Attempt to turn the country into a centre of cheap youth labour
BJP led NDA government passed the Apprentices (Amendment) Bill, 2014 on the last day of the recently concluded session on 14th August 2014. Since the passing of the Apprentices Act in 1961, there have been four amendments in 1973, 1986, 1997 and 2007. This is the fifth amendment.
Let us look at the amendments made in 2014.
First of all, this amendment annuls the right to regular employment. This has been left to the wishes of capitalists. The Bill says that “every establishment will make its own policy with regard to employing the apprentices who have completed their training in the industry/establishment.” This means that it will be up to the capitalist whether or not to give employment to the apprentice.
Let us look at the situation in some of the private companies prior to this amendment. In the private sector, only a third of the workers in the units of Maruti-Suzuki, the biggest automobile company in the Gurgaon-Manesar area of Haryana, are permanent employees. One-third are hired on contract and the remaining one-third work as apprentices/trainees. They are hired as trainee apprentices after completing their ITI diploma. Whether they are hired as contract workers or purely as trainees, in both cases they are not given any special training. Right after recruitment, they are put to work on the production floor. This way, companies blatantly flout the Apprentices Act 1961.
It is appropriate to point here that during apprenticeship, it is not necessary that they will get the experience of the trade for which they are recruited. Most of the apprentices are made to work only on one job for years. Even in cases where proper training is not given, or if facilities are not provided according to the written norms of the company, or if Apprentice Act 1961 is violated, a complaint by the apprentice is considered “anti-management”. An apprentice has to remain silent if he has to continue his training.
Consider another example of Honda company in Manesar. A trainee is recruited in the company as a “contract casual” worker for the first three years. The trainee works as a “company casual” worker for the subsequent two years. Throughout the entire duration of this five years’ training, he has to carry out the full work of a permanent worker although he gets paid only one-third the salary of a permanent worker. He has to work without proper facilities and protection of labour laws. Permanent workers are recruited only when there is a vacancy among the few who are in this category. To be eligible to be recruited as a permanent worker, the contract casual and company casual workers have to fulfill certain requirements of the company. The first requirement is subservience to the management and the second requirement is good “performance” report for the entire five years. For the few vacancies for permanent employment, contract casual and company casual workers are forced to bear the mental tension of “better and better performance” for the entire five years at the lowest salaries and under the most unbearable conditions of work.
If a company casual worker does not live up to both the standards, then the management can demote him from “company casual” to “contract casual”. There is no change in the conditions of work or the time of work. However, permanent employment becomes that much more unreachable.
Even in the enterprises of the public sector under State ownership, technical apprentices do not get permanent employment. Even after apprenticeship, after becoming skilled workers, they have to remain unemployed or work as casual/contract workers. They have to keep struggling to get a permanent employment for years on end. For example, there are apprentice wiremen in the UP Electricity department who are already 40 to 45 years of age who are still struggling to become regular employees.
Through the Apprentices Amendment Bill, the government is talking of increasing that category of employment which is temporary and most insecure. Workers have to work for longer and longer hours at lower and lower wages. Labour laws will not be applicable to this type of employment. Workers will have to bear oppression and intense exploitation.
In actual fact, the law is being amended precisely to demolish the conception of permanent employment. It encourages the policy of “hire and fire.” Secondly, the Amendment has expanded the scope of workers working as apprentices. Earlier only engineering graduates and deploma holders could be apprentices. Now non-engineering graduates and deploma holders have come within its scope. This law will now apply to every sector of economy, like construction, food processing industry, retail trade, healthcare services, tourism, hospitality, etc. If there are more than five workers in an establishment, then the capitalist can keep 2.5% to 8% of the total workers (including all contract, permanent, daily wage workers) as apprentices.
The government has given freedom to the capitalists to decide on the working hours, breaks, public holidays for the apprentices according to their own conscience. The Bill stipulates that capitalists will be free to establish institutions, decide on curriculum for training and manage them as they see fit. Small and medium capitalists will receive 50% subsidy for running the ‘basic training’ programs. This includes more than 500 curricula. For example, shop assistants and call centre operators will receive basic training. During the training period, they will be asked to do regular work under the name of “skill development”. After the training period, as apprentices, who become semi-skilled by then, they will be asked to perform the full work at the lowest possible wages. Only those who comply with the conditions of the capitalists during the training period will be given the qualifying certificate.
What is clear is that the government is jeopardising the ‘quality of training’. It is refusing to improve the quality of the training institutions and to increase their numbers. It is abdicating this responsibility and subsuming it to the claim of profits of the capitalists. It is in the nature of capitalists to make profit. They are interested in exploiting the labour at the lowest possible cost. They want to aggrandise their private property and become big capitalists. They are not interested in providing permanent employment to the educated youth of the country by providing them training.
The government wants to convert our country into a centre of cheap labour. They want to get rid of all rights of the workers to protect their interests and remove all obstacles to capitalists making unlimited profits. The government wants to eliminate all present laws such as the Social Security Act that limit the claims of the capitalists. The capitalists will no longer be bound to uphold those rights that acrue to apprentices and semi-skilled workers.
All the trade unions and workers organisations of the country are resolutely opposing these changes. Workers’ organisations are clarifying that through this law, the government wants to liberate the capitalists from the labour laws and wants to make labour available cheap. At the same time, it wants to eliminate all labour laws, social security laws, connected with regular employment which defend the interest of the workers. Working class has to staunchly oppose this Bill.
Government is responsible for running the economy in accordance with ensuring the well-being of the entire society. It must manage the processes of production and services according to the needs of society. It must set the curriculum according to the needs of production and services sectors of the economy and it must provide quality training to the youth.
Apprenticeship is the link between education and employment. Government has to ensure that every trained youth who joins the labour force of the country is provided practical training by the State and ensured a permanent employment. By virtue of the fact that he has already become a worker, no doubt semi-skilled, during his training period and takes full part in the work of production or service, he must have all labour laws applicable to him. His salary should be that of a semi-skilled worker. Upon completion of the trade-specific training, he has a right to permanent employment.
The existing amendment Bill does not accept the above principles.
Working class has to staunchly oppose this Bill. The working class will have to demand that all able bodied youth must have a permanent employment. We have to demand from the government that all workers must get a wage that provides for a dignified living.