Don’t bulldoze workers’ rights in India, says global trade union movement

photo: © Copyright ILO

Trade unions in India are protesting today (Friday 2 August) against the Modi 2.0 government’s plans to worsen workers’ rights. In the name of rationalizing industrial relations laws, the government is levelling down workers’ rights and institutionalizing poverty pay, all in the interests of multinational enterprises. ITUC affiliates INTUC, HMS and SEWA will unite with other unions in India to mobilise millions of workers to oppose low pay, worse rights and privatisation.

Following mass protests since the beginning of the year against Modi’s proposals, Indian unions have responded with unprecedented unity to the new government’s plans. They were announced in the 2019 budget put forward by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the beginning of July.

Five days later, Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar announced a new minimum wage of just Rs 4,628 (€60) a month, well below the Central Pay Commission’s proposal of Rs 18,000 and the joint union demand of Rs 20,000. The government announcement was based on the report of an ‘expert committee’ on which there was no union representation.

Last week, a new occupational health and safety bill was tabled in Parliament to replace 13 sector-specific laws, but the new bill will cover just 10% of Indian workers.

The ten union confederations in the Trade Union Co-ordinating Council - including the ITUC affiliates INTUC, HMS, SEWA and other confederations and independent unions – announced the day of action on 2 August saying that they “take strong objection and condemn bulldozing of codification of labour laws and other laws in spite of strong objections from the trade union movement.”

As well as calling for the proposals to be withdrawn and a higher national minimum wage, the unions are calling for a halt to privatization, and the creation of more and better jobs by increasing demand in the economy through higher pay, rather than attracting multinational enterprises by slashing labour protections.

"The government ignored our demands to fix minimum wages as per the International Labour Organisation’s guidelines and participation of trade unions in setting other standards," said Sanjeeva Reddy, president of the INTUC.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “The global trade union movement supports the Indian unions in demanding that democracy works for working people. We stand for dignity not exploitation, and we are side-by-side with our affiliates in India who are standing up for workers’ rights in every workplace, a national minimum wage that people can actually live on, and a new social contract for every worker.

“The world is watching whether Modi’s government can override basic principles of social justice and decent work, so the struggle of our Indian sisters and brothers is our struggle too.

“Over 90% of working people still operate in India’s mammoth informal sector. Many of these workers are joining unions to have their rights recognised and their conditions improved. The government must be a partner in this effort, yet its measures have created new barriers to formalisation and eroded the rights of formal sector workers. Minimum living wages and social protection for all will support working families’ security and build a sustainable economy. The government has left a trail of broken promises in this regard and people have lost hope,” she added.