‘The rapid casualisation of workforce, is completely ignored by the Congress and the BJP’
The election campaigns of the three major political parties in the State would appear to suggest that labour as a political constituency does not exist in Bangalore. That would appear odd. After all, the working class — counting not just workers employed in large industries but those working in a range of services that go by the euphemistic tag of “unorganised labour” — account for a significant proportion of the electorate. Yet, the issues and concerns of the city’s varied workforce do not even figure in the election manifestoes of the three major political parties, let alone figuring as significant campaign points of candidates.
Bangalore may be known as the IT capital of the country, but if the size of the workforce employed in the garment industry was a criterion, it may well be known as the Garment City. Yet, neither the Bharatiya Janata Party nor the Congress or the Janata Dal (Secular) see the issues germane to the more than five lakh garment workers — mostly women — employed in hundreds of units in the fringes of the city as being politically noteworthy.
Accurate or credible data on employment is difficult to come by. But even so, trade unions reckon that there are close to 3 lakh to 3.5 lakh workers employed in large industrial units in and around Bangalore. More than two lakh more are employed in the construction industry, of whom close to three-fourth are migrant workers. About four lakh workers are employed in the unorganised sector — in the small-scale units in industrial clusters such as in Peenya. There is no data on the numbers working in what goes by the name of the “service” economy — those working in hotels and eateries, in garbage collection, domestic work and in a range of marginal occupations whose only common traits are poor wages, unregulated working hours and no security of tenure.
M.S. Meenakshisundaram, secretary, Karnataka State committee, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) says, “The most significant change in the industrial landscape in Bangalore in the last two decades, the rapid casualisation of the workforce, is completely ignored by both the Congress and the BJP.” The relentless drive to outsource work is not confined to the large industries in the private sector, but in the public sector units, he says. “Public sector companies like Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL), BEML Ltd. and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. now employ a considerable section of their workforce on contract, many of whom have been on contract for more than 15 years in some units,” he notes. “These companies, which were supposed to act as model employers, contract work outside,” he adds. Of course, much of the work in the private industrial units that form part of auto and engineering clusters is outsourced.
The marginalisation of the working class’ agenda has resulted in the sidelining of not only issues relating to terms of employment, the question of minimum wages, security of tenure, but the broader plank of “social security” issues that includes access to the public distribution system, education or creches for their children, affordable health care and pensions, says S. Prasanna Kumar, general secretary, Karnataka State committee, CITU. “These issues are not on the radars of the two main national political parties, the BJP and the Congress, which have the leverage at the all-India level to intervene on behalf of the workers, but simply lack the political will to act,” he argues. “At the most, these parties are willing to provide a miserly sum for destitute or the poorest of the poor, which will be narrowly targeted at a slender slice of the population, but they show no willingness to remedy the distress among large sections of the working people,” he rues.