Sunday, May 1, 2011

Call the Shramik Helpline--NMIZ labour policy inhumane, unsustainable

Legalizing slavery and allowing strip mining in tiger reserves would be the logical extension of the arguments being advanced by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry

Last night, I was reading the electric message board at the front of the bus I was riding. It was announcing various helplines' there was a woman's helpline, a student's helpline, a senior's helpline. Who can argue with a helpline, I thought, though it would be nice if the phone numbers didn't flash by quite so quickly. That way, someone in need might actually be able to write them down and use them.

Today, I read the CM Dikshit has announced another helpline, timed to coincide with May Day. The Shramik Helpline will protect the rights of workers and will be used to combat child labour. Here's something from a report in the Indian Express:
“The helpline is being commissioned to provide a sense of confidence and assurance to workers and make it an effective tool for approaching the authorities in case of denial of the minimum wages by the employers and (for) enforcement of all labour laws,” a statement from the government read....In case of a call regarding child labour, the Labour department will ensure that the child is rescued.
I think this helpline has arrived just in time. I just read today that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is pushing something called National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZ). According to an official quoted in today's issue of Delhi's Sunday Guardian:
"The proposed policy will help achieve higher GDP by exempting labour laws and prohibiting formation of trade unions in the zones...This will help in increasing the share of the manufacturing sector in the GDP from the current level of 16-17% to 25% by 2022."
There is widespread, brutal poverty in the land. Of course we need economic growth. But advocates of "growth at all costs" don't really care about that.  The growth they advocate is neither sustainable, nor humane. It will result in a ruined environment, larger slums and a few more super-rich factory owners. 

Think about this: if you are willing to suspend labour rights in the name of economic growth, are you also willing to allow strip mining in our wildlife parks? Or maybe just go the whole way and legalize child labour and slavery. After all, with the price of raw materials rising, there is probably more short term money to be made from iron ore and lumber than there is from tigers and deer. That's what zoos are for. Besides, there is a great deal of new historical research that suggests slavery was actually very profitable, and that it fueled economic growth.  

Sorry, but no thanks. I think it's time someone call that worker helpline to complain: we don't need these NMIZ's. We need just, sustainable growth.


What do you think?