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Monday, November 26, 2018

‘Hire and Fire’ without Changing Laws ... Tapan Sen

Conspiracy to Impose

Slavery on Working Class;
 ‘Hire and Fire’ without Changing Laws
                                             Tapan Sen
                                                                                                                   November 2018

The BJP government at the Centre, right from the day it assumed office, has been working overtime to empower the employers’ class with the unbridled right to “hire and fire” workers at their will through various routes. Its sole motive is to impose the conditions of slavery on the working people of the country who actually produce the GDP, generate resources for the national exchequer and also generate profit for the employers.  
“Ease of doing business” is the central focus of the Modi government. In the process, weakening and finally eliminating trade unions at workplaces is the main objective. Continuing loot on the workers and their rights is itsmodus operandi.

Attempts of Hire & Fire & Resistance

Had there been no workers, there would have been no production of goods and services and, therefore, no profit.  But, under capitalist regime, these workers are being squeezed and exploited most. As the crisis of the capitalist system deepens and aggravates, such exploitation becomes more atrocious, more heinous and more blood-sucking.
The attempts to introduce the system of “hire and fire” have been going on since the onset of the neoliberal policies. Successive governments at the Centre and in many states made hell-bent efforts to change the labour laws. The proposal to change the Industrial Disputes Act to allow employers in all establishments, employing up to 300 workers, to retrench workers or declare closure without government’s prior permission had been initiated in the mid nineties itself. These comprise more than 70% of the industrial establishments in the country employing more than 78% of the industrial workforce. But that could not be achieved by the government owing to consistent united resistance by the trade union movement of the country. In fact, latest proposal of the Modi government on Code on Industrial Relations Bill also pressed for the same proposals on “hire and fire” i.e. complete freedom to employers’ class to retrench workers at their will, which even the Modi sponsored trade union centre could not endorse publicly.
The united movement of the working class in the country which is getting consistently and continuously widened in the process of countrywide struggles could successfully stall such retrograde move changing the labour laws for introducing “hire and fire”  till now.

Contractorisation and Casualisation Route

In this background, the governments, led by BJP, have resorted to most dubious means of circumstantially empowering the employers’ class to retrench workers at their will even without changing legal framework through innovative as well as satanic administrative measures. The ground for such aggressive onslaught of “hire and fire” has been set through widespread contractorisation and casualisation of labour which got additional momentum since the inception of neoliberal policy regime in early 1990s itself. It is not that prior to 1990s contract system was not there. But such contract work had been prevalent mainly in peripheral and supportive jobs in most of the establishments and not that much in core operational jobs. And even in those peripheral jobs, particularly those of permanent and perennial nature, deployment of contract workers was continuing illegally in violation of the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970, with the direct indulgence of the concerned governments. Even in that situation, wherever the contract workers could be organised in trade unions and struggles could be conducted, they could be regularised in many industries till mid 1980s.
But since 1991 onward, such unlawful deployment of contract workers even in core operational jobs of the establishment proliferated in a big way through active indulgence of the government machineries reaching almost an explosive proportion of the total workforce by now. Even the Supreme Court Judgment put hurdles on regularisation of contract workers deployed in permanent and perennial nature of jobs as per the law of the land. As  per official estimates (Employment -Unemployment Survey conducted by Labour Bureau under the Labour Ministry-2015-16) 46.6% of the workforce were found to be self employed, as per Usual Principal Status Approach followed by 32.8% as casual labour. Only 20.7% are wage/salaried workers including contract workers. As per the same survey report, 64.9% of the wage/salaried workers and 67.8% of the contract workers and 95.3% of the casual workers do not have any written job contracts (and/or appointment letters).This itself reveals the extremely temporary character of employment of majority of the wage/salaried workers in the country. The same report also revealed that 67.5% of the self-employed (46.6% of the total workforce) have an average monthly income up to Rs 7500, 57.2% of wage/salaried workers have a monthly income up to Rs.10,000 and 38.5% of the contract workers and 59.3% of the casual workers have a monthly income of up to Rs 5000. The entire findings of the Survey Report clearly reveal that overwhelming majority of the country’s workforce in industries and services are on contract, only a small proportion are on regular permanent employment. Even among the majority of self-employed, contract system is in operation in hidden form.
Annual Survey of Industries and also the reports published by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy brought forth industry specific details of contract work. According to these reports, petroleum sector accounts for 56.21% contract workers out of its total workforce, basic metal (steel, aluminium etc) 46.5%, automobile including trucks and trailers 45.95%, tobacco products 72.83%, pharmaceuticals and chemicals 47.19%, non-metallic minerals 60.37% etc. Of these the public sector itself accounts for around 50% contract workers out of the total workforce and the private sector entities are employing around 70% of its total workforce as contract workers of different hues.  
The alarming extent to which workers are being severely exploited through contract system is thus clear. In public sector industries, contract workers are generally being paid less than one tenth of the wage of the regular workers despite doing the same and similar work, not to speak of other benefits.  In private sector, contract workers’ wage is well below 50% of the wages being paid to regular workers. Majority of the contract workers are deprived of any social security benefits despite being legally entitled for the same. But the very temporary nature of service as contract workers, keeping them under constant threat of retrenchment, does not allow the contract workers to demand such benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Not only that. The clear stipulation of the section 25 of the Rules framed under Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970 providing for payment of same wages as regular workers to the contract workers for doing the same and similar jobs is not being implemented by the concerned governments subjecting the contract workers to severe exploitation.

