Ahead of budget presentation, labour unions are demanding that the Centre work out new industrial and labour policies so that more workers will get “job security” rather than continuing as contract labourers.

The unions also favour better social security schemes to rescue workers from the debt trap, and generation of more employment and opportunities for new investment.

All stimulus packages should focus on employment retention and creation, and adequate remuneration should be ensured. The packages, if extended for 2010-11, must ensure that corporates do not lay off workers and resort to voluntary retirement, outsourcing and closure of factories.

Indian National Trade Union Congress president and Rajya Sabha member G. Sanjeeva Reddy suggests that workers be enrolled as shareholders of the company. This, he argues, will make them equally responsible in running the industry.

Mr. Reddy said the Centre’s bailout package for industry — announced after the global meltdown — in the form of tax concessions, export subsidies and restrictions on foreign directive investment did not benefit workers. Pointing out that there were huge job losses in the wake of the meltdown, he said: “…the bailout packages should be strictly linked to protection and creation of jobs.”

All-India Trade Union Congress general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta says the steep increase in food prices is making life miserable to poor and unorganised workers, and wants the budget to spell out some measures to contain the prices. He demands a ban on bank financing to food industries and for export of food items. Furthermore, banks should not lend to public and private sector industries which violate labour laws and mercilessly cut down the workforce.

Mr. Gupta wants the Centre to take care of the interests of eight lakh anganwadi workers and to encourage more investments in agriculture-based industries to increase food production. He calls for budget announcements to set up a national fund for unorganised workers and allocate more funds for the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Bharathiya Mazdoor Sangh general secretary K. Lakshma Reddy wants a scheme, similar to unemployment insurance allowance implemented in the United States. For, more than 35 lakh workers have lost their jobs. “It is more important that the displaced workers get some monetary relief,” he says.

On the one hand, the government is offering industry a stimulus package and, on the other, it is disinvesting in public sector units, jeopardising the interests of workers. Instead, the Centre could find ways and means of creating jobs and increasing farm production. “Our country has a farmer population of 65 per cent, but no proportionate fund allocation has been made for the agriculture industry or irrigation.”

Pointing to growing inequalities, Mr. Reddy wants a cap on the earnings of those holding high posts in the corporate sector.

Union Minister for Labour and Employment Mallikarjun Kharge, who has made issue of health insurance smart cards to workers a mission and who has distributed more than 1.14 crore cards, wants to extend the benefit to some unorganised workers who are above the poverty line. “We have already extended the scheme to construction workers; it is our endeavour to cover some other unorganised workers in phases.”

As for social security schemes for workers, Mr. Kharge urges the States to play a major role, constituting State Social Security Boards at the earliest. As part of the National Skill Development Policy, a plan has been prepared to upgrade government ITIs, through public-private partnership in some cases.

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