The Tamilnadu Government has convened today the Advisory Committee constituted
under Tamilnadu Manual Workers Act, 1982 to implement the Unorganized Sector Workers’ Labour Welfare functions through Village Administrative Officers under Revenue Department. We, Independent Trade Unions who have been organizing the Unorganized Sector Workers across religious, caste and political affiliations, have already expressed our opposition G.O 23 which was brought out in this regard without any consultation with trade unions, Welfare Boards and Advisory Committee and strongly oppose this new stealthy move by the Government to implement this G.O.
After many protests by Unorganized Sector Workers, trade unions and political parties through out Tamilnadu since March 3rd, cases in high court, walk out by four central trade unions in Advisory Committee meeting, walk out by C.P.I(M) members of legislative assembly during Labour budget sessions in Tamilnadu Assembly, the Hon’ble Chief Minister’s announcement to continue implementation of Labour Welfare Board functions under Labour Department has been an empty promise. This move by Tamilnadu Government has come as a big shock and disappointment to Unorganized Sector Workers and Trade Unions who have been falsely reassured by the revival of benefits disbursement through Labour Welfare Boards in the last two months.
In addition, the issue of minority representation of five unorganized sector workers’ representatives amid five government officials, five ruling party assembly members and five employer’s representatives is yet to be resolved. All these efforts are meant to dissuade workers from availing benefits, weaken trade unions, and increase corruption in the process.
Construction Workers have struggled from 1982 to get Tamilnadu Manual Workers Act in 1982 and after a struggle of 13 years, the Tamilnadu construction Workers Welfare Board was formed in 1995. The Unorganized workers in various sectors had raised their voice and a Manual Workers Welfare Board was formed in 2000 and 16 Sectoral boards in 2006.
Instead of compulsory registration of employers and workers, employment-wage regulation, dispute handling mechanisms, building the infrastructure and staffing of Welfare Boards through budgetary allocation and levy system and implementation through taluk level boards, the state government has resorted to a regressive steps of making registration free for workers thus reducing their right for demanding comprehensive security. By delegating the functions to Revenue Department, the objective of the government would be to delay the registration and benefits availing and thus effectively kill the scheme and suppress the voice of Unorganised Workers, and Trade Unions.
Just as in Construction, we have been demanding consistently that levy is collected in other unorganized sectors to fund the Labour Welfare Board functions. However the State Government has been ignoring this demand other than for Auto Rickshaw Workers Welfare Board. Without inadequate funds, the State Government has been sporadically allocating funds and these half hearted attempts need to be regulated. Regulation of employment and wages for unorganized sector workers through collection of levy and allocation of 3% budget, work place security, E.S.I, P.F and death and accident benefits, maternity assistance, education assistance, housing assistance is an achievable target. The government’s position that the reason for transfer to revenue department is the prevention of the same worker enjoying the same benefits through different boards is not acceptable.
Proper infrastructure, computerization, Taluk level offices with enough officials as in Kerala for Labour Welfare Boards will be the only way to register the workers, provide benefits with in 1 month of application and disbursement of funeral assistance with in 2 days of death for a worker’s family.
In this context, on the question of where the Labour Welfare Board functions belong, experts have opined that Labour Acts and relevant implementation functions can be implemented only through the Labour Department. The principle of natural justice where labour welfare functions should be administered only under labour department has been emphasized by Former Supreme Court Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and National Campaign Committee of Unorganized Sector Workers in their letter to Tamilnadu Chief Minister.
1. The State Government should give up the handing over of Labour Welfare Board functions to Revenue Department and with draw the regressive Go Ms 23 and give up implementation of the G..O through stealthy means.
2. 3% of budgetary allocation and Levy on all forms of production and distribution, along with a small contribution from the workers, District/ Taluk wise offices, staffing, registration, renewals claims, and disbursement of benefits with in 1 month of application should be implemented.
3. The Advisory Committee and the Unorganised Workers Welfare Boards under the Tamilnadu Manual Workers Act should have 50% representation from workers. The Advisory Committee and the Welfare Boards should have representation for independent (non party) honest Trade Unions, with adequate representation for women. The Welfare Boards must be headed by trade union leaders as in Kerala.
4. Welfare Boards for Agricultural Workers, Fish Workers, Sanitary Workers, Village artists should also be brought under the Labour Department. A Separate Department with a Minister for Unorganised Workers should be created. Provision of Family card for agricultural workers should be stopped.
5. Through the State Unorganised Workers Welfare Boards (i)regulation of employment and wages, (ii)E.S.I health insurance, (iii)housing and crèches, (iv)just and fair pension scheme, (v)dispute resolution mechanisms, (vi)sexual harassment complaints committees, (vii)rights over resources should be implemented under the Tamilnadu Manual Workers Act.