Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bandaru Dattatreya. — Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

They are unable to digest the speed with which the government is going ahead, says the Union Labour and Employment Minister.

Union Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who has had to contend with hasty flip-flops over three policy decisions that threatened the attractiveness of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), slammed trade unions for being politically motivated and said they are unable to make peace with the speed at which economic reforms were being undertaken by the government. In an interview with The Hindu he said the government was striving to raise minimum wages as well as the minimum monthly pension for Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) members.

“They (trade unions) are politically motivated and are unable to digest the speed with which the government is going ahead. Congress is more worried as all the labour reform initiatives were started during the UPA regime but they were unable to do it. There was no political will but this government is going ahead with it successfully,” the Labour Minister said on the eve of Labour Day which will be celebrated across the country on May 1.

“We are thinking of increasing the pension amount. It will be a tough task but we will see that workers get better pension payouts than what is being offered at present,” Mr. Dattatreya said.

At present, 8.33 per cent of a worker’s salary up to Rs 15,000 a month, is remitted to the Employees’ Pension Scheme of 1995. The UPA had offered a minimum pension of Rs.1,000 under the scheme in its last year in office, but hadn’t provided funds for subsequent years. The government fixed that in September 2014.

“We give Rs.850 crore every year towards the pension scheme. Now, workers are demanding minimum pension of Rs.5,000 per month and some MPs have demanded it to be fixed at Rs.3,000,” Mr. Dattatreya said. In his Budget speech 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced a few measures to create a “pensioned society.”

The Minister said the Labour Ministry is working on a formula to increase the minimum wages of all workers keeping in mind the consumer price index, variation of dearness allowance and guidelines given by the Supreme Court.

“We are coming out with a formula to increase the minimum wages for all workers with all these parameters in mind. It will be difficult to disclose (the proposed amount) as the tripartite meetings are going on but it will be substantially increased,” Mr. Dattatreya said. Central trade unions have demanded a minimum wage of Rs.15,000 per month for all workers. Advocating the strengthening of unions, the minister said that there is unity among workers, but the culture has changed in two ways.

“Now, they want to work more and earn decent wages. More unity is at the industry-level. When an issue comes, all of them unite to save industry. But I want trade unions to be non-political,” he said.

“Workers need bargaining capacity and for that trade unions are needed. But in the unorganised sector, even outsiders can become a part of the union,” he said.

The government has proposed Industrial Relations Bill tightening the norms to form trade unions. It has proposed that no outsiders be allowed to become officer bearer of a trade union in the organised sector and only two outsiders can be allowed in the unorganised sector.

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