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Kerala to bring bill for protection of domestic workers’ rights

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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has announced that a specific bill for the protection of domestic workers’ rights is nearing completion and that it would be the first of its kind in India

This is apart from the large number of benefits provided to the scheme and care workers in the State, who are predominantly women, the Chief Minister said while speaking at the Labour Conclave on Wednesday.

“Given the fact that as many as 84 sectors have minimum wages fixed and revised timely, Kerala stands ahead of many other States with respect to wages and benefits. Incidentally, I must point out that as per the RBI report, the highest daily wage rate for male non-agricultural workers in rural India, is in Kerala at Rs 677.6 in 2020-21. It is more than double the all India average at Rs. 315.3,” he said.

“The Government of India has introduced four new labour codes. Draft Rules appropriate for Kerala have already been prepared for discussion in the State Legislature. Workers’ rights are part of Kerala’s public discourse and ensuring them is part of our legacy. We will continue to uphold them.”

“We have pledged to remove extreme poverty by 2025. We believe that Kerala can be as prosperous as an advanced middle-income country in the next twenty to twenty five years, with the qualification that no one will be left behind.”

“Our path of development is distinguished by our concern and care for all people, regardless of gender, caste, religion, or social background. We are proud of our tradition of inclusiveness and of secular, democratic advance, especially with regard to the world of work and labour.”

“As far as Kerala goes, we have one of the best records with respect to workers’ rights in the global south,” he said

Kerala is being exceptional in protecting and advancing workers’ rights at a time when workers’ rights are waning worldwide, he added.

In terms of providing decent employment, forming unions, workers’ cooperatives, welfare boards and pension schemes, and ensuring inclusivity and the protection of migrant rights, Kerala has evolved as a role model, he said.

“We comply with the main principles of the ILO, including the tripartite structure, in which the government, employers, and employees meet to resolve disputes.”

“The right to work is upheld. Child labour has been outlawed. We affirm protection against discrimination. Social security is ensured particularly with respect to women workers. Wage protection is offered. Workers grievances are resolved.”

“They have the right to organise and form trade unions. Collective bargaining, and management participation is also available to our workers. All these are guaranteed by the State’s safety net.”

Since 1957, when Kerala’s first State Government came to power, we have implemented a rights based strategy to accommodate the requirements of workers in the formal and informal sectors, he said.

By passing the Kerala Minimum Wage Rules in 1958, Kerala’s first ministry showed the world how workers’ rights can be protected by assuring minimum wages.

Kerala is the first State in India to establish welfare fund boards for its workers, beginning with the Toddy Tappers Welfare Fund Board in 1969, he said.

Stating that it was in the same year that the Kerala Dinesh Beedi Workers Cooperative Society was also formed, he said both experiments triggered the formation of a large number of welfare boards and workers’ cooperatives all over the state, across various sectors.

A significant turning point in the welfare of the workers, however, was the Kerala Welfare Fund Act which ensured financial contributions by the government, employers, and employees, he said.

As a result, a large number of Welfare Boards were set up to serve workers – including women – in the informal sectors.

The coverage of traditional industries such as coir, handlooms, cashews and so on are worth citing. In total, there are 24 Welfare Boards in the State which play a crucial role in reducing the livelihood crisis of informal workers. It was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A path breaking effort of the State Government came in 1980 with the implementation of the agricultural workers pension scheme. It was the first major social assistance scheme in India.

Kerala is well renowned for its tripartite mechanism which operates in nearly all of its traditional sectors. The government, the employees, and the employers reached an agreement on the issues of bonus, Onam and Christmas advances and so on, thanks to the tripartite process.

The tripartite system is strengthened through the Industrial Relations Committees which are functional in not less than 12 sectors.

An important dimension of Kerala’s labour policy is that it is integral to the reforms initiated in the industrial sector.

For instance, the tripartite system in the plantation sector has been strengthened by introducing a new plantation policy and also by strengthening the welfare measures of the plantation workers, including an increase in the pension age from 58 to 60.

This is apart from the benefits from the Estate Workers Distress Relief Fund. New management systems are being introduced into the estates as well.

The Income support scheme to provide a financial support of Rs. 1,250 to workers engaged in the traditional sectors like beedi, khadi, fisheries, coir etc. has been progressing over the years with increased budgetary allocations.

The Scheme is implemented through the respective departments. Also, the Kerala Unorganized Social Security Scheme has been formulated by amalgamating various schemes specifically aimed at artisans, barbers, beauticians, temple workers and so on.

“As rapid urbanisation is taking place in the State, we have also come up with a new scheme of Affordable Housing for Unorganized Poor Urban Labourers.”

The recognition of the rights of domestic migrant workers is an integral aspect of the labour policy in Kerala, with a slew of measures in place to support them. We honour them as guest workers. Kerala is one of the most migrant friendly States in the country. They were especially aided during the COVID-19 pandemic with free accommodation, food, and medical care.

The Inter State Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme was introduced in 2010. It established a welfare fund for migrant workers in Kerala under the Kerala Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. Inter state migrant workers in the age group of 18 to 60 could enroll in the scheme. It provided them with financial support in the event of accidental or natural death. Aawaz, a health insurance scheme, was implemented for them in 2017. Apna Ghar envisages the providing of safe and hygienic accommodation for them.

During the COVID-19 crisis, many Labour Welfare Boards announced ex-gratia financial assistance to workers. Besides the direct financial assistance, certain Welfare Boards also offered workers interest free loans.

“The Government took steps to ensure food for all during the lockdown, by setting up community kitchen’s and people’s restaurants. Distribution of free food kits through the ration shops continued even after the lockdown. We even put up shelter homes for the homeless.”

All the social security pensions were distributed two months in advance to around 5.4 million people. An economic revival package which included the distribution of interest free loans amounting to Rs 2,000 crore through Kudumbashree was rolled out.

Welfare Fund Board assistance, social security pensions, food kits, economic revival package and interest free loans were mainly intended to ensure the social security of informal sector workers and other vulnerable sections of the society who lost livelihoods during the lockdown.

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