The government has instituted very strict labour laws. But, unable to comply with them, even as they remain the biggest employers in the country, government organisations are openly flouting the laws, as comes out clearly in each of the following cases:
1) C & D employees (for the full report, click here):
The Karnataka government banned the system of daily-wage workers in 2007. But dig a little deeper, and its own departments have over 15,000 daily-wage employees who are paid a paltry Rs 168.70 paise per day. Shockingly, many such employees in various government departments haven’t got their salaries for months now.
H Hanumanth Raju, 54, working as a cook in a hostel run by the social welfare department at Gauribidanur, has been waiting for his salary for seven months. He is one among the many staging a fast-untodeath from Monday at Banappa Park, near Hudson Circle.
The protesters include those working in the forest department, Vidhana Soudha press, municipalities, social welfare and irrigation departments as group C and D employees. All the employees were hired after August 1984.
“In 2009, when we staged a similar protest, minister S Suresh Kumar had promised us the issue would be settled. A cabinet sub-committee was formed to look into the issue under minister C M Udasi. The cabinet report had suggested that the government frame guidelines for regularization of daily wage employees,” said Chandrashekar S Hiremath, a labour leader from Gulbarga, who has been fighting for the cause for the past six years.
“I know the forest I guard near Shikaripur is now facing threat from various land sharks, because many like me have not attended work today. We work 24 hours a day, guarding the forest from fires and encroachment. But the salary I get is a pittance. It’s high time the government recognizes our work and regularizes our jobs,” said Bhima Naika, who has been forest guard for 22 years.
In Bangalore alone, there are 1,000 daily-wage employees in the forest department alone. “The protest will continue until the cabinet regularizes the employment of all the 15,000 employees,” Hiremath said.
2) Pourakarmikas (for the full report, click here):
Around 18,000 pourakarmikas work for BBMP, of whom only 4,000 are under employee category. The remaining workers have been hired on contract basis for the past few years.
3) Bus crew/ staff (for the full report, click here):
Members of the Akhila Karnataka Rajya Raste Sarige Nowkarara Mahamandala stated that all the four state transport corporations were employing nearly 33,000 employees as trainees on a stipend between Rs 2,000-Rs 5,000 per month. “This is close to 1/3rd of the total workforce. They are made to do regular work, are fined like regular employees and after a training period of 2 years have to undergo probation for 2 more years,” said K S Sharma, president of the federation. He pointed out that the total salary received by the lowest rank in the corporations was 9,000 per month for a class ‘D’ attender.
And, while there is no authority that can question any of them, the organised private sector does not enjoy such privileges, leading to the country failing totally in labour-intensive industries, even as it is doing dramatically well in brain-intensive areas, from software and high-end outsourcing to pharmaceuticals and automobiles, with many multinationals building R&D centres to harness Indian brainpower. The bigger irony here is that, even as the country is hard put to cope up with the huge demand for brain-intensive manpower, its huge un/ semi - skilled manpower, which could otherwise have been put to good use for the benefit of all concerned, is unable to be utilised because of the strict laws. But, all the same, the government continues to keep its head buried under the sand, ostrich-like, just refusing to make the necessary amendments to the labour laws.
A few days back, I saw a documentary titled "Rat Race" on NRK's (Night Rat Killers) of Mumbai. In 1994, when plague broke out in parts of the city (the city of Surat was worst affected), the Municipality chose to engage unemployed young men, as NRK's, to exterminate rats, they being the carriers of the plague virus. They were paid a monthly wage in the range of Rs 6,000/-, for killing a minimum of 30 rats per night, whose carcasses they had to hand in at a collection centre. Now, one would wonder why any youth would want to take up such a job (which all them were uniformly hesitant to talk about), considering the fact that getting a job, for like or higher wage, in a economic bee-hive like Mumbai, is not at all difficult. The answer to that paradox becomes fairly clear when each of the NRK's talks about his aspirations of getting a confirmed job in the Municipality (government job). And, since the route to this, if at all there was one, was plain patronage and never merit, the NRK's were prepared to do anything to please their supervisor, in the hope that he would make 'suitable' recommendations. The supervisor used this mind-set of the NRK's to lead them on, even as he very well knew that the chance of any of them getting confirmed was next to nil.
And, this is exactly the kind of mind-set that even an otherwise honest minister, like Mr Suresh Kumar, is willy-nilly exploiting.
So, what's so great about a government job? The answer is very simple - once you get confirmed, there is no force on earth that can make you work, if you don't want to, nor throw you out from employment (given the stringent labour laws, it's difficult even for the private sector; but, you can expect them to find their way out when things go beyond their tolerance limit). Besides, you then become part of the privileged 'labour aristocracy', providing you an opportunity of getting enrolled at some level into the various mafia operations, that all government organisations are invariably steeped in, therewith making huge non-taxable incomes on the side. There are of course the odd sincere people who refuse to succumb to these temptations, but, somewhere along they become victims of the demotivating environment, and just bide their time, looking for salvation in some other pursuits.
The reason why senior Air-India pilots, who can perhaps walk into any of the private airlines given their experience, would instead choose to arm-twist their management into accepting the demands, whether rational or not, is also because of this. From past experience, they know fully well that the government will eventually throw in the towel, for all the initial posturings by the likes of an Ajit Singh. On the other hand, the muted protests of the Kingfisher pilots, whenever it happens, hardly lasts a few hours.
Such a scenario has led to the breeding of a culture of its own, over the past 50 odd years of the public sector dominance of the commanding heights of the country's economy, symbolised by abysmal levels of productivity and quality, from which the country has been hard put to unshackle itself.
All in all, the answer very plainly seems to be for the government to get out of manufacturing and providing of services, and concentrate instead on the bigger job of facilitating, regulating, and, where essential, controlling, since, when it becomes a player in addition, it causes to distort the entire game. Simultaneously, the government needs to revamp the labour laws, and down-size itself too, outsourcing all non-core functions (check this). Once these happen, the job market will open up, productivity and quality will improve by leaps and bounds, and the country will become an economic power house no other country can match.