No Hope, Mr. Thankappan

D. Thankappan writes in Business World [Aug 18-24, 2009] about the current concerns of labour in his article titled “Workers Need More Security”. Some of his statements hit the bull’s eye though one may not agree with him on all.

He says, “With the decline in tenured employment came a decline in trade union strength. A major casualty of this resulted in an attack on the right to collective bargaining. Instances of refusal by employers to negotiate with unions, or even recognise unions chosen by workers, are extensive and range from large Indian corporates such as MRF and KEC to MNCs such as Unilever, Hyundai and Bosch.”

It was also the period when contract employment became the norm. Legislation for abolishment of contract employment stands diluted. In a bid to further de-regularise, “trainees” are hired to perform tasks of full-time workers. Even in sectors where tenure of employment exists on paper, lack of union strength and weak labour laws has made it a sham. As a result, non-payment of provident fund and gratuity, overtime without payment, harassment at workplace and arbitrary dismissals are rampant.” [Unquote]

The misuse of contract labour is so rampant following tilting of power balance in favour of Managements that the Government’s inaction to curb it is shocking. The problem is that the Government has shied away from handling the main issue. It is that the contract labour act in its present form will only see more violations because a lot of water has flown under the bridge since it was enacted thirty-seven years ago. Outsourcing of activities has increased and it is becoming a big industry itself. The Andhra Pradesh Government is perhaps the only one which has recognised this and has taken steps to make state amendments to the Central Law. Others and notably the Government of Maharashtra are not paying any attention to this issue.

I have worked in an era when the Governments and I beg to submit that the Judiciary too favoured labour so much that making any change was a herculean task. Following liberalisation, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. The Government is not afraid of granting closures [Thankappan alleges that it is done indiscriminately] and some of the judgments perhaps go a step further than restoring balance for managements!

We need a Government that has the will and the skill to take a comprehensive view of the labour scenario and act with conviction. One has to go to Singapore to discover how the Society benefits when well thought out policies are implemented with iron hand. Our Government looks like Sanjeev Kumar in Sholay but with a difference – he is sitting pretty, ‘hands free’, is not even in search of anyone to rein in Gabbar!

By the way, do you know who the Union Minister is for Labour and Employment? I am sure that nine out of ten HR professionals will not abe able to tell us their names.

Ever heard of Mallikarjun Kharge? And Minister of State for Labour and Employment? That’s Harish Rawat. Wikipedia write up about them reveals precious little work done by them in labour relations.

No hope Mr. Thankappan!