The spirit of labour reforms lies in human-centric development: CUTS

APN, July 23, 2020

New Delhi:  While giving introductory remarks at a webinar titled ‘Labour Reforms and Collective Voice of Workers’, organised by CUTS International, Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International remarked that it is an imperative for us to balance the rights of workers and industry, and move forward to achieve the targets of economic growth and worker welfare. He also highlighted the need for a compact between Government, Industry and Trade Union to ensure human-centric economic growth.

Sabina Dewan, President, JustJobs Network, highlighted the presence of heterogeneity and informality amongst the ‘young’ Indian workforce which has immense potential to be leveraged. However, there is a need to do away with weak institutions and the labyrinth of regulations and focus on effective regulation rather than deregulation of labour.

C. K. Saji Narayanan, President, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh reflected on the paradigm shifts in worker welfare prior to and post the 1991 reforms. He went on to highlight that at present, the Indian labour force is witnessing another paradigm shift in terms of Atmanirbharta. However, for taking it forward certain principles need to be institutionalised in the industrial ecosystem such as ‘Udyog Parivaar’ and bureaucratic reforms.

Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), stressed that labour reforms should focus on promoting labour-intensive industrialisation with an emphasis on better wages. At the same time, she completely disregarded reforms that take away rights of workers or promote monopolisation in the name of Atmanirbharta. She also highlighted the role of workers as consumers and the need for addressing the demand side.

Reema Nanavaty, Executive Director, Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA), underlined the need for building worker-owned and worker-managed local supply chains and enhancing market access for empowering workers, especially women. She also remarked that instead of an exploitative economic model the need of the hour is a ‘nurturing economy’.

Drawing from a short clip presented by the CUTS research team, Gautam Mody, General Secretary, New Trade Union Initiative, highlighted that industries are currently focussing on short term profits rather than growth and sustainability. Hence the emphasis is on paying for mechanical productivity and risk but not skills and social security. He opined that the focus should instead be on skills, technological advancement and innovation for institutionalising long-term worker well-being to complement enterprise well-being.

Summarising the enriching and insightful discussion, Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International, highlighted the imminent need for research support for supplementing the trade union movement. He concluded by observing that labour needs to be transformed from the cost-side to the value-side of the profit function.

The webinar was attended by approximately 50 participants. These included trade union representatives, industry representatives, academicians, sector experts, civil society organisations, media personnel, etc.

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