Sunday, January 08, 2006

Labour Reform = Re-form Labour

Very frequently, I read about Indian growth being bogged down because of the lack of 'Labour reforms' in India. That led me to ponder about the meaning of the term 'Labour Reforms'? Searching the, I found out that Labour means "a social class comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages;" and Reform means "To change for the better". Then I wondered why would anyone in his sane mind oppose "the change for the better" of the "social class comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages"?

And in that question lies the answer. The change for the better for whom? Does the collective term of labour reform actually "for" the benefit of the labour? Or is it a misnomer, like so many other neoliberal phrases, and actually means something entirely different? I decided to do some google search. I added the keyword India, because I wanted to know its impact especially in the Indian context. This is what I found from some random websites.

One website (somewhere in actually claims that the most important reform needed is the right to employers to fire its employees, at will if the organization is not doing well. Superb logic. I never thought of this definition of reform. So according to the newspaper, the growth rate of 7% of India is not being pushed upwards only because the 'maalik' cannot terminate the services of the 'worker'. It went on to say that since all the paisa has been invested by the maalik, he has full right to maximise his income. So in teh analysis, everything has been reduced to a multiple of money. So each worker is Rs. 2000-10000, each worker's child is Rs. 500-2000, each worker's wife is Rs. 1000-2000, his heart is Rs 1000, his mind is Rs. 1000, his life is Rs. 4000. So when we typecast everything into Rupees, then if the LHS is less than or equal to the RHS, some amount should be subtracted from the RHS, re-convert that into equal number of workers, and throw them out. Such a simple solution to positivise all those account books.

Of course, after this hire-and-fire thing, there comes the no-strike funda. Isn't it natural. One sad aspect of all labour movements is that the protests are led by a few and often the unruly ones. So, everytime there will be a strike, it will be a fire-fire chop-chop of a select few and the rest will fall in line. Left parties of India have also undermined strike as a form of protest, by doing it so often for very imaginary and frivollous reasons. It is to be understood that strike is really the last resort available to the workers and whenever it happens the management should sit down and think. Like what happenned in the Toyota factory near Bangalore. Or with Honda workers in Gurgaon. And of course the neo-liberal corporate media, like Indian Express, plays the horror stories of FDI vanishing from India, companies packing up and Japan getting angry over these protests. So, is that the cost of foreign direct investment? Give us money, and we will give you our people. The complete package, people who work, people who don't talk, and who don't think. Give us money and you get the complete package, dignity of the worker comes free as an additional incentive. Invest here directly. Grow our GDP. Kill our people. So while workers are doing those 14 hour double shifts for half the money, we are here sipping coffee, reading newspapers and lamenting their protests, their unpatriotism, there existence. So much for reforming labour.

Labour reforms. I went through the text of the proposed reforms, and nowhere it mentions the essentials. That women should get 3 months paid maternity leave, that men should get 15 days paid paternity leave, that company must take care of health insurance for each individual and family, and that profit be shared with the employees, that contract labour must come to an end. That the workplace and the nature of job should not cause any hazard on worker's health. These are essentials, which we tend to ignore, which are followed in the mecca of reformed labour the USA and Japan. No, how will the corporate make money, if we propose these reforms? The workers are there, so that the MNC's can get their work done cheap, make quality product at minimum cost, sell them to the vast array of neavue-rich in India and in short, make money. In between all this we see the corporates (national and international) fighting the fringe benefit tax, because the management now will not be able to get the freebies, no tax-excemption goodies, no way to mass-produce those fake food, fake telephone bills, fake travelling expenses to avoid paying taxes to the Government of India. One year of FBT and income tax collection rises by more than 20%. So, the top management is bleeding. Now the CII does not want FBT. Its a negative measure according to them, a measure that does not allow rich to rob some more money from the government, and it reduces their spending capacity. Thus decelarating the GDP growth. So much for CII's demand for reforming labour. This from companies that cannot provide adequate security to its women employees so that they can take calls from the world over during night-shifts.

95% of our workforce is in the unorganised sector. Does labour reform talk about them? Does it mention that your household 'bai' must get one day off per week, that your driver should not work more than 8 hours a day, that you have to pay overtime rates if they are not doing so? Does it say that the security guards should work 8 hour shifts, and because they are security-guards, should be insured for life and other personal damage inflicted in the course of the duty? No. They don't exist in the whole ambut of reforms. They don't contribute to the organisation's coffers, they don't contribute to the organization's growth, they don't contribute to our nation's GDP, or its growth percentage. They are resources, just like the building. Use them and throw them.

