Following is the text of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh™s address at the 45th session of the Indian Labour Conference in New Delhi today:
Let me begin by emphasizing that this is a very important conference that deliberates issues of critical importance to our workers and industry, and therefore to our economy and society at large. I feel happy that as Prime Minister I have participated in all Sessions of the Indian Labour Conference that have taken place since 2005, except the one in 2009 which I could not attend due to ill-health. As you begin proceedings in this 45th Session of the Conference, I compliment you on your past achievements and extend my best wishes for your efforts in the future. It is also my hope that this Session will build further upon the rich legacy of the earlier Sessions.
Before I proceed further, let me also state that our Government has paid very serious attention to the issues that Trade Unions have raised from time to time. The recent two-day strike by Trade Unions focused on a number of issues relating to the welfare not only of the working-classes but also the people at large. These include demands on which there can be no disagreement. For example, demands for concrete measures for containing inflation, for generation of employment opportunities, for strict implementation of labour laws, are unexceptionable. There can however be differences on the best ways of fulfilling these demands and we are willing to engage constructively with the Trade Unions in this regard.
Some other demands raised by the Trade Unions are already under an advanced stage of consideration by the Government. These include issues like universal social security cover for workers in both the organized and unorganized sectors and creation of a National Social Security Fund, fixing a National Floor Level Minimum Wage and provision of minimum pension of Rs. 1000 per month under the Employees™ Pension Scheme. In fact, the Cabinet has already approved amendments to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 to provide for a statutory National Floor Level Minimum Wage.
The third set of demands relates to issues on which further dialogue with Trade Union leaders appears necessary, including tripartite discussions. We have set up a Group of Ministers under the Finance Minister to go into the whole gamut of demands raised by the Trade Unions and I am confident that soon you will see some forward movement on these demands.
I believe that many of the demands of the Trade Unions reflect the concern that our growth and progress should be inclusive and should particularly benefit the under-privileged sections of our society. This is a concern that has been very dear to our Government. We believe that providing our people with productive employment opportunities is the best way of achieving this objective.
According to some available data, we created 20 million additional job opportunities during the period 2004-05 and 2009-10. The unemployment rate came down from 8.3% to 6.6% during the same period. This period suffered from one of the worst global meltdowns in history and most of the countries, developed and developing, have registered increases in their unemployment rates while we were still able to create additional jobs. Employment in the organized sector registered a growth of more than 9% from 26.5 million in 2005 to 29 million in 2011. It is heartening to note that women employed in the organized sector have also registered a growth of about 19% during the same period.
Our Government has also made serious efforts in implementing various employment generation programmes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), National Rural Livelihood Mission, Swarnajayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojna and Prime Minister™s Employment Generation Programme. There has been an increase in allocations of these schemes over the years which have provided employment opportunities to a large number of men and women, particularly persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. MGNREGA has been particularly helpful in reducing inter-State migration of labour, eliminating bonded labour and raising the purchasing power of the rural households. Women participation under the scheme has been more than 48%. It is also heartening to note that rural women are increasingly going for self-employment opportunities in ever increasing numbers. Out of a total of 44.32 lakh Self-Help Groups in our country, 30.21 lakh are exclusively for women which accounts for more than 68%. We propose to continue this effort in future as well.
Clearly, skill development is crucial to our efforts for providing decent employment opportunities to our large and growing young population. A skilled workforce is also a pre-requisite for the achievement of our objective of rapid and inclusive growth. Therefore, we have laid special emphasis on skill development.
Our aim is to skill 5 crore people by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan. This will not only help in generating good quality employment but will also provide Industry with the skilled workforce they need to expand and modernize their operations. During the last five years, the number of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in the country has doubled from about 5000 to about 10000. About 1700 Government ITIs have been modernized. Another 3000 ITIs, 5000 Skill Development Centres and 27 Advanced Training Institutes are proposed to be set up during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). The Modular Employable Skills (MES) programme of the Ministry of Labour & Employment provides short duration courses to prospective trainees using both Government and private infrastructure. It is an attempt towards increasing employment in the unorganized sector at a rapid pace.
In order to achieve our ambitious targets, the skilling efforts of both the Central and the State Governments need to be supplemented by the private sector. Furthermore, skills need to be closely matched with emerging job requirements. This calls for setting up of national standards for skill formation benchmarked to global standards, development of appropriate curriculum design for specific skills and formation of new assessment and certifying bodies besides strengthening the existing ones.
