PRE-BUDGET 2018 CONSULTATIONS: Central Trade Unions Put Across their Demands to the FM
THE finance minister held Pre-budget 2018 discussion with the representatives of central trade unions on December 5, 2017. Representatives of all the central trade unions attended the meeting. CITU was represented by its president, Hemalata.
The meeting, as every year, appeared to be not more than a ritual. The ‘consultative meeting’ with the 12 trade unions that were called, lasted for around one hour. The trade union representatives were requested to give their opinions in 3-4 minutes. The trade unions were asked to express their concerns and suggestions related to the union budget within this time frame.
Ten central trade unions jointly presented their views in a note to the finance minister. In her intervention, Hemalata reiterated that pre budget consultation with trade unions should not be treated as a mere ritual; the views of the trade unions representing the workers who produce the wealth should be given due place in the budget proposals. She also demanded that the Group of Ministers constituted under the chairmanship of the finance minister in 2015 to discuss the demands raised by the trade unions should continue discussions with them and resolve their demands. Instead of focussing on improving ‘ease of doing business’ to benefit the corporates, the government should focus on improving India’s position in ‘Global hunger index’ and closing down the ‘gender gap’ This should be done by increasing allocations for social sector including health and education, to the ICDS, National Health Mission, Mid-day Meal Programme etc that serve the poor, particularly women and children. ILC recommendations on recognising ‘scheme workers’ as ‘workers’, paying minimum wages to them etc should be implemented.
She also emphasised the point that the government should increase spending on social sectors like education and health and mobilise resources for this by taxing the rich who can pay. It should focus on employment generation and increasing public expenditure on infrastructure. All vacant posts in various government departments including railways etc should be filled up by fresh recruitment. MGNREGA should be implemented in all rural areas and extended to urban areas.
The trade unions reiterated the 12 point charter of demands of the working people of the country and presented their views as follows:
Increase budgetary allocations for social sector: The government should increase allocations on social sector and basic essential services like health, education, food security etc in the union budget. The necessary financial resources should be raised internally by taxing the rich who have the capacity to pay.
Effective measures against deliberate tax and loan repayment defaults: Effective and firm measures should be taken against deliberate tax default by the big business and corporate lobby to curtail the huge accumulation of unpaid taxes, which have been continuously increasing. Further, wilful default should be made a criminal offence, the list of wilful defaulters should be made public and stringent measures such as fast track debt recovery tribunals should be implemented.
Minimum Wage: Minimum wage fixed on the basis of the recommendations of the 15th Indian Labour Conference and the Supreme Court judgment in Raptakos & Brett case and linked to consumer price index, should be guaranteed to all workers. The Seventh Pay Commission has worked this to be Rs 18000 per month, which the government has accepted. Hence, the minimum wage should not be less than Rs 18000 per month, which has been the common demand of all the central trade unions. Need based minimum wage should be considered as an essential part of social security.
Resolve demands of the government employees regarding Seventh Pay Commission: All the pending demands of the government employees in centre and states with regard to Seventh Pay Commission be resolved within time frame including arrears of allowances with effect from January 1, 2016. The autonomous bodies be included into, for all the benefits of the Seventh Pay Commission.
Price rise: The prices of essential commodities, particularly of food items have been spiralling, making it impossible for the workers and other toiling people to meet their basic daily needs. Speculative forward trading and hoarding are major factors contributing to the price rise. The government should ban speculative forward trading in essential commodities, take strong measures to curtail hoarding and strengthen public distribution system, making it universal. Stop the system of cash transfer to beneficiaries’ accounts in lieu of PDS.
Stop disinvestment and strategic sale of public sector units: The public sector has to be strengthened and expanded. Budgetary support should be provided for the revival of potentially viable sick public sector units. Strategic sale of the profit making PSUs, which is being resorted to at present should be stopped. The amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act, which pave the way for privatisation of the state-owned public transport system should be withdrawn.
Employment generation: Employment generation has nosedived in the recent period. Massive public investment in infrastructure, social sectors and agriculture would generate employment. The union budget should give priority and allocate the necessary funds for this. All vacant sanctioned posts in the different government departments, PSUs and autonomous institutions should be filled up through fresh recruitment. The ban on creation of new posts should be lifted. The practice of surrendering/ abolition of posts should be done away with.
Prevent dumping: The increasing import of industrial commodities including capital goods should be contained and regulated to prevent dumping. Protect and promote domestic industries. This will also help in preventing job losses
Extend MGNREGA: Expenditure on MGNREGA should be increased to cover all rural areas. Ensure immediate payment of wages to workers employed under MGNREGA. It should be amended to include the urban areas as well. The unanimous recommendation of 43rd ILC to extend the scheme to urban areas, guarantee employment for a minimum of 200 days with statutory minimum wage, should be implemented.
