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Modi meets labor leaders, differences persist

New Delhi: Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi met labor leaders on Sunday on the eve of the 46th Indian Labour Conference, differences persisted between central trade unions and the government over the contentious issues of contract labor and minimum wages.

The meeting over tea on Sunday followed extensive consultations that these leaders had with an inter-ministerial team headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley earlier in the day.

Union ministers Jaitley, Bandaru Dattatreya, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Jitendra Singh were present at the meeting, an official statement said.

The trade unions represented at the meeting included the All India United Trade Union Centre, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Hind Mazdoor Sangh, Indian National Trade Union Congress, Labour Progressive Federation, National Front of Indian Trade Unions, Self-Employed Women’s Association, Trade Union Coordination Centre, and United Trade Union Congress.

“The government is trying to change the labour laws without speaking to trade unions. We have made it very clear that this is not acceptable to us,” Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the AITUC and a former Lok Sabha member, said after the meeting.

“We have said that we totally opposed the government’s move on changing labour laws of the country. This will hurt the interest of the workers,” he said.

“Since there is no assurance, we will stick to our stand of a strike on September 2,” Dasgupta added.

“The good thing is that the finance minister is is heading the committee. We felt good when he briefed us in front of the prime minister,” said Brijesh Upadhyay, general secretary of the BMS, which is affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The government has shown some positive approach on the issues raised by us. We have hope. Something will be done,” he added.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Labour Minister Dattatreya said: “There is consensus on the issues of recognition of trade unions, Bonus Act and matters related to social security of workers. There is gap on issues related to contract labour and minimum wages. Discussions are in progress on these issues.”

However, D.L. Sachdev, secretary of the AITUC, contradicted the minister. “There is no consensus or agreement on any issue. We have not come here with any expectation of having consensus on any issue with this government,” he said.

“The issue of central trade unions’ call for a day-long strike on September 2 was not discussed so we have not responded on that. Our resolve to go ahead with the strike on September 2 has not changed,” he added.

The unions have been raising issues related to labour law amendments and a 10-point charter of demands that includes a minimum wage of Rs.15,000 per month across the country, up from Rs.5,000 to Rs.9,000 in different states and similar wages and services conditions for contract labour as for regular employees.

At a meeting earlier, trade unions unanimously decided to oppose certain proposed amendments to labour law like easing of retrenchment and unit closure norms.

“We have decided not to change our stand on certain labour law amendments which are not in the interest of workers,” Upadhyay said, adding at this meeting, it was also decided that unions would listen to government’s view on different issues during the two meetings.

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