Kharge calls for reviving voice of workers on International Labour Day

Mallikarjun Kharge. (File Photo: IANS)

Bengaluru- Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge on Monday in a write-up on the occasion of the International Labour Day, stressed reviving the voice of the workers in their “workplaces, in courts and in the government”, while criticising the Narendra Modi-led Central government for “rolling the rights of workers backwards”.

“International Labour Day marks the contribution and sacrifice of workers in building today’s world. Today, we remember the long struggle by workers — for fair and equal pay, safer working conditions, and the right to organise and have their voices heard in their workplaces, in the courts and in the government.

“Governments since independence have safeguarded and empowered workers, but unfortunately, the Modi government has only rolled workers’ rights backwards. The rights of all workers are being weakened, whether they work in agriculture, for public or private organisations, or in the unorganised urban sector. Their voices are going unheard, ” Kharge noted.

The veteran Congress leader said while it is true that over 40 laws have been introduced since Independence, they need to be updated to meet today’s challenges.

“However, the Modi government has used this pretext to weaken protections for workers and usurp the Constitutional powers of state governments. There are four fatal flaws in the labour codes which make them anti-worker.

“First, the codes do not apply to most workers or establishments. For example, establishments employing less than 300 people can fire workers or close units without permission. Contractors employing fewer than 50 people are exempt from workplace safety laws. Provident Fund, gratuity, insurance and maternity benefits are all unavailable in smaller establishments.

“Second, even if the codes apply to an establishment, governments have enormous flexibility to waive requirements for workplace safety, social security and protection from lay-offs, retrenchment or closure.

“Third, the codes significantly weaken the ability of workers to fight for their rights, by making it more difficult to form a union, declaring any strike without two weeks’ notice illegal, and penalising those who support such a strike.

“Finally, and most importantly, the codes ignore key challenges facing workers. How can crores of workers with no written contract be helped? How can contract workers’ position be improved? A worker struggles when they lose their job or suffer an injury — how can this struggle be reduced? The codes are silent, ” Kharge said.

The Congress president said that “clearly, the Modi government thinks of labour laws as an inconvenience to be removed. It does not understand that labour laws, when well-designed and enforced, both protect workers and create certainty for businesses”.

He further said that “this is why BJP governments in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have been unable to attract foreign investors in manufacturing despite waiving key labour laws for three years, citing Covid-19 as an excuse”.

The Congress president also said that PM Modi and the BJP think that “re-branding schemes and re-jigging laws will help workers”.

“I am a labourer’s son, and led a labour union — I know that that much more is needed to tackle the real problems facing workers today. The crucial first step is to stop ignoring workers in decision making, and instead to revive the voice of the worker in the government, ” he said.