Contract and casual workers: No contract/casual workers should be deployed on jobs of perennial nature. The contract and casual workers doing the same and similar work as the permanent workers should be paid the same wages and benefits as paid to regular workers as directed by Supreme Court of India in 2016.
FDI: The CTUs have been repeatedly demanding that FDI should not be allowed in crucial sectors like defence production, railways, financial sector, retail trade etc. But the government has persisted with this policy. Corporates with large NPAs are allowed to invest in sensitive sectors like defence. We reiterate the demands that FDI should not be allowed in the crucial sectors.
Defence: Privatisation of the defence sector should be stopped. The order given for the outsourcing of the 143 items of the total 273 produced by the public sector ordinance factories should be withdrawn.
Scheme workers: Regularise the workforce employed in the various schemes of government of India including the ICDS, NHM, Mid-day Meal Programme, National Child Labour Project, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan etc. Till this is done, at least immediately implement the recommendation of the 45th ILC that these scheme workers should be recognised as ‘workers’, they should be paid minimum wages and provided social security benefits including pension. Increase budgetary allocations to these schemes and stop privatisation of these schemes in any form.
Domestic workers: The government should ratify the ILO Convention 189 and enact a central law and create support system for domestic workers.
Unorganised workers: Create a National Fund for Unorganised Workers to provide social security for all unorganised workers including contract, casual, migrant workers etc. Direct all state governments to frame rules under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act and allocate funds for developing street vending as livelihood model. Management of cess under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, Beedi Workers Welfare Board etc. should be made the responsibility of ministry of finance, which should ensure its proper collection, stoppage of evasion and utilisation.
Labour law reforms: Stop labour law amendments that curtail the basic and trade union rights of workers and provide unhindered ‘hire and fire’ facilities to the employers. The Code on Wages Bill, at present before the Standing Committee on Labour and on the draft Code on Industrial Relations Bill should be finalised on the basis of the opinions of the central trade unions expressed unanimously. No labour law amendment should be undertaken without the consent of the trade unions and workers who are the main stakeholders and the most affected.
EPF: The threshold limit for EPF scheme should be brought down to 10. Government and employers’ contribution should be increased to provide a minimum pension of Rs 3000 per month and make it sustainable. Stop investing EPF funds in share market. The Supreme Court has given a judgment and order for higher payment of pension under EPS – 95. This option should be made available for all workers covered under the said scheme.
Pension for all: Pension should be construed as deferred wage and all workers who are not covered by any pension scheme should be ensured a pension not less than Rs 3,000 per month.
New Pension scheme: NPS should be withdrawn. All central and state government employees recruited on or after January 1, 2004 should be covered under the old pension scheme.
Gratuity: Gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act should be raised to Rs 20 lakhs and 30 days wages instead of 15 days per completed year of service.
AADHAR: Government should not rush making Aadhar linking compulsory.
Closed and sick factories: Ensure that workers of closed factories get their dues within a fixed time limit. Sudden winding up of the BIFR has left many stakeholders without a remedy. Rules for carrying out the provisions of the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act, 2003, should be framed immediately to facilitate them.
Income tax exemption: The ceiling for income tax for salaried persons and pensioners should be raised to Rs 5 lakh per year. Income Tax ceiling for senior citizens should be raised to Rs 8 lakhs. All perks and fringe benefits like housing, medical and education facilities and running allowances in railways should be exempted from income tax net totally.
Political funding: Recently the government has removed the limit on the amount companies can donate to political parties and the need to name the political party receiving the funds. This is far from the transparency promised in public life. The earlier regime should be restored.
Railways: Adequate financial resources should be allotted to the railways to ensure more effective, accessible and affordable transport to the common people, particularly the poor. The capabilities of public sector production units should be utilised fully, further developed and strengthened. No measure should be taken to privatise the railways. The measures to hand over the railway stations across the country to private players should be immediately stopped. Any property of railways should not be handed over to private sector through lease or sale. The decision to allow 100 per cent FDI in railways should be withdrawn. The pending expansion, track renewal, signals up gradation projects should be completed at the earliest. Adequate financial resources should be allocated to improve safety systems and ensure safe rail travel for the people. All the vacancies in the railways should be filled up. The long pending demands of the railway employees like enhancement of ceiling in respect of running allowance for tax exemption, housing scheme etc should be addressed positively.
Concluding the discussion, the trade unions reiterated their strong opposition to the anti-worker measures being undertaken by the government on the pretext of improving the ‘ease of doing business’, to benefit the employers, particularly the big corporates, domestic and foreign. They once again urged upon the government to take concrete measures to resolve the 12 point charter of demands of the working people, being repeatedly raised by them, as well as the pressing issues listed above.
The central trade unions regretted that none of the suggestions made by them in the earlier pre-budget meetings were incorporated in the previous budgets. They hoped that this would not be repeated yet again and the points raised by them will be given positive consideration while framing budget 2018-19.