Turning a blind eye to back-door reforms

Updated: Dec 18 2006, 06:58am hrs
Around 160 colleges under Calcutta University employ part-time teachers to fill the gap in permanent teachers. The part-timers get either Rs 2,000 for six classes a week or Rs 75 each class. They do not get any other benefits. Months ago, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta promised to address the gross injustice against part-timers who are post-graduates. He told the part-timers that they would get Rs 4,000 a month and the state would take on the additional financial burden. The only condition is that the colleges have to justify the engagement of part-time teachers. Today, the part-time teachers are jobless.

Whether the Left in the Capital like it or not, in their own-ruled state, most of the new additional jobs are temporary, part-time or contractual.

Years ago, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) raised the slogan: Permanent employees in permanent organisations. Now, even in the government sector, the state administration is not allergic to getting a job done by non-perman-ent workers.

The state government is inclined to having an exit policy but cannot implement it due to pressure from CITU. Shuyamal Chakraborty, the state president of CITU, says, The state government is not in favour of any reforms in labour policy." He adds that the draft Labour Amendment & Miscellaneous Provision Bill, 2005, is skewed towards employers. The labour inspection machinery, which many states have dismantled, has provided a free rein to employers. This cannot be allowed.

But one could call the changes being brought about by the state government back-door labour reform. Take the case of Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL): the state government, which has a significant equity in the company, never opposed the introduction of contract workers in production, supply or marketing. HPL has introduced hikes in pay on the basis of performance.

The Left parties are against labour reforms because it would hurt their interests in the organised sector, where most of the jobs are still permanent in nature. But things are changing even in the state government-controlled organised sector. A year ago, the state's electricity board contract workers and permanent employees had a tussle over pay. The government issued a one-year renewable contract subject to performance in 2004.

After a year, it decided to raise their pay. But permanent employees of the board opposed the appointment of senior engineers from outside on contract.

The state government has even failed to revise the minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. According to a report Labour In West Bengal, 2005, the minimum wage for employees in the plastics industry was last revised in 1979. For builders in the construction or maintenance of roads, the minimum wage was last revised in 1998. And for people working in bakeries, it was last revised in 1984.

Says Naba Datta of Nagarik Mancha, an NGO associated with labour welfare, "The Left parties have two facesone for the non-Left states and the other for the states that they rule. In many sectors in the state, where an exit policy is in place, the Left just looks the other way. Whether the Left agrees or not, labour reforms are already taking place in the state, albeit informally, Datta said.