Labour unions have condemned the move to shift to a system of self-certification by industries, replacing mandatory inspections. “PM is going for drastic changes which will ultimately benefit the employers to carry out hire-and-fire and harm working people. This is being done to give a free hand to the corporates. This will depress the wage levels and shall create a situation for low-paid apprentices in place of permanent labour and even contractual workers,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary, AITUC.
The proposal to move to a system of self-certification and inspections based on computer-drawn lots evoked a sharp reaction from trade unionists.
“All unions' and individual workers' complaints must be investigated. Why should this be left to computers randomisation? There will be a tendency for industry to keep apprentices at low wages rather than recognising them as workers even after training,” said D.L. Sachdev National Secretary All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).
Central trade unions including Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, affiliated with BJP have announced an all India protest on December 5 and a dharna in Delhi the same day.
Rakesh Kumar of Indian Federation of Trade Unions criticised the push to shift poorer students to vocational training. “Joining ITI means discontinuing education at class X and that has its own limitations. Why is the government not making norms for protection and higher wages for workers leaving it all to international corporates. Several of the Maruti Suzuki workers who went on strike for months in Haryana were ITI graduates. What did they get at their workplace, what were their work conditions?” he said.
Industry lauds changes
Industry bodies welcomed the changes. “These changes will increase transparency for both employers and workers. With industrial corridors and construction projects expanding, the demand for skilled trainees may go up even beyond 24 lakh announced today. The government has taken a welcome step to liberalise the Apprentice Act by proposing that industrial units will be bound to employ 80 percent of apprentices, instead of 100 percent of apprentices undergoing training at a unit,” said Supriya Bannerjee, Principal Advisor, Confederation of Indian Industry.
Welcoming the changes, FICCI quoted its study that had estimated that 20 lakh trainers were needed every year to prepare 50 crore skilled workforce. It identified lack of availability of latest equipment, tools, continuing with the old curriculum as reasons for ITIs' decline.
“These are good changes and as per our feedback to the Ministry,” said Jai Kumar Bansal, who heads Steel Mills Employees Association in north Delhi.
With the MoLE changes applying only to employees and workers of central agencies and autonomous bodies, these will apply in States only after States make similar changes to their rules and laws. Labour officials in states had a varied response.