- Deepali Advani (M.A. Economics, I Year)
A concept introduced by the ILO, ‘Decent Work’ is seen as an important strategy to fight poverty and is a means for achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. Decent work stands for a state-created safety net for the sick, elderly and expecting women, for the trade union representation, for proper and safe work circumstances, for a non-discriminatory work environment and for an income that allows the working individual to lead a good life.
Aside from non-ratification of four of the eight core ILO conventions, India has also not ratified certain Decent Work conventions on minimum and regular payment of wages, overtime compensation, paid leave, maternity protection, occupational health and safety, social security, minimum age, trade union activity and collective bargaining.
Despite non-ratification, legislations have been introduced such as - Payment of Wages Act (1936), Employees' State Insurance Act (1948), Maternity Benefit Act (1961), Payment of Gratuity Act (1972) and various schemes such as The Employees’ Pension Scheme. However sufficient this may seem, the legislation does not apply to the unorganised sector which amounts to 92% of the Indian labour force. This results in large-scale decent work deficits.
In the present scenario, the government is dithering on several legislations that could further the cause of Decent Work. Some of these are comprehensive amendments to the Factories Act (1948), the Factories Amendment Bill, Industrial Disputes Amendment Bill, Participation of Workers in Management Bill, and an amendment to the Minimum Wages Act. The legislation would introduce flexibility in working hours, permit women to work in night shifts with safeguards in place, include workers on boards of management of companies, and set a uniform minimum wage. A very important bill is the Unorganised Sector Worker’s Bill, which would provide health insurance, life and accident insurance, maternity benefits and an old age pension to workers.
There is also a call for relaxation of labour laws by producers who claim that it results in an increase in the cost of a labour unit. Even in SEZs, there was a call for relaxation of labour norms for hiring and firing and employment of women and restricting union activity, as a means to attract investors.
An Assocham study showed that between 1998 and 2003, when the economy grew at 5.3% on an average, organised sector employment declined by 4.14%. The OECD survey found that between 1997 and 2004, organised sector jobs shrank by 1%, while unorganised, low quality jobs grew up 8%.
There is an urgent need to balance the worker’s demands for a secure labour environment and the producer’s demand to be economically efficient, while simultaneously building up a base for decent jobs in India.