course in practice few employers actually pay the legally mandated wages. The Modi government is now trying to make “floor wages” mandatory while paying lip service to minimum wages while letting it die a natural death.

Unbridled Privatisation

The central government and NITI Aayog has already identified more than 72 public sector units for closure. NITI Aayog has recommended immediate closure of 42 PSUs.

Air India is being allowed to die even while aviation industry is booming. BSNL is being denied 4G spectrum while the telecom industry is moving towards 5G. The telecom industry is already being offered on a platter to Ambanis and Mittals. Airtel and Jio are flourishing while BSNL is proposing to lay off 54,000 employees.

It is being said that the Government-owned Banks and insurance companies are being merged and amalgamated only to make them profitable and to make them withstand the impact of the alarmingly huge bad debts, mostly by corporations. What is unsaid is that they are being made attractive for outright sale, as profitable companies, to the private corporates.

Railways: 100 Days Action Plan

The Bibek Debroy Committee on Railway Restructuring, and also NITI Aayog, had stressed that the government is looking only at private participation in railways and that too in non-core functions like railway hospitals, schools, production centres, workshops, railway police, etc over a span of 10 years.

But, emboldened by the massive victory, the Modi 2.0 regime has now come out with a 100-day action plan which proposes to handover profit-making Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and passenger trains to the private companies. Trains, tracks, schools, hospitals, etc., are to be given to the private companies and the ticket fares are to be doubled. It is also trying to motivate passengers to forego subsidy in ticket fares: a “Give It Up’ campaign is being launched. Every time you book the ticket, your ticket fare will be automatically doubled unless you opt for a subsidy. Indian Railways - the most popular and accessible mode of mass transport in a huge country like India - is being turned into an elite preserve which will push out the poor.

There are seven production units in Indian Railways, including historic Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW-West Bengal), Integral Coach Factory (ICF - Chennai), Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW-Banaras), Rail Coach Factory (RCF - Kapurthala), etc., which will be corporatised, to be handed over to private profiteers later. Production units with their associated workshops will be merged and a new entity “Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company” will be created. This will then be offered to private companies at a later stage - when the new company actually makes profit after spending all public money for making it profitable! The CEO of the Modern Coach factory (MCF-Rae Bareli) will get decision-making powers, and subsequently other production units will be taken over in a phased manner, bypassing the Government and the Railway Board.

Goods trains used to be the slowest in Indian railways while passenger trains used to get green signals. Now, the situation has turned topsy-turvy. Only after all goods trains are allowed to go, and only if more track and space is available, passenger trains will be given the signal. Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) in east and west are being created to increase the freight traffic. It is not only that the cows overtook human beings in its status, now freight traffic overtake human passengers.

Within these 100 days, 50 railway stations will be identified for privatisation in the name of ‘redevelopment’ and ‘world class services’. Everyone knows that railway stations are the houses for many poor in our country. Hereafter, none without ticket can even enter the stations (as is the case in airports), let alone use station toilets, or platform roofs. The homeless and destitute will lose even this tenuous “home".  

The 100-day action plan will also prepare a blue-print for restructuring of railways. The Railway Board will become toothless but for formulating some regulatory framework. GMs and DRMs [Zonal General Managers and Divisional Railway Managers] at zonal and divisional level will become more powerful. Competition to make profit - not ‘Service to people’ - will be the central theme of zones. Restructuring of railways holds the key for complete privatisation of India’s giant rail network.  

Fixed Term Employment

Contract system is also being continued as a “second preference” while the first preference of government and employers is for purely temporary jobs in the name of “Fixed Term Employment” and an expanded system of “apprenticeship”. Both these forms of employment do not have any job security. Hire and Fire becomes much easier.

In the case of apprentices, paying minimum wage is also not mandatory and it is sufficient to pay only 75 percent of minimum wage. To raise the number of apprentices from the level of 3 lakhs to 30 lakhs in next three years is the government’s goal.

New amendments suggest that contract workers cannot claim ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ - they can only claim minimum wages in the state, and may be only "floor wages” in the context of new changes.  

Land Grab

In its first term, the Modi regime had to retreat in its bid to amend the land acquisition act and make land grab easier. So the Modi regime wants to use the police state and political power to acquire lands, and create Land Banks where any industrialist can just walk in and acquire thousands of acres of lands, may be for a pittance and also without any hassles, without having to bargain with farmer-owners or face protests.

NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar says that the government can acquire public sector lands. An inventory of land may also be created with lands owned by public sectors and various other arms of the government, and land parcels and clusters will be created mainly to cater to the needs of foreign capital.   
This is Corporate ka Saath! Corporate ka Vikas! Corporate ka Vishwas! All at the cost of the Kisan!

Code on Social Security and Welfare

In the name of expanding social security to uncovered workers, the government is doing away with existing welfare boards and all existing social security institutions. Crores and crores of rupees lying with giant corporations like PF, ESI, Beedi, construction and other welfare boards, etc., will be snatched away. Social security will no more be the responsibility of the employers but of the workers themselves.

The Code on Social Security is, essentially, aimed at relieving capitalists of any semblance of accountability and answerability towards their workforce. The code is a fundamental departure from the concept of social security - which meant that employers and the State bore a responsibility to take care of health benefits, retirement benefits and other benefits for workers.  Para 353 of "The World Development Report 2019" that talks about changing nature of work and future of work says, "Enhanced social assistance and insurance reduce the burden on labor regulation of having to deal with risk management. As people become better protected through enhanced social assistance and insurance systems, labor regulation could, where appropriate, be made more flexible to facilitate movement between jobs. For example, if seeking to provide a livable income, countries could choose to use more social assistance to supplement earnings and relax pressure on minimum wages that are set at levels that exceed labor productivity. Similarly, income support for the unemployed could be provided by unemployment benefits rather than by severance pay."

Hence, the World Bank prescription is to relieve the owners of capital from the responsibility of its own labour and the responsibility is now shifted to the society and the individual workers. It is this prescription that the Modi Government now wants to implement.

The "Prime Minister Rozgar Protsahan Yojana" provides for contributions by the government towards EPF (Provident Fund) and EPS (Pension Scheme) for new employees for three years, applicable to workers earning less than Rs 15000 a month. Again, this is a way to relieve the employers of the burden while employer contribution towards ESI is reduced by 1.5 percent of workers wages. CII has suggested to increase threshold level if wages to Rs 25000 from Rs 15000.

Code on Industrial Relations

The procedure for forming trade unions is being made cumbersome and registrations of general workers’ unions are already being denied. Workers’ fundamental ‘Right to Strike’ is also being snatched away in various forms. Recognition of trade unions is also being done away with.

All these existing laws were enacted only after huge sacrifices and militant strikes by the working class. In such a context, the working class movement today is compelled to take up centuries old demand of 8 hour work day and trade union rights.

The Modi 2.0 regime seeks to dismantle the entire infrastructure of labour protection and public sector and pay its debts to the Indian and foreign corporations which funded its mammoth election campaign. India’s working class will need to tackle communal politics head-on and form strong bonds of unity and solidarity. This unity and anti-communal edge is the first condition for an effective working class resistance to this assault on workers’ rights.      

Say No to Corporatization of Indian Railways

Let’s Stand United in the Struggle against Corporatization

(Text of appeal issued by RCF Employees Union Kapurthala to fellow rail workers)  

The Modi government has issued a 100-day Action Plan for the Railways to corporatise (and very soon privatise) all the 7 production units of the Indian Railways. This means:

  1. Railway facilities such as Pass, PTO, Pension and Medical facilities will be snatched away.
  2. Workers will be forced to join their jobs anew on the terms and conditions of the Company.
  3. Workers will be forced to take forced retirement.
  4. Pay scales will be fixed on a new basis; Pay Commission, Dearness Allowance, and other Allowances will be ended.
  5. New workers will be recruited at token salaries under the Contract System resulting in extreme exploitation.
  6. Salaries and other facilities will not be paid on time; the sword of ‘removal from job’ will always hang threateningly over the worker; safety and security of the worker will be in serious danger.
  7. Quality of production will be compromised, thus endangering the lives of railway passengers.
  8. The country’s natural wealth, labour force, and resources will be freely looted, and the price of this will be paid by the people in the form of uncontrolled pollution, anarchism, and loot.
  9. The common man and woman in the country, for whom trains are the only means of transport, will be bereft of rail travel as railway services will be made much more expensive.
  10. Government machinery will come to a standstill during war, natural disasters and other such times, and capitalists will loot the country with no holds barred. The country will once again turn in the direction of slavery.

We appeal to the RCF Employees Unions, workers and their households to unite against this move.

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