New Delhi, Feb 14 (IBNS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the 44th session of Indian Labour Conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Following is the text of the Prime Minister's address on the occasion:
"It is always a pleasure for me to participate in this annual event. It goes without saying that we cannot achieve our goals of fast and inclusive growth and of building a modern, industrializing economy without having sound industrial relations in our country. The industry, our workers and the government must work harmoniously and in partnership with each other if we are to achieve rapid and inclusive economic progress. And herein lies the importance of the Indian Labour Conference. We are all aware that the previous Sessions of the Conference have contributed handsomely to fostering a sense of partnership and promoting the workers' welfare. As you begin deliberations in this 44th Session of the Indian Labour Conference, I have no doubt that you will carry forward the excellent record of the preceding Sessions.
We should all be proud of the fact that our national leadership has always attached great importance to the promotion of healthy industrial relations and well being of our workers. The first Session of the Indian Labour Conference, known at that time as the Tripartite National Labour Conference was held way back in 1942. Since then the Conference has met 43 times to discuss topical issues concerning industrial relation, labour welfare and related issues. As Prime Minister, I had participated in the Indian Labour Conference for the first time in its 40th Session held in the year 2005. At that time I had said that the UPA government was committed to ensuring the welfare and well-being of all workers, particularly those in the unorganized sector. I reaffirm that commitment today. Indeed, our government has worked hard to translate our commitment into action in the last seven and a half years that we have been in office at the Centre.
The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna, which now covers more than 2.5 crore Below Poverty Line families in the unorganized sector, has been extended to cover construction workers, street vendors, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme beneficiaries, Beedi workers and domestic workers. Death and disability cover is being provided to the rural landless under the Aam Admi Bima Yojna. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has checked distress migration substantially from our villages and brought about an improvement in the wages of rural workers. For ESIC coverage, the threshold limit of establishments has been brought down from 20 to 10 persons. ESIC has also undertaken extension of medical services through an indirect system of empanelment of doctors. Large-scale infrastructure and IT modernization, provisions for super-specialty treatment and other such measures have led to an improvement in the Employees State Insurance Corporation's (ESIC's) services to the beneficiaries. The Employees Provident Fund Organisation has taken major steps to widen its coverage particularly among construction workers. Records of its 60 million members are being computerized to bring about significant improvement in the quality of services.
The initiatives taken by our government in the social sectors are indeed yielding results. There has been a major reduction in the number of child workers in the last few years. The India Human Development Report 2011 reported that the proportion of 6 to 14 year old children who are working has fallen from 6.2% in 1994 to 2% in the year 2010. The Right to Education Act 2009, which provides for compulsory education up to 14 years, will further contribute towards eliminating the curse of child labour.
I understand that one of the items on the agenda of this Conference is employment and employability. I would like to emphasize that our government stands committed to creating a regime of economic management which will create more job opportunities. But job opportunities can come only if the economy is expanding, and expanding fast enough. We have in the last couple of years managed to accelerate the rate of growth and it is my ambition that our country should work together - employers and workers representatives' - to achieve a growth rate of at least 9%. With that growth, we can hope to get rid of the chronic curse of poverty, ignorance and disease which still, I believe, afflicts millions and millions of our people. It is in this spirit I hope you will discuss the issues that are before this August gathering.
I understand that one of the items on the agenda of this conference is employment and employability. This is an area that I consider particularly important. We need to provide opportunities for gainful employment to the large number of young people who enter the work force every year. Youth employment is a high-priority agenda item for our government. This can happen only if we equip our young people with skills that are required to meet the demands of our rapidly growing economy.
The rapid growth of the Indian economy since 2004 has clearly brought out the shortcomings of our skill development processes. Today, availability of skills is possibly the single most important constraint to rapid industrial growth. Recognizing this problem, we have launched the Skill Development Mission, which seeks to bring about a massive increase in the number of formally trained workers through Public Private Partnership. We are in the process of designing and developing a National Vocational Qualification Framework for competency standards, for affiliation and for accreditation. The labour market information system is also being revamped. The efforts of the various Ministries and Departments that are involved in skill training are being coordinated to expand outreach and increase accessibility. The Ministry of Labour & Employment under the distinguish leadership of my friend Kharge Ji has embarked upon the task of establishing 1500 New Industrial Training Institutes and 5000 Skill Development Centres in the country during the next three years. Special emphasis is being given for expanding training infrastructure in the left-wing extremism affected districts of our country.
However, the process of expanding the skill development infrastructure is progressing slower than I had initially hoped. The private sector would need to engage itself much more vigorously in these efforts if we are to overcome this massive challenge. Poor students must find it financially viable to learn a skill rather than take up a job prematurely. This requires that industry and the government should work together to ensure that such students are adequately financed.
Our Government is fully committed to strengthening labour laws and ensuring their compliance for securing the welfare of our working class. Illustratively, the Factories Act, 1948 which is one of the most important Central legislation designed to regulate the working conditions in our factories as well as health, safety and welfare of our workers, is currently in the process of amendment. The need for amending the Factories Act has been felt because of a number of developments since 1987 when the Act was last amended. These include concerns arising out of disasters such as the Bhopalgas tragedy, especially those relating to industrial disaster mitigation, rehabilitation and compensation for industrial workers and other affected persons. Amendments to the Act have also been necessitated to facilitate our ratification of several ILO Conventions.
There is often a view expressed that the Indian labour policies unduly protect the interests of the currently employed labour and act against the expansion of employment in the organized sector. However, this view has lost its importance in recent years as more and more State governments have become considerably more flexible in their approach to labour restructuring and rationalization. Though our government remains committed to protecting the interests of our workers, we must periodically take a critical look whether our regulatory framework has some parts which unnecessarily hamper the growth of employment, enterprise and industry without really contributing significantly to labour welfare.
Before I end I would like to mention two important issues that I consider important. One of the most under-utilized resources in our country is our women. Female labour force participation rates are extremely low in our country and have remained more or less constant over the past decades. In order to bring more women into the work force, it is necessary to understand the constraints that they face in balancing their family and work responsibilities. Although the provision of creches is now built into our regulations, including those for MNREGA, this is clearly not enough. We would also need to make provision for part-time work which would have the same characteristics as in full-time employment. If this requires legislative changes, we should be prepared to do so and begin working on a blueprint for making this a reality.
The other issue that I would like to flag relates to that of migrant labour. At present our systems to ensure the welfare and well-being of migrant workers are weak. These need to be strengthened and we must all pool our knowledge, wisdom and experience to ensure that this, in fact, happens. In this context perhaps the Aadhar numbers can become a significant device in ensuring portability of the rights of migrant labour.
It is my fervent hope that your deliberations at this conference will be useful and productive. I wish you all the very best in your noble efforts to build upon the work of the previous Sessions of the Indian Labour Conference."