The new labour laws, presented by the Union government, would heavily alter the employee-friendly laws, said trade unionist Elamaram Kareem who inaugurated the protest march.

Kerala media workers protest new labour law proposed by centre
news Protest Sunday, January 05, 2020 - 12:01

Mid morning on Saturday, scores of media workers gathered around on the road in front of the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. They had walked from the Martyr’s Square in Palayam to Raj Bhavan to protest against the revised labour laws brought in by the Union government.

The march, organised by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists and Kerala Newspaper Employees Federation, was inaugurated by trade unionist and Communist leader Elamaram Kareem.

The new law approved by the Cabinet called the Labour Code on Industrial Relations 2019 will consolidate t44 existing labour laws and divide them into four codes. It would heavily alter the so-far employee-friendly laws, Kareem said.

As part of the changes, the concept of permanent jobs has been stopped. Instead there is fixed, casual or contract employment, or else outsourcing. “Artificial Intelligence and robotic technologies are coming in a big way, resulting in more job losses. It is in such a situation that the new laws are presented at the Rajya Sabha,” Kareem lamented.

In the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees Act, a newspaper employee was termed ‘employee’. In the new laws, they are at times referred to as ‘worker’. “This causes confusion, because when you change a term from employee to worker, there is no guarantee they would be eligible for minimum wages, and no guarantee there’d be a wage board,” Kareem explained.


Elamaram Kareem addresses the media workers

For the seventh pay commission, 12 years ago, a recommendation was made to make the minimum salary of an entry-level employee Rs 18,000 per month. The 46th Indian Labour Conference had accepted it and recommended it to the government. The Supreme Court had endorsed it in a case. “But even after many labour strikes, the government did not budge. The recommendation now, 12 years later, is Rs 21,000 but what the government declared as minimum wages is Rs 178. They discarded even the suggestion of an expert team they hired to make it Rs 376,” Kareem said.

Yet another employee-unfriendly clause in the new laws is that the management of a company can hold back eight days’ wages if an employee strikes for one day, ‘illegally’. “But what is a legal strike?” Kareem asked.

He also spoke about the changes in the Law Enforcement Department. “Earlier there was a labour inspector who could visit any organisation unannounced and check documents to expose the fraud used by employers in cheating their employees from enjoying all the benefits. But now they have removed such a post and instead there’d be a facilitator who’d inform the management of a company before making a visit. Whose interests are they saving? The news laws also suggest that the balance sheet need to be provided to the unions only if the management wishes to. It is the balance sheet that shows the profits made by a company and decides the bonus the employees deserve. Like this, the new laws favour a number of anti-employee attitudes.”

Kareem said that the original labour laws have a history that should not be forgotten. “The first trade union federation is turning a hundred years old this year. VV Giri, former president of India, had once represented India as a labour association member at the International Labour Organisation in 1938. The Indian Trade Union Act was there even before India got independence. The lawmakers took many days to forumulate these laws in the parliament, post independence. These should not be forgotten.”

He cautioned that the new law would take away the rights of workers, including those of the newspaper employees. "From the time the BJP came into power, they have been pushing for labour law revisions for ‘doing business easy’. And by that they mean to bring more investments to India and make it a better environment for the industries to do business. This is an attitude adopted by capitalists across the world: make a place investment-friendly and sacrifice the interest of the employees. They demand that the employees sector be made more flexible, that the employee associations and strikes be stopped,” Kareem said.

Photos by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

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