Thats the India of tomorrow. That's what Mr. S. Aiyar of TOI dreams of. That's the latest campaign by Indian Express. A labour reformed, a labour robbed of his soul.


At 11:55 am, Blogger kuffir said...

'Does labour reform talk about them? Does it mention that your household 'bai' must get one day off per week, that your driver should not work more than 8 hours a day, that you have to pay overtime rates if they are not doing so? Does it say that the security guards should work 8 hour shifts, and because they are security-guards, should be insured for life and other personal damage inflicted in the course of the duty? No.'
are you talking about them? no. you are mostly talking about what would happen in the organized sector if the laws are changed. don't use the current plight of the unorganized labour force as an excuse and a shield to oppose investment (and protect the unionized workforce)that could bring in employment & better wages for more people.

At 12:31 am, Blogger kuffir said...

i've checked your other posts..after commenting on the top one..i've gathered you're not one of those posturing leftists one meets so often in the blogworld (the-p.sainath-is-god types). people without any conviction, without 'lived' experience of the'deprived classes' they're talking about. though some of my views may differ from yours i believe your concerns are mostly genuine and heartfelt. if my first comment seems a little off-hand it's only because i perceived (earlier) you as yet another shallow left groupie.

At 11:12 pm, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Any response should be in tune with "what-is-being-said" rather than "who-is-saying-what". If some right noises are coming from the wrong quarters, so be it. And incidentally Iam a self proclaimed leftist, and my friends call me a communist. But Iam also critical of indian left parties, because they have failed to take the real message of Marx to the people, especially the heartland.

At 4:15 pm, Blogger Ashish said...

Is anyone forcing workers to work under these conditions? Aren't they free to leave if they wish?

What about job-security in the corporate world today? Is there any such thing? No.
The "right to fire" reduces the risk of running a business, as it protects the investors from the downside. I agree that in the same breath, they should reward all employees on the upside as well, through profit sharing etc.

At 3:55 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

How easy is it for the average worker to get a new job? If workers were so free to leave the job and get a new one in a month, or by the time his/her children don't starve, then there won't be any unemployment in India.
And if the owners can have the right to fire the workers, why can't the united workforce have the right to fire the management? As they say, "There are no bad workers, only bad managers". In this context, we can revisit Gandhi's model for capitalism. Gandhi suggested trusteeship among workers, and making them stakeholders in the organization. Won't that be great?

At 10:09 am, Blogger Ashish said...

First of all, theoretically, you can never have "no unemployment". There is a level that you will have to maintain so as to keep inflation in check. But let that be for now.

I think your argument brings us to a basic question.
Who are the owners of a business?
The workers? The management? Or the actual investors who have put in their money? Or are they all owners of the business?
They all surely have significant stakes in the business. But if you consider what the unions demand -- they seem to want to separate the workers from the firm's performance. They want pay raises, facilities etc without consideration of how the business is fairing. They want job security. They dont want any part of the risk that comes along with running a business.
The primary owners of a business should be the ones who have invested the capital. The management and the workers are hired, and should act like a resource more than a liability.
About the question of workers "firing" the management -- I think that is absurd. The management is installed by the investors to see that their investment bears fruit. The management represents the owners of the business, and so have the right to run it as they deem fit. The workers do not have the "complete picture" in front of them -- the market trends, the health of the business, the demands of the investors in front of them. They are not the right people to pass judgement on the management's performance.

Businesses do not exist for charity, but to make money. If you depend on people to start companies just to do good for the society, then I dont think you'll get many serious investors. Face it, everyone wants to make money. It is like tasting blood -- the more you get, the more you want.
But yes, you should surely share the good times with those who have got you those good times.

At 9:35 am, Blogger kuffir said...

my first comment was a response to 'what-was-being-said'..
my second was my reaction to what you had written in earlier posts. i've no quarrel with leftists per se.. only with those who profess concern for the poor but (their words) betray more of an unquestioning loyalty to a certain dogma than to the poor themselves. what i felt was that your writing conveys a genuine sense of anguish and is shaped by actual experience rather than an urge to toe a certain popular line.
i'm glad that you are so very sure of your ideological moorings. but what i found appealing in your posts was a sensitivity that is very humane...

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