At least two labour union leaders present at the meeting said it discussed the issue of reconvening the Indian Labour Conference, an apex tripartite consultative committee in the labour ministry that advises the government on issues concerning the working class.

“We asked the finance minister to hold the Indian Labour Conference again, for the first time since 2015. This would be the proper forum to address labour issues,” said Harbhajan Singh Siddhu, general secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha

“In the conference, we will take up our issues with the new labour laws which have brought worker safety under threat,” he added.

The latest stakeholder meeting conducted by Sitharaman saw the minister, top finance ministry officials and eminent trade union leaders discuss ideas and suggestions that could push the growth momentum and improve the conditions of the country’s labour force amid an increasing government focus on manufacturing as a growth vehicle.

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“We proposed that the focus of the budget should be on major issues like rural development, infrastructure, exports, and skill development,” said B. Surendran, all India organizing secretary of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, who was present at the meeting.

Discussions on 8th pay commission, Indian Labour Conference

“We also asked the finance minister to constitute the 8th pay commission immediately and to convene the Indian Labour Conference again,” he added.

The finance minister has already met economists, representatives of industry, capital markets and financial sector, farmers’ associations, and MSMEs. She will meet with leaders from the trade and services industry, and employment and skilling sectors on Tuesday.

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Senior finance ministry officials present in Monday’s meeting included Ajay Seth, secretary, Department of Economic Affairs,  and the government’s chief economic advisor V. Anantha Nageswaran.

Prominent labour union leaders who attended the consultation included B. Surendran (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), Vidya Sagar Giri (All India Trade Union Congress), Harbhajan Singh Sidhu (Hind Mazdoor Sabha), Tapan Kumar Sen (Centre of India Trade Unions), Ramesh Parashar (All India United Trade Union Centre), K. Induprakash Menon (Trade Union Co-ordination Centre Central Committee ), K. Natarajan (Labour Progressive Federation) and S.P. Tiwari (Trade Union Co-ordination Centre).

“We asked the finance minister to not see trade unions as villains. Instead, workers should be lauded as heroes and engines of growth,” said Vidya Sagar Giri, vice president of the All India Trade Union Congress, the labour union affiliated to the opposition Congress party.

“I have asked the honourable finance minister to pass the e-migration bill as soon as possible. We have also requested the government to hike the benefits of social security schemes like EPFO (employees provident fund) and ESIC (employees’ state insurance),” said S.P. Tiwari, national general secretary, TUCC.

“The benefits that workers get from these schemes are not adequate, so we proposed an increase corresponding to the inflation in the country,” Tiwari added.

The allocation for welfare schemes (Central sector and Centrally sponsored schemes combined) in the FY25 interim budget announced in February was increased by just 4.7% over the revised estimates for FY24.

According to the India Employment Report 2024, jointly published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD) in March, the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Worker Population Ratio (WPR), and the Unemployment Rate (UR) witnessed a sustained decline between 2000 and 2018, but showed signs of improvement post-2019.

Meanwhile, wages have largely remained stagnant or declined, with real wages for regular workers and self-employed individuals showing a negative trend after 2019. A substantial proportion of unskilled casual workers did not receive the mandated minimum wages in 2022.

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Published: 24 Jun 2024, 07:57 PM IST