The Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2009
Mr. Vice-Chairman, Sir, I rise to give my observations on the Bill which is before the House. Just now I have heard the presentation by my very senior colleague, Sanjeeva Reddyji, who is also a stalwart of the Indian trade union movement, the President of the INTUC. I fully endorse his views, not just as a Member of this House but also as a trade union activist.
Sir, I endorse his views that the issue of labour is not being taken up with the seriousness it deserves, and the whole mindset behind that kind of an approach is, as if just a consideration is being extended to poor workers. Although the very fact remains that whatever GDP growth, etc., etc., we are boasting, and sometimes we are patting ourselves on our back for the management of this economy, the entire value is created by the labour and labour alone. Sometimes the labour themselves do not understand the importance of theirs, and that is why they allow them to be taken for granted for this kind of an approach. Now, coming to the Bill, let me tell you that every item of this Bill had been a consensus in a Tripartite Indian Labour Conference, not today, seven years back.
All the sides had agreed to every aspect, and incidentally, personally, myself and Sanjeeva Reddyji sitting over here were physically associated in building of that consensus. But, unfortunately, again, it is not a priority before the Government, so it took more than seven years to bring a consensus item in the form of a legislation. This is the most unfortunate part of it. Again, while putting that consensus in action, in the form of a law, certain basic practical aspects have been ignored, making thereby a greater part of the effort totally infructuous. It is so because the practical aspects have not been taken into account. I think, all these things have been amply elaborated by Sanjeeva Reddyji, and I do not like to go into the details of that.
Sir, I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Minister to certain aspects. Number one, in the case of appropriate Government, I thank the hon. Minister for accepting the recommendation of the Standing Committee because the contract workers are the worst sufferers. The most important legislation this country is having on contract workers is the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 which gives recognition to a triangular relationship between the principal employer, the contractor and the contract workers, and where the contract workers under the Central Government establishment is to face a dispute, in that case, the Central Government must be the appropriate Government; otherwise, they have to run from door to door. The poor contract worker is getting its point addressed. So, in that respect, the Standing Committee in its wisdom suggested certain concrete changes in the Bill, and I am thankful to the hon. Minister that he has accepted it by moving an official amendment. That is an important thing. It is because today in the entire workplace contract work has become the order of the day. It is done in violation of the Contract Labour Abolition Act; and in most of the cases, the respective Governments are promoting that kind of a violation.
That is the reality. So, at least, this may be a small weapon in the hands of the poor contract workers to get their things done. I thank for accepting that amendment. Secondly, on the aspect of wage ceiling, it is really ridiculous. Yes, you can make a claim, from Rs.1600 it may be Rs.10000. But you have done it after 25 years. As on today, Rs.10000 does not mean anything. Again you are talking about the Supervisors.
I would like to tell you that in majority of the industries it has become an instrument in the hands of the employer. He gives you a name of Supervisor and he takes away all rights from you. That can be taken care of by appropriately taking care of the ceiling aspect. There should be no ceiling. Wherever there is employer-employee relationship, in a civilized democratic country, employee has got a basic democratic right in airing his grievances through established grievance settlement redressal machinery. That is the fundamental of any democratic system. Why should there be a ceiling? In that respect in the matter of industrial disputes, that is, in resolving the disputes between an employer and an employee, whatever kind of employee he may be, he may be a workman, he may be a helper, he may be any other kind of worker, everybody is having his important contribution to the national GDP and other things, the rationality suggests that the employee who is always at the receiving end has got outreach to get his grievances addressed.
In that event, I think the question of putting a ceiling in the matter of industrial disputes is absolutely superfluous, and this Bill deserves deletion of that clause. I urge upon the hon. Minister that all his good intentions will not get reflected in the reality if that thing is kept. By this you are denying the basic democratic right to an employee who is always at the receiving end. He may be an officer. You may give him any name and take away his rights. That is the serious lacuna here which neutralizes rather negates the good intentions behind the Bill. So, I sincerely urge upon the hon. Minister to consider this.
