Ninan on labour reforms

Mr. T. N. Ninan does an encore. He follows up his reluctant praise for demonetisation effects last week with another reluctant and muted praise for the government’s initiatives on the Labour front.

It would be a pity if parliament does not give its imprimatur, because the proposed changes are what the doctor ordered: offering flexibility in operations to the smaller companies, better compensation for the retrenched, a more representative character for trade unions, and a new framework for minimum wages. The proposals have been in the works for the best part of two years, and found brief mention in Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech this year. But the Congress has already declared its opposition. [Link]

That the Congress Party is opposing it is as unsurprising as it is disappointing.

He adds that these have come on top of what has been put in place since last year:

If the new laws (compressing 44 existing enactments into four broad “codes” on wages, social security, safety regulations and trade unions) do go through, they will come on top of the changes introduced last year for greater flexibility in the working of the textile and garment sectors, and the amendment of the law on apprentices.

This last has put in place a blueprint for the study-cum-work arrangement of the kind that has worked elsewhere: workers earn while they learn, and the training is linked to the prospect of real employment. This is designed to give a new thrust to the skilling programme, and (it is hoped) increase dramatically the number of apprentices in the system. Among other things, it offers better pay to those who join companies as apprentices.

We also know that the government has announced some sound initaitives on education in the budget:

There are many interesting initiatives on the education front – a system for measuring learning outcomes (paragraph 48), promise of reforming UGC, on making institutions more autonomous (paragraph 50), MOOC through ‘Swayam’ (paragraph 51), a national testing agency for exams (paragraph 52), streamlining procedures of government recruitment, two-tier system of examination for government jobs (paragraph 127), etc. [Link]

In addition, the following are at different stages of implementation:

1. Efforts to liberalise higher education – 20 world class universities regulations, IIM Bill
2. Establishment of Higher Education Financing Agency
3. Focus on learning outcomes – an Index to foster competition among states, and in general learning outcomes becoming the primary objective of all education interventions.
4. Reforms to the Medical Council of India.

Further, there was the national digital storage and retrieval system for student transcripts announced in the last budget (2016-17). It may seem small but it is very significant.

They all add up to something that has not been attempted before.

More importantly, they are worth shouting about. The government should also be directing its energy towards accomplishing and concluding these – it must finish what it started. Ministers should be held accountable for these. The Prime Minister cannot deploy material incentives as corporations do. But, he can publicly praise them, promote them and thus reward them through recognition, if they complete these initiatives.

Commentators too can lend more voceferous and sustained support despite their aversion to the government (if it is there) because the nation needs these for the long-term.


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