Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Coming general strike (Feb 20, 21) and some stray thoughts

Secretarial Staff of first International Labor Conference, Washington DC, 1919
Trade unions and organized sector are going for a general strike on coming 20, 21 of February. Ten main demands put forwarded by the unions are,

1. Concrete measures to contain price rise.
2. Effective measures for employment generation.
3. Strict implementation of Labour laws.
4. Universal social security cover for organized and unorganized workers and creation of National Social Security Fund.
5. Stoppage of disinvestment in Central and state PSUs/undertakings.
6. No contractorisation of work of permanent/perennial nature and payment of wages and benefits to the contract workers at the same rate as available to the regular workers of the industry/establishment.
7. Amendment of Minimum Wages Act to ensure universal coverage, irrespective of the schedules and fixation of statutory minimum wage at not less than Rs 10,000 linked with cost price index.
8. Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus, Provident Fund, increased quantum of gratuity.
9. Assured pension to all and compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days.
10. Immediate ratification of the ILO Convention Nos 87 and 98.

How many times organized unions in India went for a strike against child labour?
My take on the points

1. What is meant by concrete measures? When elections are approaching, no government in the world want high prices for commodities. Soaring prices are not something, which can be lowered just by turning on or off a button. If this is the problem, then they should talk with concerned ministry and opposition parties before trying to shut down the country for two days.

2. We are already spending an enormous amount of money through MNREGA program. Needless to say, one of the main problems for many new projects is our sluggish bureaucracy and red tapes. If the same government employees, who are going to strike for employment generation, can move the files a bit faster; it can make colossal changes in the country.

3. In organized sector labour laws are more stern than required. Regrettably, in unorganised sector people seldom care about labour laws. Will trade unions, who organize strike for the implementation of strict labour laws, try to make some changes in unorganised sector - who don’t have powerful unions to put forward their demands?

4. And who will pay for that social security fund? It is always easy to put forward some idea. Social security fund is certainly a good idea, but we need to toil hard for a lot more years to reach the position of a welfare nation.

5. The role of government is to govern, not to make cars and bulbs. Why government need the ownership of 10- 20 banks which are competing with each other? What is the need for government to have an airline?

6. One of the main reasons behind the concept of contract labour is strict laws associated with permanent labour. In many cases, management is virtually helpless in the face of collective bargaining power of powerful trade unions. This created another class called contract labours who gets a small percentage of salary and benefits enjoyed by permanent workers doing the same job. There is no doubt that, we need to have concrete laws for protecting contract labours.

7. Fixing minimum wage at 10,000 INR? What about unorganised sector here?

8 & 9. Again what about private and unorganized sector? In many government offices, people have to struggle to get their things done - to get a sign, to move a file from one desk to another desk etc. Why don't they think about it first, before going for a strike?

10. ILO convention 87 is - "concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to organise (Entry into force: 04 Jul 1950)". It’s a fact that, India is yet to ratify this convention. But, does anyone really think that, India is not giving any freedom for association or right to organize? Strike in Feb 20 and 21 itself is the biggest demonstration of these two rights enjoyed by the people.

Convention 98 is "concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively (Entry into force: 18 Jul 1951))". Strike by unions is also a form of collective bargaining, isn't it?

By the way ILO conventions 87 and 98 are not the only conventions we didn’t ratify till now. India is yet to verify some important conventions like,
110 - Convention concerning Conditions of Employment of Plantation Workers (Entry into force: 22 Jan 1960)
129 -Convention concerning Labour Inspection in Agriculture (Entry into force: 19 Jan 1972)
148 - Convention concerning the Protection of Workers against Occupational Hazards in the Working Environment Due to Air Pollution, Noise and Vibration (Entry into force: 11 Jul 1979)
169 - Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (Entry into force: 05 Sep 1991)
170 - Convention concerning Safety in the use of Chemicals at Work (Entry into force: 04 Nov 1993)
172 - Convention concerning Working Conditions in Hotels, Restaurants and similar Establishments (Entry into force: 07 Jul 1994)
182 - Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Entry into force: 19 Nov 2000)

How many are demanding the ratifications of these conventions?


It is true that in last twenty years many things changed in India. But we are nowhere close to anything called welfare state. At the same time, the rigidity of bureaucracy is yet to accommodate the new changes. When bureaucracy itself is facing severe criticism from public, isn’t it their moral responsibility to correct everything from their end before trying to shut down the nation for two full days?



1. Government again Appeals to the Bank Employees not to join the Strike on February 20-21, 2013 - Ministry of Finance, GOI
2. Government Initiatives on proposed Strike by the Central Trade Unions  - Ministry Of Labour and Employment - GOI

3. RBI employees to join nation-wide strike on Wednesday - The Hindu

5. GDP to take Rs 15,000-20,000 crore hit from strike: ASSOCHAM - TOI
6. Support for general strike on Feb 20, 21 - Deccan Herald
7. Unions firm on general strike on Feb. 20, 21 - The Hindu

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

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