Manmohan Singh forms GoM to hear trade unions' demands

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has constituted a group of ministers to discuss outstanding labour issues with all Central trade unions, which had launched a two-day nationwide strike in February to protest the government's failure in responding to their demands.

The group of ministers, led by defence minister AK Antony, also includes Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Mallikarjun Kharge, the minister in charge of labour and employment. The first meeting of the ministerial group is scheduled to take place on May 14 in the defence minister's office.

"I met the PM last week, who has agreed to set up a sub-committee of the Cabinet to discuss the issues raised by trade unions," G Sanjeeva Reddy, the president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress or INTUC, told ET. INTUC is the trade union arm of the ruling Congress party.

Though 11 Central trade unions had jointly sought a response from the government on their charter of demands while issuing a strike call in September 2012, the administrative machinery failed to react. This had forced unions to launch an unprecedented two-day nationwide strike in February 2013.

The unions' demands, which will now be debated by the ministerial group, include universal social security, removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund savings, action to curb persistent inflation and violations of labour laws as well as equal rights for contract workers.

Ahead of the ministerial group's meeting, trade union leaders held a meeting on May 3 to discuss their joint strategy.

They have decided to pursue negotiations with the GoM and hold back calls for another strike till there is clarity on what ministers can deliver. "If these negotiations fail to deliver any tangible results, we will have to again think of alternatives like strikes or protests," Reddy said.

The unions have also agreed to discuss some of their demands on a priority basis with the GoM for immediate action, which include offering a minimum pension of 1,000 to formal sector workers, better implementation of labour laws, social security for the unorganised sector and amendments in the Contract Labour Act.

Apart from INTUC's Reddy, the meeting would also be attended by leaders of all other central trade unions such as the All India Trade Union Congress or AITUC and CITU, the trade union affiliated to the Communist Party (Marxist). AITUC is the Communist Party of India's labour union.