The Central Government has prepared a draft law called Code of Industrial Relation to replace several existing laws — the Industrial Disputes Act, the Trade Unions Act and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act. A part of these attacks on the working class the government has amended the Apprentice Act in November 2014 to legalise the practice of super-exploiting young workers without regularising their jobs, so that young workers can be made to work for years on end without minimum wages, leave, or any social security benefits. Further the National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) has been launched to enable the capitalists to replace regular workers with trainees and apprentices. It allows capitalists to pay extremely low wages and deny all statutory benefits for three years of “training”. The workers and their unions have been fighting against the sustained attack by the capitalists through various means.
In the past decade, there has been an unprecedented increase in employment of “non-permanent workers” across all sectors. In Tamil Nadu’s auto, electronics and other manufacturing industries, scores of young men and women are being employed as apprentices or trainees at low wages. Under the guise of being given training, they work on the production line and are engaged in same work as permanent workers but at a fraction of the wages. This form of labour restructuring, like outsourcing and contractualisation, has been done with only one motive and that is to reduce financial burden on employers as these workers will not only be paid lower wages than permanent worker as a “stipend” but will also absolve companies from other “liabilities” such as social security.
Existing laws including the Industrial Standing Orders Act, Apprentices Act and others allow trainees to be appointed for a specific period of time leaving their confirmation or discontinuing their term to the discretion of the management. The workers are made to work as trainees for as long as 4 to 7 years without any possibility of being regularized. Some of the trainees who have been unfairly terminated have managed to resist this practice through legal process and have won temporary victories. In a recent case trainees worker in Hinduja Foundries in Sri Perambudur the court was forced to reinstate three trainees.
According to reports, one of the workers, who filed the case, completed his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from an ITI joined Hinduja Foundry. There were many such trainees and some of whom were regularized the previous year. However, after the permanent workers began to form a union, the management began to terminate the trainees who were close to confirmation stage as they felt it would lend strength to the union. Of the three workers who filed the case, two were employed as operators while one of them was in quality control. The timeline reveals that for all three workers, the training period, initially for one year, was extended further by a year. The workers were deployed on the production line from day one, and were merely given the label of “trainees”. While the courts have ordered reinstatement of the workers with back wages from the date on which their respective training period ended, the Hinduja management has not complied with the order and workers have filed contempt petition which will now be heard in Kanchipuram court.
In a similar case of the trainee in Wabco, the worker’s training period was extended three times after which he was finally placed on probation for a year. After the completion of the probation period the worker was forcibly retrenched. The management provided false alleged errors committed by the worker as justification for termination, which the court dismissed.
Another case of a worker in Asian Paints is similar to the one in Wabco where the worker had completed training, then placed on probation following which he was terminated. Here too, the court has ordered reinstatement with back wages.
The practice of employing workers as trainees and extending the term indefinitely is increasing and even the small relief that they get from court as a result of long litigation it is challenged by the management who have unlimited resources at the command.
Apart from paying less to the workers as trainee the management uses them as a leverage to continue production when the permanent workers go on strike. This shows that although they are called trainees they are capable to carry our regular production.
The recent victory of the workers will encourage more workers to resist this must unjust attack on their rights.