By B. Sivaraman
The slowdown in the Indian economy is not limited to the automobile sector now. Every sector of the economy now has its own sob story. The slowdown would linger on for some time because the new investment projects announced in terms of value declined by 79.5 per cent. The GDP growth in Q1 was 5.8 per cent and industrial growth was a mere 2 per cent. India Inc’s net sales growth for the Q2 (April-June quarter) slid to 4.6 per cent as against 13.5 per cent for the same period last year, while the net profit growth moderated to 6.6 per cent as compared to last year’s 24.6 per cent.
What is the plant-level impact of this slowdown? Mr. James from Coimbatore, President of the Tamil Nadu Association of Cottage and Micro Enterprises (TACT) said that those SMEs doing job orders were the worst hit. “Scrap prices are down from Rs.26–28 a kg one year back to Rs.16 a kg now due to slowdown and lack of demand from foundries and SMEs factor the scrap sales into their revenue calculation and many SMEs suffer more Rs.1 lakh on scrap sales alone”, he adds. Job losses for local workers is not widespread except in the case of contract labourers and temps and only North Indian workers are being sent home first from Coimbatore and soon workers from Tamil Nadu would also lose jobs, he says. His association has demanded reduction in taxes, particularly reduction of GST on job-orders from 28 per cent to 5 per cent, moratorium on loan repayment until complete manufacturing recovery and reduction in monthly EMI by banks.
What is the response of the trade unions when the employers are trying to shift the burden of slowdown on the workers? What they are going to demand from the government. We contacted the top leaders of four central trade unions to ascertain their thinking and their plans.
Mr. Tapan Sen, General Secretary of CITU, talking immediately an hour after returning from a joint all-India meeting of trade unions on 21 August 2019, said: “We are already on the war path. In today’s meeting we have decided to call for an all-India convention in September tentatively and exact dates would be finalised after ascertaining the availability of Talkatora Stadium in Delhi. It would adopt a massive action programme against the Modi Government’s inaction on slowdown and failure to protect the interests of workers.
The slowdown affect the workers disproportionately more than it affects the owners. The companies get some relief from the government but workers get nothing. We have taken up some agitation programmes on ongoing issues of workers in the meanwhile. On 27 August, we are observing a Solidarity Day in support of defence workers who are on a month-long strike to halt privatisation, and steel workers would also come out opposing privatisation and railway workers have taken up a programme against corporatisation. Focus would not only be on sectoral demands but also on Modi’s incompetence to address the slowdown and its adverse impact on workers”.
Mr. Mahadevan, President of AITUC, said: “When the economy was booming the employers were not sharing the benefits with the workers. When the slowdown is pinching them and reducing their profits why should they pass on the burden on workers? Modi Government claimed that the economy is not growing because of “rigid” labour laws and so he exempted small industries from 14 labour laws. They blamed law enforcement as license raj only to usher in lawless jungle raj in 2015 itself. What happened? The slowdown has gone from bad to worse. They allowed fixed-term contract employment first in garments and apparels in 2016 and then extended it to all sectors in July 2018 but growth and garment exports are as flat as ever. It is like fixing the date for divorce while fixing the date for marriage!”
“Modi’s advisors are pro-big business and they pay only lip-service to MSMEs. The trade unions are not irresponsible. In many MSMEs, we are not asking for overtime for extra work in view of the slowdown impact, we even adjust with shift reduction and we are okay for modification of incentive schemes but we oppose retrenchment and closure. Even on many routine wage and bonus demands, we are ready to wait for better days. But this government doesn’t care to enforce Supreme Court’s directive that contract labourers and other temps should also paid at par with regular workers. We are preparing for an effective resistance and that would take off in a big way by September”, Mahadevan added.
Dr. Sanjeeva Reddy, President of INTUC, said, “Modi is concerned only about his power and the religious vested interests of far-right groups and not about industrial closures and joblosses. We are studying the situation and would come up with a response without adding to the hardship of the industries. We are not asking for undue favours. Workers are not slaves who can be asked to come for work one day and sit at home the next day. Not only livelihood, it is a question of dignity of labour”.
Kumarawamy, President of AICCTU, said, “Slowdown impact on workers is multi-faceted and is expected to get severe and hence calls for a concerted response from the trade unions and we are rising to the occasion. We elaborated on the new forms of attacks in the all-trade union meeting yesterday and are working on detailed guidelines for an equally diverse response at lower levels while strengthening class solidarity. Modi bent over backward to please foreign capital and big Indian corporates. As soon as he took over as Prime Minister, in 2014 itself he wrote a signed article on 25 September 2014—of all papers in Wall Street Journa, l titled ‘Make in India’. That made clear the kind of audience he was addressing. In that article, he hinted at scrapping labour laws. He did exactly the same and pushed these labour reforms hard unilaterally under the pretext that labour reforms would spur growth and increase employment. What happened? We have neither growth nor jobs. The labour movement would call Modi’s bluff soon. Our high-profile September convention is just a beginning”. (IPA Service)