New Delhi: Leaders of the Central Trade Unions seek holding of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC) — an apex tripartite consultative committee that advises the government on worker-related issues – as they accuse the central government of “deceiving the public” through the ongoing series of stakeholder discussions before the Labour Codes are rolled out.
The Centre is not serious about discussing the far-reaching implications of the four Labour Codes with trade unions, leaders of two national unions told Newsclick on Thursday. According to them, the so-called multi-stakeholder consultations planned by the former cannot replace ILC meetings, whose sessions have not taken place since 2015.
After facing stiff opposition from the farmers’ bodies over the agriculture reforms, which eventually had to be withdrawn, the Narendra Modi-led central government is keen on bringing all stakeholders on board before the roll-out of the controversial Labour Codes. The four codes are set to subsume 29 central legislations. In this backdrop, a series of meetings have been scheduled with different representatives of employers, employees, and state governments.
On Thursday, a two-day National Labour Conference comprising all states and Union Territories formally began at Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati. The conference, which will have a virtual address by the Prime Minister, is set to dwell upon “framing of rules under four Labour Codes and modalities for their implementation,” along with other labour-related issues.
Apart from this, the Centre has planned to hold “one-to-one” meetings with central trade union representatives, Newsclick has learnt. A meeting with the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh was already convened earlier this week, according to The Economic Times. Similar meetings are being held with the representatives of employers.
Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), confirmed on Thursday that the central trade union has been invited by the Centre for a “one-to-one” meeting that is proposed to take place on August 31. “We haven’t yet received any confirmation on the meeting date. However, one thing must be said is that the unions are not happy with this format,” Sen said.
He demanded the Centre convenes a session of the ILC, 46th Session of which was last held in 2015. “No serious tripartite consultations, with trade unions’ participation, have taken place even before the passage of the Labour Codes. The government is now only deceiving the public by holding conferences with state governments and one-to-one meetings with the unions,” he said.
Likewise, Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), also argued that the ongoing multi-stakeholder consultations cannot replace ILC. She highlighted that India is a signatory to ILO convention 144, which calls for tripartite consultations among the government, employers and workers.
Last year, multiple rounds of tripartite consultation were held over the framing of rules for the four Codes, albeit in virtual format. Calling them a “farce”, ten CTUs had boycotted these meetings and instead proposed a face-to-face meeting.
Asked about the proposed “one-to-one” meeting with the Centre, Kaur said that the ten CTUs have agreed to raise some “common points” in these meetings, including the withdrawal of the four Labour Codes and pressure to hold the ILC.
Meanwhile, the Union Labour Ministry is looking to take a final call on the timing of the implementation of the Labour Codes after the latest stakeholder discussions, according to media reports. Incidentally, since the passage of the three Codes – Industrial Relations Code; Code on Social Security; and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code – in 2020 and the Code on Wages in 2019, their implementation has been deferred multiple times over the past months.
Labour being a concurrent subject, it is required for both the Centre and the states to have framed laws and rules for the rollout of the Labour Codes. With most states having pre-published the draft rules for at least The Code on Wages and The Code on Social Security, there are indications that the Centre is setting the stage with the latest round of consultations for a staggered implementation with an initial rollout of two Codes.
Trade unions have warned the Centre that they will resort to protest actions in case the government moves ahead with the implementation of Codes. The unions fear that the four Codes, touted as reforms, will dilute workers’ rights.