Shri. Arun Jaitley*
The Left affiliated Trade Unions have organised a Bharat Bandh on the 8th & 9th January, 2019. Are there any real issues before them or is it a part of the strategy of the Left political organisations to organise a symbolic unrest to ensure that they are not wiped out from the political map of India. The strength of the Left Parties has been significantly eroded in West Bengal and Tripura. In the recent past, the political environment in Kerala is also building against them.
The NDA Government has been in power for a little less than five years. A Group of Ministers had been constituted to continuously maintain a dialogue with the trade unions. Some trade unions have been more forthcoming in the dialogue and they succeeded in persuading the Government from time to time to announce a series of measures in favour of the workers.
It is, therefore, important to analyse the number of steps taken by the NDA Government headed by Shri Narendra Modi to help the workers of India.
(a) The calculation ceiling for bonus has been increased from Rs.3500/- to Rs.7,000/- per month or the minimum wages of the scheduled industry as fixed by the appropriate Government, whichever is higher.
(b) Eligibility ceiling for bonus has been increased from Rs.10,000/- per month to Rs.21,000/- per month.
The maternity leave benefit has been increased from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for two surviving children.
Gratuity payment ceiling for a worker has been enhanced from Rs.10 lakh to Rs.20 lakh.
4. Minimum wage
There has been a significant increase in the minimum wage entitlement for both the unskilled agricultural labour and for the construction labour in the three categories of areas (A) (B) and (C). The range of increase on minimum wage is as under:
I. Agriculture: Unskilled
(Area-A) increased from Rs.226 to Rs.333
(Area-B) increased from Rs.206 to Rs.303
(Area-C) increased from Rs.204 to Rs.300
II. Building Construction/ Construction/ Maintenance of Roads
Unskilled (Area-A) increased from Rs.368 to Rs.523
(Area-B) increased from Rs.307 to Rs.437
(Area-C) increased from Rs.246 to Rs.350
The eligibility coverage ceiling has been increased from Rs.15,000/- per month to Rs.21,000/- per month. There is a benefit of two dispensaries for worker – one at the working place and one at the native place.
A minimum guaranteed pension has been fixed at Rs.1000/- per month.
In the event of death of a worker while in service, the minimum assured insurance of Rs.2.5 lakhs and a maximum benefit of Rs.6 lakhs under EDLI scheme of EPFO has been ensured.
8. Anganwadi and Asha workers
For all categories of Anganwadi and Asha workers, there has been a substantial raise of honorarium by the Central Government. A worker now gets Rs.4500/- per month instead of Rs.3000/-. The minimum rate has been raised from Rs.2250/- to Rs.3500/-. The helper’s honorarium has been increased from Rs.1500/- to Rs.2200/-. Amongst Asha workers, the honorarium has been increased from Rs.1000/- to Rs.2000/-. Additionally, an insurance of Rs.2 lakhs coverage in the event of a death and Rs.1 lakhs in case of disability of permanent nature has been provided at no cost.
9. Seventh Pay Commission
The Seventh Pay Commission significantly raised the salary and perquisites of Government employees. Previous Government had taken years before implementing the same. The present Government implemented the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission immediately and additionally improved upon certain terms relating to perquisites. The recommendations have also been improved in the case of Armed Forces and other para military and security forces. The OROP for retired employees of the Defence Forces, which was pending for over four decades, was resolved at the earliest.
10. Government Pension
Under the National Pension System, Government employees contributed 10% and the Government contributed 10% which formed the corpus for investment under which pension would be paid to Government servants post-retirement. The Government has increased its own share from 10% to 14%. Thus making the initial contribution for the corpus to be 24% of the salary per month. Additionally, the 60% cumulative amount that a retired employee can withdraw has been entirely exempted from income-tax payment. An option has been given to the employee to indicate whether he wants his corpus of pension to be invested in Government bonds or some of it to be invested in the market. The choice is now entirely of the employee.
Besides this, several procedural changes have been made in various laws and regulations relating to trade unions. Under the Trade Unions Act, a Union has to be registered within 45 days of application otherwise it will be entitled to a deemed registration.
Provident Fund Offices are being opened in several revenue districts of the country. The employee has now been given the facility of digital life certificate being submitted from any common service centre. AADHAAR can be used to update the details. The Wage Code and the Social Security Code are now being consolidated and made more rationale.
Under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the worker today ranks very high in the waterfall of payments as against the earlier regime.
No Government in the past has taken, within a short period, so many continuous pro-worker decisions in order to ensure that the advantage of a better quality of life is ensured to them as a result of the economic development of the country. Even though procedural simplification have been done in several legislations in order to cut down the paper work, the Government has desisted from taking any decision which hurts the interest of the employees.
Notwithstanding the above, if the Left Trade Unions insist on politicising the Trade Union Movement to manufacture a protest on non-existent issues, it is for the workmen in the country to seriously analyse what the present Government has done for them and compare it with the relatively blank record of several earlier Governments.
(Author is Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, Government of India)