Ministry overruled panel to allow contract hiring at FCI

The AITUC and FCI Handling Workers’ Union also plan to file petitions against the notification.

The AITUC and FCI Handling Workers’ Union also plan to file petitions against the notification.  

A workers’ union has moved the Delhi High Court against a Labour Ministry notification allowing the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to hire contract workers.

The ministry issued the notification despite initial resistance from its own advisory panel. The FCI Workers’ Union challenged the government’s move on July 20.

The Labour Ministry’s July 6 notification allowing the hiring of contract workers by FCI for two years had been taken after the ministry overruled the recommendations of its own advisory board twice, as per documents reviewed by The Hindu.

A majority of FCI’s godowns, 226 depots and railheads, were prohibited from hiring contract labour till recently due to various prohibition notifications issued by the government since 1985. FCI had moved an application in 2014 asking the Labour Ministry to de-notify the prohibition order, and allow it to hire contract workers in all its establishments without conditions and for an indefinite period.

Blanket exemption

Before granting an exemption, the Labour Ministry had referred the matter to the Central Advisory Contract Labour Board (CACLB), constituted under the Contract Labour (Rehabilitation and Abolition) Act of 1970. The CACLB, in its meeting held on March 30-31 and May 4, rejected the FCI’s application.

“FCI seeking blanket exemption for entire establishment without conditions and without fixed period cannot be granted,” the CACLB said, “unanimously” declining FCI’s request in its meeting held on March 30-31 this year. It also stated that as per the law, FCI cannot be granted an exemption from a ban on hiring contract workers as there was no emergency situation establishment by the state-run company.

As per the law, the government can grant an exemption from the Contract Labour Act of 1970 to an establishment only in case of an emergency and only for a fixed period of time.

The Labour Ministry had overruled its expert panel's advice and decided to allow FCI to hire contract workers at all its units for an indefinite period, said a senior government official. However, the law ministry objected to the ‘indefinite’ applicability of such an exception, so the labour ministry restricted the freedom to two years.

The All India Trade Union Congress and FCI Handling Workers’ Union are also planning to file petitions in the Delhi High Court challenging the labour ministry notification in the coming days.

“Nowhere in the notification, the fate of more than such 25,000 workers is mentioned and they are likely to be thrown out on the streets,” D.L. Sachdev, Secretary, AITUC said in a letter to Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya earlier this week. “Issuing such a notification overruling the recommendations of the Board violates the contents and meaning of tripartite system,” he added. The FCI has 47,912 regular workers in its 445 operational depots at present.

“The FCI intended to phase out regular employees (some of them getting salary including allowances up to Rs 4 lakh a month) based on the recommendations made by the High Power Committee,” the CACLB said in its March meeting explaining the rationale behind FCI's application. Expressing shock at such high-income levels, a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur had said January that these were an example of the “malpractices” in FCI. “How can a labourer carrying sacks earn Rs. 4.5 lakh per month?” the Bench had observed.

Unloading sacks

Some of the department workers get a monthly income in lakhs due to high incentives offered by the FCI for loading or unloading more sacks.

“The Labour Ministry notification will help us in pulling the labour quickly. It will also help us in reducing the incentives thereby reducing costs,” FCI Chairman and Managing Director Yogendra Tripathi told The Hindu.

As per the plan, FCI wants to engage only contract labour in place of a four-tier system: regular employees, direct pay system (those getting minimum wage), no work no pay (those who get paid only when there is work) and contract labour system in a bid to save about Rs.2,000 crore a year.

However, Mr. Sachdev said the notification clause asking FCI to give equal wages to contract workers for same or similar kind of work as given to regular employees defeats the whole purpose.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 9:33:51 PM |

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