Govt mulling universal social security cover for workers: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the government was at an advance stage of considering a universal social security cover for workers while acknowledging that there could be "no disagreement" on issues raised by trade unions during the February general strike.

Noting that the coverage would extend to workers in both the organised and unorganised sectors, he said the government was also considering creation of a national social security fund, fixing a national floor-level minimum wage and a minimum pension of Rs 1000 per month under Employees’ Pension Scheme.

"The recent two-day strike by trade unions focused on a number of issues relating to the welfare not only of the working classes but also the people at large. These include demands on which there can be no disagreement," he said inaugurating the 45th Indian Labour Conference here.

The government, he said, supported demands which include concrete measures for containing inflation and employment generation opportunities as they are "unexceptionable". They also include strict implementation of labour laws.

"There can however be differences on the best ways of fulfilling these demands and we are willing to engage constructively with the trade unions in this regard," he said.

The trade unions had gone on a two-day general strike in February this year pressing for implementation of their 10-point charter of demands.

A Group of Ministers was set up thereafter under the Finance Minister to look into them and resolve issues which require further dialogue. While the GoM meets on May 22, the Prime Minister expressed confidence that "soon we will see some forward movement" out of the deliberations.

He said the Cabinet has already approved amendments to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 to provide for a statutory National Floor-Level Minimum Wage.

His support for some of the issues of the workers' bodies came as he conceded that many of the demands reflect the concern that growth and progress should be inclusive and should particularly benefit the under-privileged sections of the society.

"This is a concern that has been very dear to our government. We believe that providing our people with productive employment opportunities is the best way of achieving this objective," he said.

The Prime Minister said the government has made serious efforts in implementing various employment generation programmes such as MNREGA and National Rural Livelihood Mission by providing employment opportunities to a large number of people included those coming from the backward classes.

"MNREGA has been particularly helpful in reducing inter- state migration of labour, elimination of bonded labour and raising the purchasing power of the rural households," he said.

Women participation under this scheme has also been more than 48 per cent.
Underlining that rural women were increasingly going for self-employment
opportunities in ever-increasing numbers, he said out of 44.32 lakh self-help groups in the country, 30.21 lakh are exclusively for women.

The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) programme lauched in 2008 has seen 3.41 crore smart cards issued to the beneficiaries so far.

The modernisation initiatives in the Employees Provident Fund Organisation have resulted in 25 per cent increase in the settlement of claims as compared to the previous year, he said.

On the occasion, the Prime Minister said a number of amendments in labour laws were at various stages of consideration.

Observing that certain vulnerable groups of workers like migrant workers need "special attention", he asked the conference to focus particularly on their well-being along with those of domestic workers and those working in unsafe conditions.

"These groups not only need special legislative support but also a more effective implementation of the existing laws that have been made for their protection and well-being. We need to bring in the best international practices for bringing about improvements in their working conditions," he said.

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