ByÂ Sukant Khurana:
To the representatives of Indian people,
There have been several strokes of pen by the legislature that have left an indelible mark on our society. Right to education, land reforms, right to information and many such legislative acts also happen to be political masterstrokes for those who stand or accidentally land on the right side of history. CPM’s single act of somewhat genuine land reforms in West Bengal gave them several decades of unquestioned support from the countryside as it empowered previously landless millions. A whole generation that benefitted from that state level change turned blind eye to CPM’s several colossal failures because of what this single act of land reform had done to empower their families.
Dealing with the widespread menace of contractual jobs is a dire need. A legislative change about it has the potential of influencing all walks of Indian life at a much larger scale than land reforms and enable India to be a more equitable, more just and happier country. It is a surprise that neither the opportunists nor the idealists of Indian politics have taken up this issue seriously. I am writing this open letter to urge Indian politicians, especially AAP, which appears to be trying an experiment with real democracy, to embrace this struggle of masses.
Contractual jobs are only a necessity where the job is of a small scale and the demand for employment is temporary. In India, most contractual jobs do not meet these criteria but account for one of the largest chunks of the national employment figures. The reality of contractual job is that if the monthly salary is 10,000 Rupees then the private sector employer pays 3000 Rupees and asks the contractual employee to sign for 10,000 Rupees. In a lower end job, there is not much that the poor worker can do, as a protest would mean the termination of employment. This fate of contractual jobs is not limited to daily wage earners and the lowest rung of Indian society but there are educated middle class people, such as schoolteachers across India signing for much higher salaries than they receive. In the absence of a “free market”, with the specific situation of “jobs exceeding labour supply”, a contractual worker is always left at the mercy of employer’s exploitation. The employees have to work unpaid hours and do tasks that are not part of the original job description. Contractual nature of jobs largely precludes work force from participating in trade unions and receive other benefits of permanent workers, such as retirement plans and sick leaves.
This exploitative situation is not limited to the private sector. These days both central and state governments hire people mostly on contractual basis for jobs that are in reality permanent in nature. For example, Delhi Transport Corporation hires contractual employees and then throws them out of job every few months, sending them to the back of the line, so it does not have to offer permanent employment and its associated benefits. Overwhelming majority of Indian society does not have any old age and disability security because of being on a contractual job. It forces large section of work force and their families to face uncertain future, everyday harassment and bleak future prospects. Doing away with the menace of contractual jobs would usher in a new era of social, economic and geographical mobility needed to transform India into a developed country.
I would urge AAP (and any other political groups interested in listening to people) to take up the issue of working on legislative changes to ensure that contractual jobs are offered in India, if and only if the strict criteria for it are met. I would also urge towards working on the actual distribution of signed pay, where contractual job criteria are met, with specific legislation to ensure strict punishment for violators.