The National Skill Development Corporation has been established for promoting private sector efforts in the area of skill development. In addition, the Government has recently taken the decision to set up the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) to anchor and operationalize the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) which should play a vital role in transforming the quality of training in our country. The NSDA will also endeavor to bridge the social, regional, gender and economic divides in processes of skill development.
I have no doubt that with active participation of the industry, the Trade Unions and the Government, we will be able to achieve more effective outcomes in improving the employability of our youth and thus pave the way for generating decent employment opportunities for them commensurate with their rising aspirations. This is the task to which I commit our country.
Ever since the UPA Government came to power in 2004, we have endeavoured to work for the welfare of workers. When I look back at what I had said when I addressed the 40th Session of this Conference in 2005, I feel a sense of satisfaction that we have delivered substantially on the promises we had made at that time. I had at that time spoken about the need for a new deal to the working people, the need for ensuring the welfare and well being of all workers, particularly those in the unorganized sector, and the legislation that was under consideration in this regard. I am happy that we have achieved good results in these areas, though I would be the first one to recognize that there is much that still needs to be done.
We launched the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) in 2008 to provide for smart card based hospitalization facilities for workers in the unorganized sector. We have been expanding the reach of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) to cover larger numbers of workers in the informal sector. Under this scheme, 3.41 crore smart cards have been issued so far. The RSBY now covers additional categories of workers including construction workers, street vendors, domestic workers and even beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme.
Our Government enacted the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 for the benefit of the workers in the informal sector.
We have increased the eligibility limit under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 from Rs 3500 per month to Rs 10000 per month. The medical bonus payable under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 has also been enhanced. We have also enhanced the period of unemployment allowance to retrenched workers from 6 months to 1 year under the Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojana.
The National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment and the National Policy on HIV and AIDS in the World of Work were put in place in the year 2009.
We have taken proactive steps for elimination of child labour. Our Government has taken a decision to amend the Child Labour Prohibition & Regulation Act, 1986 to ban all child labour below 14 years to enable our children to exercise their right to education. I am happy that the number of children working as labourers in our country has decreased by 45% from 90.75 lakh in 2004-05 to 49.84 lakh in year 2009-10. We now need to ensure that this is brought down further.
A number of Bills have been introduced for amending Acts such as the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988, the Mines Act, 1952 and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. Besides, a number of amendments in labour laws are at various stages of consideration.
The Employees` State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Act was amended in the year 2010 to cover factories employing 10 or more workers, instead of the earlier threshold of 20. The wage ceiling for coverage of employees has been enhanced from Rupees 10,000 to Rs.15,000 per month. The number of establishments covered has increased to 5.80 lakh till the end of 2011-12 from 3.94 lakh in year 2008-09. Twenty seven ESIC hospitals are being modernized and four have already been upgraded. Five new ESIC hospitals were commissioned in 2011-12. Insured persons are now being issued Smart Cards and super specialty treatment facilities have been extended to them. The ESIC organization has undertaken a massive computerization project for more effective delivery of benefits to the insured persons.
Modernization initiatives in the Employees Provident Fund Organization have resulted in 25% increase in the settlement of claims as compared to the previous year. The Status of all Provident Fund Accounts is now available online along with SMS alerts for important account information. Payment is now possible through National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT).
There are certain vulnerable groups of workers that need our special attention. I would urge this Conference to focus particularly on the well being and welfare of migrant workers, domestic workers and those working in unsafe conditions. These groups not only need special legislative support but also a more effective implementation of the existing laws that have been made for their protection and wellbeing. We need to bring in the best international practices for bringing about improvements in their working conditions.
The Government of India, Industry, Trade Unions and State Governments need to work in partnership to strengthen our society, our economy and our country. I would like to take today`s opportunity to reaffirm our Government`s firm commitment to building such a partnership. We are all aware that our economy is going through difficult circumstances and our growth is not what we would like it to be. Even as the Government works for reversing this situation and I am confident, we can do so and we will do it, we need the cooperation of both Captains of Industry and our Trade Unions. In the recent months we have taken a number of steps to boost investment, encourage enterprise and improve business sentiment. We have paid special attention to the need for removing bottlenecks that hamper new industrial activity. I would urge you all Captains of Industry and Trade Union leaders to help us in making a success of these efforts. I wish your deliberations all success.