Why workers & peasants are agitating

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By Amitava Guha

Land reforms and redistribution of land are a major measure that will not only provide a source of income and security for the agricultural workers but also increase the purchasing capacity of the vast section of the people in the country, create demand and, in turn, boost industrialisation and employment. But the governments have not been interested in implementing land reforms.

Initiated by three organisations — the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All-India Kisan Sabha and All-India Agriculture Workers’ Union — workers and peasants staged a massive rally at the Parliament Street on September 5. Peasants and agriculture workers had earlier created history in the ‘Mumbai March’ in which thousands of peasants of Maharashtra participated. The organisers of this rally, along with CITU, one of the leading workers’ organisations of India, decided to stage a massive rally jointly at Delhi.

In the perspective of the crisis in agriculture created by the present government’s policies, which has compelled many peasants to commit suicide and the drift of peasants to urban areas due to a slump in agriculture work, organisations placed several demands to the government. Speakers in the rally narrated how the refusal of the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendation on remunerative prices had dis-incentivised crop production. Negligible minimum support price provided by the government had forced many peasants to give up cultivation.

Crop insurance a non-starter

Another tragedy is the so-called crop insurance: peasants had enriched insurance companies by subscribing Rs 24,000 crore, but compensation of only Rs 8,000 crore was disbursed in a year. Many peasants were even refused compensation. On the other hand, escalating costs of fertilisers, pesticides and fuel and surplus crops have added to the price of production. Nearly 60 per cent of workforces come from the agriculture sector because they have no choice but to leave their inherited agricultural work.

The trade unions and organisations of agricultural workers have been demanding a comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers. During the long consultation period before the enactment of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, trade unions had been demanding a separate comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers, covering their wages, working conditions and social security benefits. But, after even more than 70 years of Independence, the government has failed to enact such a legislation. While the workers have demanded minimum monthly wages of Rs 18,000, the minimum wages declared for agricultural workers remain in paper as there is no enforcement machinery.

One of the most important demands of the agricultural workers is for land. Land reforms and redistribution of land are a major measure that will not only provide a source of income and security for the agricultural workers but also increase the purchasing capacity of the vast section of the people in the country, create demand and, in turn, boost industrialisation and employment. But the governments have not been interested in implementing land reforms. It is estimated that 5.19 crore acres of land is technically surplus, as per the land ceiling laws today. But of this, only 67 lakh acres have been declared surplus and out of this 61 lakh acres have actually been taken over and 51 lakh acres distributed to the landless families. A major portion of this has been distributed by Left-led governments in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.

The forward-trading menace

The menace of forward trading is reminiscent of the feudal age of the bondage of peasants; earlier, it was the feudal lords and now, it is the domestic and international traders. Six global corporates have captured the Indian agriculture sector. The situation is augmented by several trade agreements like the free trade agreement and bilateral trade agreements. Food packing is given for 100 per cent FDI that will allow the capture of traditional food habits and shall change the agricultural production pattern for the high-profit import sector.

No trade union rights

For the first time, the government has attempted to exclude a large number of workers from the ambit of trade union rights. In the name of labour reform, it is changing labour laws with the aim of more work and less pay. Already, nearly 90 per cent workers cannot get the cover of law and social security, but the remaining will soon lose their trade union rights. The issues of minimum wages, safety at workplace and social security being vital for workers, the employers are reluctant to implement the corresponding laws in order to earn more profit. Industrial accidents have leaped in the recent years. The practice of timely and regular payment of wages has been discarded and minimum benefits of social security have disappeared for many workers.

In a follow-up to the amendment of the Apprentices Act, the government launched the National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM), most dubiously designed to pave the way for gradually replacing regular workers with trainees/apprentices. The NEEM regulation 2017 provides three years’ period of ‘training’ with minimum wages paid as a consolidated amount without any statutory benefit or increment. This experiment is under operation in many MNCs, such as Exedy (an auto-spare manufacturer) in Greater Noida, UP. It has been taking work from 400 trainees under the NEEM scheme after having replaced almost its entire workforce of 450 (both contract and regular) in phases. Chemplast, in its factories in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, has been making the same experiment by removing its regular workers through VRS and replacing them with NEEM trainees.

On the pretext of simplifying labour laws, these are exempted from filing returns and maintaining registers related to 16 major labour laws, including the Factories Act, Payment of Wages Act, Minimum Wages Act, Weekly Holidays Act, Contract Labour (R&A) Act, Building and Other Construction Workers Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Payment of Bonus Act and Plantation Labour Act. With today’s technology, most of the establishments having large capital investment and huge profits employ less than 40 workers. It is estimated that over 72 per cent factories in the country will now find it easier to evade all these laws.

Social security pruned

All 15 social security benefits shall be pruned to a social security code. Its results would be that even the guaranteed social security benefits under the EPF, ESI, Construction Workers Welfare Scheme, Beedi Workers Welfare Scheme being delivered through the bodies concerned will stand demolished.

The long-established tripartite exercise for workers is no long maintained. Even the unanimous decisions arrived at in the Indian Labour Conference (from 44th to 46th) have not been implemented. Despite calling the ILC for 2018, the government had postponed the conference scheduled in March which now appears that this platform of consultation with trade unions would be abandoned.

These issues show that there is no way is left for those who produce fruits for the nation, but to go for militant agitation. The speakers at the September 5 rally announced that waves of agitations of workers and peasants in the immediate future had been planned.

Source: The Tribune

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