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

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Government and Labour: Return of Dialogue?

Worker’s organisations are crucial to the government’s planned labour policy measures.


The union minister of labour recently held a meeting with the leaders from the central trade unions (CTUs). What was seen as a “token” courtesy meeting, has led to reports that the government is interested in resuming some form of dialogue with the CTUs. Reports point at the government’s inclination towards holding the Indian Labour Conference (ILC). This is not surprising considering how labour-related issues have dominated the public imagination during the COVID-19 pandemic, most starkly seen in the huge migrant exodus from the cities during the first lockdown in March–April 2020. The National Database of Unorganised Workers (NDUW), an initiative focused on enumerating the unorganised workforce along with the launch of the e-Shram portal are part of the government’s efforts to ensure workers access to social security benefits. With the operationalisation of the much-touted labour codes still uncertain—amidst unfulfilled employer concerns and CTU resistance—the government appears to be stretching its arm out, in its characteristic ad hoc style, to cover its gross misadventures with respect to labour and employment.

The ILC, first held in 1942 (as the national labour conference and the ILC from 1945), under the chairpersonship of B R Ambedkar, is the principal tripartite body, which includes representatives from central, state and union territory governments, CTUs and employers’ organisations. In determining broader legislative and policy matters related to labour, as well as discussions between the different parties involved, it has been the institutional bulwark of tripartism in labour politics in India. While tripartism in the Indian context has had a mixed history, with an overt presence of the state—an inheritance from colonial labour administration—there is undoubtedly an array of tripartite arrangements such as wage boards, labour boards, standing labour committees and national labour commissions that emerge from this tradition. It has, in many ways, shaped the basis of labour policy across different sectors. The ILC has also allowed for bringing together diverse traditions in the trade union movement, along with employers into a dialogue that was seen to ensure some bare minimum framework for industrial relations, in India. While its regular occurrence has consistently provided a space for dialogue, the current dispensations’ failure to hold the ILC for almost six years, in the midst of enacting the most drastic overhaul of the labour legislation, appears to be in line with their overall method of steamrolling through institutions for dialogue and deliberation.

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Updated On : 4th Sep, 2021
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