Wednesday November 21, 2018
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Modi meets labor leaders, differences persist

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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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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
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“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

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The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
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Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)