New Routes for “Ease of Doing Business”

It is in this background of extreme vulnerability of employment relations of majority of country’s workforce even in the organised sector itself, that the present BJP government has been introducing measures one after another to virtually empower the employers’ class with the complete right to “hire and fire” at will. This is being done in their anxiety to ensure so called “ease of doing business”.

First, Outsourcing

The first is to allow employers to deploy of contract workers in regular jobs through different nomenclatures viz., outsourcing, job contracts, commercial contracts etc. It is argued that no contractor has been engaged for doing the jobs but the entire work has been outsourced to another agency for a price; so the principal employer has no responsibility over the workers working in the outsourced agencies, although they are actually working for the principal employer. Thus these workers are sought to be thrown out of the purview of the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970 and principal employers, mostly the large corporates are completely freed from their statutory obligations. There are numerous cases where the labour departments, both in the centre and the states refused to entertain or attend complaints or industrial disputes raised by the workers of the outsourced agencies on violation of the Contract Labour (R&A) Act.

Second, Fixed Term Employment

Second, introduction of the system of “fixed term employment” through amendment of the Rules under Industrial Employment Standing Order Act through executive order has opened the floodgate of employment of temporary workers in all organised sector establishments, both in public and private sectors. The fixed term employment was first introduced during the earlier BJP regime in 2002 despite vehement opposition by all the trade unions in the country. Subsequently, owing to consistent pressure and persuasion by the trade union movement, the UPA government had to rescind the notification on “fixed term employment in 2007. But again, after the new incarnation of the BJP government under Narendra Modi this atrocious provision has again been introduced in 2017 ignoring the opposition of the entire trade union movement. As per this provision the employers will be allowed to employ workers for a fixed term say 6 months or one year and after the completion of the tenure those workers can be retrenched without any notice and compensation, unless their tenure is renewed for another fixed term. This has introduced further fragility in the employment relations keeping the concerned workers under constant threat of retrenchment or non-renewal of their tenure.
Although as per rules, workers on fixed term employment are eligible for the same wage as the regular workers in the concerned establishment, the temporary nature of their employment and consequent fear of jobloss do not allow them to demand the same enabling the employers to take advantage of the situation. This phenomenon is prevalent even in public sector companies. Employees of Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, who are all on fixed term employment since last 15 years or so through periodic renewal of their terms, have been getting much less wages and benefits than the Air India employees. Similar examples are there in other PSUs and private companies as well.  Even in a PSU like ONGC, highly skilled workers in on-shore and off-shore exploration jobs are being deployed on “fixed term employment”.  And, after notification of “fixed term employment” last year, reports are being received from many states on private sector units aggressively resorting to this route of fixed term employment while simultaneously retrenching regular workers on one plea or the other.

Third, NEEM & NETAP

The latest move of ‘temporarising’ the employment pattern for greater exploitation of labour is through engagement of apprentices in a big way. The amendment to the Apprentices Act along with introduction of the National Skill Development Programme titled National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) and National Employment Through Apprenticeship Programme (NETAP) is another gift by the BJP government led by Modi to its corporate bosses. These schemes are being introduced under the camouflage of loud slogans of improving and advancing the skill-level of country’s youth to ensure greater employability. But in practice, they are sinister designs to get the workers’ jobs done by apprentices, without any obligation to retain or pay them right wages and social security benefits and, thereby, make a savings of the employers on labour cost.  As is already being witnessed in various industries, apprentices are being utilised as workers on the production lines year after year denying them all benefits of regular workers. Most of the MNCs are now availing this route of brazen exploitation. Other private majors have also started making use of this instrument to accentuate exploitation of workers. 

The Project “Ease of Doing Business”

The picture is becoming abundantly clear. The entire project of so called “ease of doing business” is practically aimed at more severe exploitation and loot on labour who actually keeps the wheel of production and services running. There is no programme for making power, transport and other industrial raw-materials and inputs cheaper for the business and industries since all those areas are separate profit centres for the same private corporate. Hence exploitation of labour is main life-line of their project of “ease of doing business”.
The BJP government has been working overtime to facilitate such inhuman exploitation and extraction of sweat and blood of labour without any hurdles. Their aim is not to allow the workers to organise in unions and also weaken the trade union movement through introducing extreme heterogeneity in the composition of workforce within every workplace viz.,
Handful of regular workers, larger number of contract workers, fixed term employees and apprentices – all doing the same jobs with widely divergent and different wage and service conditions.
It is a criminal conspiracy that through this process they want to impose conditions of slavery on the entire workforce.

Part of Neoliberal Drive

This criminal conspiracy of imposing slavery on the working people flows from the working of the crisis ridden neoliberal capitalist order. Hence our fight must be directed against the very exploitative neoliberal policies and their political operators at the helm of governance, whosoever it may be. At this juncture it is the RSS led BJP government at the centre and in most of the states. This criminal conspiracy must be thoroughly exposed and squarely defeated by the working class movement.

Forward to  2 Days Strike to Defeat Design of Imposing Slavery

The two days’ countrywide strike on 8-9 January 2019 called by the united platform of trade unions is aimed at cementing the unity and determination of the working class to mount stout resistance to this conspiracy and oust the conspirator class in the governance decisively.
Designs of imposing slavery on the workers and the people will not pass!