The third point is about grievance redressal machinery. I fully agree with Shri Sanjeeva Reddy. The Works Committee was not implemented in 99 per cent cases. It is a statutory arrangement. Have you any record that you have taken care, you have prosecuted the employers for violating these basic items of the law of the land? If somebody violates the law of the land he must be behind bars. But, unfortunately, so far as labour is concerned, the violator of the law of the land shares breakfast or dinner table with who's-who in the Government. That is the reality. What changes are you going to bring about? You bring any number of laws but if the violation is promoted from the enforcement machinery itself that will be an unfortunate thing. So, that aspect has to be taken care of. Similarly, in the matter of grievances redressal machinery, I think the Standing Committee has made an observation. Up to 12, they have allowed. Why? Why should it not be up to 10? Even your Unorganised Workers Act however ineffective it may be, as I consider it, provides some machinery for the establishments employing below 10. So, from 10 to 20, there is an absolute vacuum. How do you propose to address this thing because for 10 to 20 there is no machinery? For below 10, something is there and above 20, we are addressing this.
I think that lacuna needs to be properly addressed. Then there is the issue of Tribunal. I think some good steps have been taken. I think, it requires repetition and reiteration, please, make a timeframe. Otherwise, all these facilities mean nothing for the workers. Please make a fixed time-frame. The award of the Tribunal must be implemented in a fixed time-frame. Even if the employer wants to challenge it, they must have the right to appeal. But, he should be allowed to go only after implementing the award. If he wins, the amount, etc., can be recovered. We are even ready to accept that kind of a thing. But, please get it implemented. When you are defining 'appropriate Government', you are bringing all Central Government establishments under this.
First set your own redressal machinery in different States. Have more DNC and ANC office under the Central Ministry spread over the States, so that the 'appropriate Government' can really and practically act as an 'appropriate Government' in addressing the grievances. The time prescribed should be reduced to a fortnight. A dismissed worker cannot wait. Employer can make this 'wait' for his advantage. They can increase the period of conciliation in collusion with labour department and conciliation officer. Please, if you want to really give a right to worker, do it.
The last point is, you are amending the Industrial Disputes Act. Please, let it be implemented properly. On the one hand, you are amending the Industrial Disputes Act to give more rights to workers and, on the other, you are diluting its implementation and some of the provisions through some other legislative exercise. Please, don't do it. Your Bill, which is pending in this House on furnishing of returns, goes at cross purposes with the very intention with which you have brought this Bill. So, please, do not press for it. This is my request.
The last point is, I think, the Central Government has a responsibility on it. You have the Industrial Disputes Act to be implemented by the labour department. Now, a new style has come. The Central Government, with its own action, has provoked it. Sir, for the SEZ, the labour department is not responsible to address the labour problems. The Development Commissioner has been appointed. The ILO, in its Governing Body, has recommended that this must be changed and India is a party to that. What are you going to do that? Taking inspiration from that, even in Noida and greater Noida where there is no SEZ, you have made the entire labour department defunct and the District Magistrate and the Collector has been given the right to deal with the labour-related grievances. So, you are dismantling the labour law and, at the same time, you are bringing some good amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act! These work at cross purposes. We have written a number of times, including to your Office requesting you to intervene in Noida issue.
The labour issue has to be dealt by the labour department and the labour department also needs to be strengthened if the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act have to be meaningfully implemented. Otherwise, the workers are not benefited. You can make any number of laws. They will bring no benefit to the workers. By that kind of an exercise, you are provoking extremism in the labour sector.
I, as a labour activist, would like to warn the Government, please do not allow extremism in the labour areas. That will be a greater disservice to this country and greater disservice to the development prospects of this country. By not implementing the labour laws, you are promoting extremism in the labour sector. Please stop this before the situation gets worsened.
With these few words, I thank you very much.