New Minimum Wage Rejected By Left Unions, Friday Strike On

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Trade unions have called a nationwide strike on Friday


New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Minimum wage for some workers raised from Rs 246 to Rs 350: centre
  2. Trade unions have called for huge shutdown on Friday
  3. Government okays some demands, but says foreign investment rules stay
Trade unions have refused to call off a huge strike on Friday despite the government agreeing to some of their demands including raising the minimum wage of a large swathe of labour.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley this afternoon said the minimum wage for semi-skilled non-agricultural workers will be increased from Rs 246 to Rs 350. States can choose to improve that, but cannot offer less. However, union leaders said states like Delhi and Karnataka already offer more than that. "The announcement on daily wages means only status quo," said Tapan Sen of CITU or the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. "No major demand has been accepted, there is no question of calling off the strike," he said.

Mr Jaitley said that two years' worth of bonuses due to central employees will be released now. However, he said the government will not consider its new rules on foreign investment.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called an emergency meet of Mr Jaitley, Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Power Minister Piyush Goyal to strategise about what could be offered to unions to persuade them to cancel Friday's shutdown, which is meant to close banks, government offices and factories across the country. Several state unions have said they back the strike, which means public transport could be affected.

The unions have since September last year been pushing for 12 major demands include raising the minimum wage. They are also opposed to the government's recent loosening of rules for foreign investment particularly in sectors like insurance and defence, where, they say, national security could be compromised.

The strike and accusations of not protecting workers' interests come at a time when the government is delivering major reforms to re-energise the economy, and trying to fight the perception of it aligning with the interests of big business.

The PM last week told his party leaders that they must publicise and more effectively communicate pro-poor welfare schemes.

The Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a major union linked to the ruling BJP's ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, has said it will skip Friday's strike, with leaders saying that the government has accepted several of its major demands.

If it had participated in the strike, Left-affiliated unions and the opposition would have been able to claim that the government's policies are unacceptable even to agencies with close ties.


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