Unions in Tamilnadu demand amending Model Employee Standing Order
It is over 3 months, since the amendments to the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Tamil Nadu Amendment Act 2008 got its Presidential assent (26th June 2016) and was notified in the Government Gazette (4th July 2016), yet the Model Employee Standing Order has not been amended to incorporate the changes. ‘Rules’ make the Law ‘Legal’; without rules the law cannot be implemented by the ministries and departments. The amendments are seen to be a significant attempt to protect the right of workers to continued employment and living wage. But the unions are frustrated that even after they had patiently waited for over 8 years for the amendments to get presidential assent, the present TN government is dragging its feet on giving teeth to this measure by amending the Model Standing Order.
The unions who had been invited to recommend ways to amend the Model Standing Order (MSOs), have recommended the provisions to confirm temporary workers within a reasonable time, to restrict the quantum of precarious workers under various categories including apprentice to less than 10% of the total work force, and to mandate factories to re employ temporary workers and prioritise them while recruiting permanent workers.
Almost a Decade in President’s Pocket:
Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946, along with the Model Employee Standing Order, governs the nature of employment, classification of workers and working conditions. The amendments to the Act were made, as industries were increasingly employing workers as apprentice/trainees for short periods of time and refusing to pay them wages as per the Payment of Wages Act or the Minimum Wages provisions. This has been prevalent especially in textiles and garment sectors which have recorded inhumane conditions of work for young women workers under the scheme of Sumangali Thittam. In order to curb this violation and protect the rights of workers, the Tamil nadu Legislative Assembly, unanimously passed significant amendments to the Act and its schedules in May 2008 . These amendment allows the government to fix clauses for the re-employment of temporary workers and their conditions of service (10A) and fix the proportion of trainees, apprentice, and casual workers (10B)among total workforce.
The Central Government, raising many queries over the validity of such a legislation, did not process the amendment for presidential consent. While the Tamilnadu government addressed the issues raised by the central government, unions petitioned the home department to expedite the matter. AICCTU had pursued for the amendments to be enacted through various measures (For Details Read: Enactments of Amendments to Industrial Employment (Standing orders) Act and the Struggle Ahead — Ma Le Theepori). Com. Karumalayan, deputy general secretary of CITU (TN) said that he had even raised the issue in person with Joint Secretary in Home ministry, through CPM MP Natarajan. Eventually after 8 years, the president assented to the amendments.
Wrangling over Model Standing Order (MSO)
The labour department seems in no hurry to amend the model standing order to give effect to the ‘Will of the People’ as expressed by the TN legislature. After representations by Unions, including a letter from AICCTU sent on 29th August, to labour department asking them recommending amendments to MSO, the labour department called for a meeting of central trade unions and employer federations on 18th October. It was already three months after the amendments were notified. According to union leaders who participated, the labour department and Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) felt that the Apprentice Act would cover some of the issues and it might not be easy to modify the ‘certified standing orders’ in all the existing factories. The representatives from employer federations have said that they will submit their comments in a written form to the labour department, but recorded their general disagreement with the amendment citing that it will restrict employer discretion, increase costs and discourage investments.
Responding to these issues, Com. A.S Kumar, state secretary of AICCTU said that the Apprentice Act applies to only a small section of people drafted as ‘apprentice’ under the central act, while companies have been recruiting workers under similar category but not covered under the Act. He also argued that companies are abusing the provisions by employing apprentice in direct production. AICCTU has submitted a written response demanding that the amendments to MSO include provisions that create a list of temporary workers by every factory. Workers on the list would be entitled to employment at the factory as vacancies for temporary or permanent jobs arise. Debunking the corporate sectors claims that such measures will drive out investment; he argued that Maharashtra continues to be the leading industrial and commercial state, inspite of having such a provision since 1978. (refer Maharashtra’s amendment to Central Standing Order section 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D).
Com Karumalayan, Deputy General Secretary of CITU (Tamilnadu), said that during the discussions, the unions have rejected the notion that the Apprentice Act can cover these workers. They have demanded that workers employed beyond 6 months to 1 year (depending on sector) should be made permanent employees. They also want the overall number of workers under various categories other than permanent employees be restricted to 2.5% to 10% of total workforce. AICCTU on the other hand has recommended that provision 4E can be inserted to MSO(TN) that limits ‘precarious workers’ to not more than 5% of the workforce. While Karumalayan felt that the unions had consensus opinion on these issues, he felt that some flexibility would have to be allowed to make this legislation become operational. So while he accepted that the Maharashtra MSO was ideal, he was not insistent that those provisions be actively incorporated in the amendments.
Since the meeting, there has not been any further consultation or communication from the labour department as to the progress on this front. The unions do not also know if the employers have filed a written response. Bureaucratic delays have already caused incalculable distress to contract workers and apprentice in the past 8 years, since their elected representatives resolved to protect them. Further delays and attempts to dilute the spirit of the legislation would erode the trust in political institutions. The union leaders demand that the rules framed under MSO should not only be expedited but also give effect to the spirit of the legislation.