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10 central trade unions have declared a nation-wide strike on September 2 which is said to impact essential services. This strike is to protest against the changes that have been made in the labour laws by the NDA government.
What is it all about?
The nationwide one-day strike, according to the trade unions, is supposed to be the biggest strike ever in the country. The protestors are striking against the anti-worker economic policies of the government.
The sectors which are going to be affected widely will be coal, power, cement, textiles, oil, aviation, banks, insurance and post office. The transport sector in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab will be completely closed.
“Railways wont be affected by the strike”, said Gurudas Dasgupta, General Secretary, All India Trade Union Congress.
What are their demands?
This strike was initially decided to be called in July after talks between Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and 11 trade union leaders but it got postponed to September.
The trade unions are striking against the labour reforms made by the NDA government. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley along with the committee had proposed to significantly increase minimum wages and make them mandatory across the country.
The 12-point charter of demands of the trade unions was to seek withdrawal of labour law amendments and the land acquisition amendments ordinance. They also demanded the government to stop privatisation and foreign investment in railways, insurance and defence, banning speculative trade in commodities, Universalization of Public Distribution System as well as policies to address price hike and improve employment opportunities. It also suggested an increase in the bonus ceiling as well as widening the coverage of provident fund and health insurance to include construction as well as workers in schemes such as aanganwadis.
The trade unions suggested that wages for unskilled workers could range from Rs 7,100 to Rs 10,000 per month while for skilled workers it would range between Rs 14,200 and Rs 20,000. Unions have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 15,000 a month.
Responding to their demands, the government had circulated a note explaining that it is already working on seven of the demands put ahead by the trade unions which includes amendments to Minimum Wages Act, Contract labour Act and providing universal society security. The government also assured them that the Rs 1,000 minimum pension would be continued and demands for a dearness allowance would be looked into and no changes would be made to the Trade Unions Act, 1926.
The government in the last two months have met the trade unions thrice in July and twice in August. It discussed their 12-point charter of demands and even though the government have provided a solution to each of their demands the trade unions said that the government did not offer any tangible solution to them. The government has proposed a new formula to calculate the minimum wages for workers and assured a minimum level of pay for contract workers and proposed to double the bonus ceiling and the eligibility salary limit.
The trade unions further said that the government should not include business representatives in the forum for this purpose. Dasgupta said, “Government doesn’t discuss taxation with us. The government never said our demands will be accepted.”
The unions want the government to take a lesson and come forward for discussion.
Who are participating in the strike?
This nation-wide strike was earlier called by 11 trade unions but RSS-led Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has backed out of the strike in order to let the government deliver on its promises. BMS not only opted out of the strike but has requested all the remaining 10 trade unions to reconsider their stand as they want the government to try and work on their promises.
AK Padmanabhan, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions said that they would go ahead with the strike anyway.
The 10 trade unions who are participating in the strike are: CITU, INTUC, AITUC, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC and LPF. Media reports say that even All-India Bank Employees’ Association and coal unions are also set to join the strike against the ‘anti-worker’ policies of the NDA government.
Dasgupta said, “The impact of BMS pullout will be minimal on the strike on September 2. The decision of BMS is political.” He further accused the government of ‘playing fraud’ and said BMS had become a ‘victim of the fraud’.
Taxi operators in Goa are also going to join the strike to oppose the Road Transport Safety Bill 2014 and civilian defence employees are joining the strike demanding a withdrawal of FDI in defence manufacturing, to reverse privatisation of defence manufacturing.
Nearly 8,000 taxis will go off the roads in Goa as cab operators in the state have decided to join the strike call to oppose the Road Transport safety bill 2014. “None of the taxis will operate as we have supported the strike. Even the taxi services on airport and railway stations would be closed down,” North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners Association secretary Vinayak Nanoskar.
Joining the strike, however, is the civilian workforce of 41 defence ordinance factories, 52 DRDO labs, naval dockyards, military engineering services as well as defence workshops and depots.
“The All-India Defence Employees’ Federation and its affiliated unions have already served a strike notice to the government on August 14 and we will join the September 2 national strike,” All-India Defence Employees’ Federation general secretary C Srikumar said in a statement.
The civilian defence employees demand of withdrawal of 49% FDI in defence production and research, withdrawal of the government decision to privatise defence production, withdrawal of the National Pension Scheme rolled out since January 1, 2004, as well as withdrawal of arbitrary revision of labour laws, among others.
What made BMS walk out of the strike?
The Unions demanded for the removal of all ceilings for bonus and the government proposed to increase the bonus ceiling to Rs 10,000 from Rs 3,500. The government also increased the eligibility of the salary limit to Rs 21,000 from Rs 10,000.
Trade unions demanded for minimum wage of Rs 15,000 for all employees and the government proposed to calculate minimum wage and included cost of clothing and food items. They also demanded for no contract labour in job with perennial work and that the government gives same wage for such workers as regular ones to which the government made minimum wages for contract workers mandatory. They made contract labour to be hired by staffing companies and to be given social security net.
These are the three specific reasons why the RSS backed BMS walked out of the strike. Following that the BMS also called for deferring the strike and asked other trade unions to give more time to the government.
Virjesh Upadhyay, General secretary, BMS said, “We are happy with the government’s initiative to come forward and listen to unions in such a creative and aggressive manner.”