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Unions Cry Foul at Govt's Flexible Hiring Idea

Reacting to the Union government’s move to give industries flexibility in hiring contract workers, trade unions on Tuesday charged the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with violating consultation norms.

“This is gross violation of the basic norm of tripartism and the Citu (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) hereby lodges its protest against such violation,” Tapan Sen, general secretary of Citu, said in a letter to Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya.

Citu said the government “silently issued the said notification without consulting the central trade unions and asking their opinion on such proposal having a serious bearing on the working conditions and job security of the industrial workers, before bringing it in public domain”.

Business Standard had reported on Tuesday a Union labour ministry’s proposed rule to allow factories to hire “fixed-term” workers for a specific time — mainly for project-based jobs or short-term assignments. Though the fixed-term workers would get the same benefits as permanent employees, the employer would not have to give the worker any notice period at the end of the job tenure, or when the project was completed. The proposal was appreciated by industry. Trade unions have termed it as a back door entry to help companies hire-and-fire workers.

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The Centre had invited public comments to the draft rules, issued on April 29, on amending the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act. However, the trade unions said they were unaware of the draft rules. Four days are left to submit comments.

Indian National Trade Union Congress General Secretary G Sanjeeva Reddy said: “I was informed about the Union government’s draft rules by my office on Monday. The labour ministry is hurriedly taking all these steps to favour the corporate sector. We will write to the Union labour minister on Wednesday protesting against this move.”

The trade unions said a copy of the draft rules was not sent to them, which was the usual practice. Further, the unions were not informed by the Union labour ministry even in the series of meetings held by the minister on several issues.

“It is shocking that after publishing the draft rules, there had been numerous meetings between the labour ministry and the central trade unions on various issues, including labour law amendments, and the labour minister was present in such meetings. But at no point of time, the central trade unions were ever conveyed about such a retrograde proposal,” said A K Padmanabhan, president, Citu.

This rule was originally mooted by the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2003, which had held consultations with the central trade unions and industry representatives before coming up with the proposal. However, following widespread protests from the trade unions, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had repealed the rule in 2007 through a gazette notification.

“Again the same rescinded notification on imposing conditions of bonded labour on industrial workers is being sought to bring back. Is this the mandate of the Ministry of Labour? Is the clock being sought to be turned backward?” Sen added in the letter.

Labour Minister Dattatreya is attending the 104th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva from June 1 to June 13.

This is not the first time the trade unions have attacked the Union government for amending labour laws. The trade unions have also opposed changes to the proposed industrial relations Bill and they have planned a one-day strike on September 2. At the time of announcing the strike last month, the trade unions had complained in a joint declaration that the government had put the Bills in public domain without consulting them, thereby violating the provisions of the International Labour Organisation Convention 144 on tripartite consultation.

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