Ahead of their planned strike on September 2, were a divided lot on Thursday, following a meeting with a panel of ministers of the National Democratic Alliance government.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated (BMS) appeared to soften its stance on joining other trade unions on the planned nationwide strike, praising the government’s assurances. The (TUCC) also supported BMS. Of the 12 unions that called for a strike on September 2, nine said they wouldn’t go back on their decision to participate in it.

Apart from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Petroleum Minister and Labour Minister were present at Thursday’s meeting. At the meeting, Jaitley appealed to labour unions to re-consider their decision to go on a strike on September 2.

The National Front of Indian Trade Unions did not participate in the meeting.

The government’s assurances to considerably raise and bonus for workers, provide a social security net for contract workers, and carry out labour reforms only after tripartite consultations broke led to division among the unions.

“The government has taken a creative and aggressive step towards addressing labour demands. It has given an assurance that labour law reforms will take place in a tripartite mechanism alone, and agreed to increase minimum wages and raise the bonus cap. This is the first time any government is taking initiatives in the interest of workers,” said Brijesh Upadhyay, general-secretary of BMS.

If backs out, it might come as a blow to other trade unions, as BMS claims to have the second-highest membership across the country, of 17.1 million. All central trade unions will meet on Friday to try to convince BMS to join the strike. “Apart from BMS, no one seemed happy. We will sit tomorrow and convince them not to oppose the strike, even if it wishes not to participate,” said M Shanmugam, general-secretary, Labour Progressive Federation. The TUCC said it, too, might re-consider its decision to go on a strike.

“We don’t agree with the BMS. Merely convening the meetings with us doesn’t indicate any policy shift. We will continue our strike,” said D L Sachdeva, national secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress.

To appease the unions, the government tabled three proposals: a formula-based calculation of minimum wages, mandatory minimum wages to contract workers and a threefold rise in the bonus to employees. “There will be a fundamental shift in the calculation of minimum wages. At present, only an advisory is issued to states but the government has decided it will make it mandatory to provide minimum wages, which will be applicable across the country and to all kind of jobs. The minimum wage will be set based on a formula, not merely a particular number,” Dharmendra Pradhan said after the meeting.

Also, all employees earning up to Rs 21,000 a month will be eligible for a bonus, against the current cut-off of Rs 10,000 a month. The highest bonus entitled for workers is proposed at Rs 7,000, against the current Rs 3,500, according to a press release issued by the labour ministry.

The government has also proposed a formula to calculate the minimum wages for workers based on their consumption expenditure on food items, rent, fuel, education, medical and clothing. Subsequently, states will be categorised into three groups (according to living standards); every set of states will have its own minimum wage, based on the cost of these items in the region.

According to a note circulated to all trade unions, a skilled labour in Delhi would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 20,000 a month, a semi-skilled worker Rs 15,000 and an unskilled worker Rs 10,000 a month. In states such as Bihar, a skilled worker will get a minimum wage of Rs 14,200 a month, while an unskilled worker will get Rs 7,100 a month.

Recently, the Centre revised the National Floor Level Minimum Wage from Rs 137 to Rs 160 a day. This translates into a monthly salary of Rs 4,800 for an unskilled worker.

The government will also make it mandatory for employers to provide minimum wages to contract workers. Union Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal said currently, this wasn’t being effectively followed by many organisations. “Another concern of trade unions is amendments state governments are coming up with. So, we have decided to issue an advisory to state governments that there should be strict adherence to labour laws,” he said, adding employers would be given an option to employ contract workers from staffing firms so that they could be provided a social security net.


Ahead of strike, some cosy up to govt