Report by Bojji Surendran, BMS, Organising Secretary
October 30. 2020.
Respected Trade Union colleagues from five BRICS nations, Happy Greetings from India.
Today the entire world is passing through an unprecedented health crisis. It has deepened an economic crisis of an already fragile world order. The entire world had tried its level best to contain the disease.
- Unprecedented response from Indian Society
Crisis makes people think in new ways. Physical distancing and digital connecting became the order of the day. With a large population of more than 1.3 billion people, the Indian government could achieve the highest recovery rate and lowest mortality rate compared to other countries. Indian society responded well by showing the highest social capital by standing strongly in solidarity with the lockdown. India was a model to the world when it was ready to supply lifesaving drugs to the other countries in the initial days.
Previously everyone was telling only if the industry is there, the worker will survive. But during COVID-19 days, employers started saying if migrant workers who are the so-called “cheap labour” flee away, the industry cannot survive.
- BMS performed its’ National duty
At the same time, what worries us more is, in an abnormal situation, different new normal appears; and many are adverse to the labour and the people at large. As guardians of labour, we has displayed its historic role even during the COVID 19 period. We demanded the government to prepare a National Register of Migrant Workers, and the Labour Ministry had opened a portal for the same. We demanded extending ESI health benefits to the informal sector. We started countrywide service activities like distribution of cooked food, ration, masks, sanitizers, medicines, vegetables etc and started helplines which were also unique and largest ever done by any trade union. We felicitated the health workers and medical persons whereas in many places they were being beaten up. Social dialogue is supreme in national governance, reforms and bringing solutions to national problems. During this period we were actively involved in dialogue with government, international agencies like ILO, UNIDO, employer organizations, small scale sector organizations, academia, economists, intellectuals and other social organizations. Ministry of Labour & Employment had conducted all Trade Unions meeting on 1st & 6th May 2020 to consult on the steps to be taken to revive economy and also to resolve the Migrant workers problems. BMS has submitted a19 point Charter before Government of India. Thus, we are in fore front in performing our National Duty in the COVID-19 crisis.
- Our approach - Agitations & Dialogue
We held a series of nationwide protests to open the eyes of the authorities mainly on five issues-
- Tragic plight migrant labour,
- Loss of Jobs due to reduction in workforce,
- Non-payment of wages,
- Suspension of labour laws, increasing of working hours.
- Privatization of PSUs.
Whenever our industry was facing troubles for their own faults, immediately the labour is the first to bear the burden. The result is labour reforms and withdrawal of labour rights. BMS strongly resisted such moves, and thus the central government has corrected the new laws to a great extent. We could bring considerable improvement through dialogue in labour legislation compared to the earlier versions.
Concept of “ Industrial Family”
After 1991 India experimented the model of capitalism with its new face, globalization. Here the principle established was “industry minus labour”. It was based on the capitalist ideology of exploitation of labour. Fortunately recently Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi declared a sudden shift. It was a bold deviation from the capitalist mode of economic reforms hitherto followed by successive Governments over the last three decades of globalization. We have to ensure that both the partners harmoniously work based on the idea of “Industrial Family”. Government’s role should be to facilitate a new culture in industrial relations. Our new laws also should promote a family like atmosphere. So, labour organizations have to be vigilant and work overnight to give a content, vision and direction to it.
- Stimulus Package by Government of India
Government of India has taken up a number of relief measures under the “Self-Reliant India Campaign” (ATMA NIRBHAR BHARATH) to protect the economy from the adverse impact of the Covid-19 crisis. It has announced Rs20 Lakhs Crores package which was welcomed by BMS. To help Millions of Un-Organised workers belonging to both Urban & Rural areas, Government has announced Free Ration Supply from March 25 to November 25. It is the one of bold step taken by Indian Government. It has taken different measures to revive Economy. These measures include opening a credit line for micro, small and medium enterprises to meet their operational expenses, subsidising the social security contributions of workers, extending unemployment benefit to workers, financial assistance to construction workers, collateral free working capital loan to approximately 5 million street vendors, launching of a massive employment-cum-rural public works Campaign to provide employment in a mission mode campaign.
- Pillars of Development
We told the government that the three pillars of making India or three wealth creators should be labour, farmers and small scale industries. So all the stimulus packages should target them and not the big industries, which the Prime Minister accepted and declared in the new stimulus package. During the pandemic days, when the MSMEs were badly affected, we demanded the government to subsidize their wage bill, in support of them. We also held a unique program of honouring those employers who supported their workers in the time of crisis with jobs and wages. This is something rare and new in history. Thus trade unions in India has played a historic role in protecting the interest of the labour as well as the people.
- Emerging New Role of Trade Unions in BRICS Countries
The stark reality is that utter Poverty exists in many parts of BRICS countries. Poverty is a complex problem which needs to be addressed on priority basis at the international level. In the present global context, it is important that the BRICS countries work together to reach concrete policy actions in combating poverty. BMS strongly feels that, all the Trade Unions of BRICS countries will have to play a contributory role to eliminate poverty.
We hope such efforts will help us to tide over the pandemic situation and bring back economy to normalcy. With this hope I conclude thank you.