ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Change the Narrative

Trade unions must review their strategies in the face of labour reforms.

A lmost a 100 years after the first trade union was started in the country and decades after the working class won the right to organise and collective bargaining, the National Democratic Alliance government is bent on turning the clock back. Having allowed mainstream media and industry to propagate the notion that India’s supposedly unwieldy and excessive labour laws are at the heart of lack of investment and economic growth, it has persistently pushed for labour law reforms. While it is clear that the centre’s proposal of four labour codes to subsume all labour laws is also aimed at breaking the backbone of unions under the objective of “easing” business, has the time come for trade unions to rethink strategy? The three-day protest from 9 November by 10 central trade unions in Delhi drew unprecedented support but how impactful was it in terms of government and industry response? The previous two such strikes also drew massive support but while mainstream media reported on them cursorily, industry and government preferred to term them “partial” and carry on with the labour reform agenda.

Interestingly, when the united protests of trade unions made labour reform measures difficult at the national level, the central government encouraged state governments to take up the task enthusiastically. The competition between states to attract investment was termed “competitive federalism” by supporters of this strategy. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra—all ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party—have been in the forefront along with Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in diluting the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA), 1947 and the Apprentices Act, 1961 to favour the employers. While the centre holds sway over regulated sectors and larger policy issues, state governments can determine the “business atmosphere” in a state.

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Updated On : 21st Nov, 2017
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