Indian Bishops' Labor Day Message

“Work Is Central to People’s Well-Being”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

NEW DELHI, India, APRIL 9, 2011 ( Here is a message from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Commission for Labour on the occasion of Labor Day, which will be celebrated May 1 in that country.

* * *

In Search of Decent Work


The Vision statement of Strategic Plan of Ministry of Labour & Employment of Central Government for next five years says “Decent working conditions and improved quality of life of workers, ensuring India without child labour in hazardous sectors and enhancing employability through employment services and skill development on a sustainable basis.”[1]

In the opinion of International Labour Organization, Work is central to people’s well-being. In addition to providing income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. Such progress, however, hinges on work that is decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their lives.[2] According to ILO the four pillars of decent work are creating jobs, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection and prompting social dialogue between workers’ and employers’ organizations.[3]

The Labour Day, on May 1st, reminds us to reflect on the above mentioned four pillars of decent work. The importance of work and role of human beings therein, are the two aspects in defining decent work in the society.

Relevance of the Theme

On May 1, 2000 on the occasion of the Jubilee of Workers, Pope John Paul II issued an appeal for a global coalition in favour of “decent work”, supporting the strategy of the International Labour Organization.

He explains the decent work as follows:
Work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman.
Work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community.
Work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination.
Work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labour.
Work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely and to make their voices heard.
Work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level.
Work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.

Pope Benedict XVI says, “The dignity of human work is violated when work opportunities are limited or a low value is put on it and the related right to a just wage and personal security for the worker and his or her family.” [4]

Present Indian Scenario

The tendency to make huge amount of wealth without much labour always existed in the society. All kind of social evils are side effects of the greed for acquiring easy money. In every society, we have seen people going after money, which is acquired through improper ways or unaccountable methods. For instance, it would seem very clear in the business of sweepstake, in which the participants’ goal is only to get huge money without much investment or work. This attitude is against true service and social transformation .According to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The great Nature has intended us to earn our bread in the sweat of our brow. Every one, therefore, who idles away a single minute becomes to that extent a burden upon his neighbours”[5] . The Bible story of workers in the vineyard gives the message of hard work. Here what the employer had emphasized is the willingness to give work to those who were idle and the employer is rewarding the workers’ readiness rather than the ability or quantum of service rendered to him.[6] Therefore work becomes the center of all well-being and when available resources are utilized for creating jobs for people through creative economy that generates opportunity for investment of development projects, entrepreneurships and sustainable livelihood instead of keeping the money idle. ILO observes South Asian Employment Trends 2011 “Rapid economic growth has resumed, but an expansion of wage employment and social safety nets, is needed to reduce the region’s large decent work deficits” [7] ILO has also sounded an early warning that global unemployment could increase alarmingly by anything between 18 and 50 million this year. Research shows by 2030, India will have the largest working age population in the world and possibly the youngest population too. [8] Today, the question is whether this growing young population is competent enough to get a decent work. The government has come out with a skill development mission to create a skilled population of 50 million. [9] But lack of an adequate institutional mechanism, outdated or misrepresented labour laws, which go against the need for more apprenticeship programmers and lack of investment at the right level, negates the efforts.

The Indian society consists of three categories of workers agricultural, manufacturing and community service. In these three sectors there are 470 million workers out of 1.15 billion Indian population.[10] It shows huge number of people are dependents, who deserve different kinds of social security.

Unorganized Sector Workers

All workers are covered under informal sector and formal sector or unorganized and organized workers. Organized sector are workers on regular wages or salaries, in registered firms and with access to the state social security system and are covered by the framework of labour law. They are service sector and industrial sector employees. Out of India’s huge labour force, only about 6% are in the organized sector (five years ago it was 7 %). The rest-94% of the workers are in what is known as the ‘unorganized’ or ‘informal’ economy.[11] The unorganized workers are those who are not legally protected in terms of work or don’t have direct relationship with employer, or who are undocumented. The unorganized firms are supposed to be small[12]. In fact today substantial work-force, even within so called organized sector, is deliberately taken as casual or contractual workers. Thus a great number of workers are being exploited, oppressed. They are just treated as a piece of commodity in the labour market and are considered as objects and machines to achieve the target of maximum production. The degradation of man as an object of work has set in the working conditions in the unorganized sector. Their lives are on contract and are not dignified with decent work. There is no provision for protection of labour laws that look after important employment-related issues such as conditions of work, wage, social security, provident fund, old age pension and maternity leave.

As per the official documents, these unorganized workers are contributing 60% of GDP[13] .These groups of unorganized sector workers are an integral part of the society, even then they are neglected. The unorganized workers of our country are being exploited in numerous ways like long hours of work without decent wage and security of the job and with no provision of support during contingencies like hospitalization, old age, and education support of the children etc. The voice of the workers in the unorganized sector is not heard, as they do not have collective bargaining capacity due to lack of organizations or unions. Women and children are the most affected among the workers in the unorganized sector as they are exploited to the maximum in various ways. The phenomenon of child labour is increasing as a social evil. In our country, 18% of children aged 5-14 years are not attending school[14]. A large number of workers in the unorganized sectors are not aware of or not informed of various rights and facilities available to them. So they continue to be in the dark and are being exploited throughout. The State governments demand authentic documents to obtain any benefit or service of the Government. These documents include birth certificate, Unique ID, Residential Certificate, Voter ID, Bank Acco
unt, Public distribution Card etc. Today most of the unorganized workers do not have the above mentioned authentic documents. Mainly because of the reason that they are migrants or their lack of awareness or not have of proper facilitation or lack of effective administration from the grass root level.

Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act 2008

As a new initiative, the Government of India, in order to safeguard the interest of the workers in the unorganized sector has launched new schemes, and also has enacted the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act 2008. The Act gives provision of formation of National and state social security boards which would have network of Districts and Panchayaths through Workers’ Facilitation Centers -Mazdoor Suvidha Kendra all over the Country. The Workers’ Facilitation Centre (WFC) will be the main instrument for implementation of the Act[15]. The main function of WFC is the registration of workers by which workers would get a social security number with identity cards. Same Act oversees the function of labour disputes through conciliation and arbitration by setting up committees in consultation with the State Board. Further the Act gives provisions for the functions of increasing skill and productivity of worker. So Workers Facilitation Centers would make marketing linkages to workers in order to constitute employment exchanges for unorganized sector and to provide linkages for financial services to workers.

The Unorganized Workers Act is a broad legislation that covers workers scattered through the length and breadth of India. The Act propose to create Workers Facilitation Centres which is a positive step. But the fact is that for this set-up there is no guarantee of implementation with sufficient laws enforcement system, infrastructure for the implementation of the schemes. Most of the available Social Security systems are Scheme based not Right based. E.g. There are about 90 Central and State Schemes[16] and Insurance Schemes like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojan (only for BPL, Swavalamban Scheme (recent one). Most of these schemes should be right based not project oriented. Project oriented schemes can change according to the mindset of the ruling party. These are not legally binding and not questionable in court or legal set ups. So these schemes rarely reach out to the real target group. There is not much awareness about these schemes. It is also well known fact that there is no proper implementation system for such schemes

Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008, also gives the role for unions or Labour Movements. Workers facilitation centre could be initiated by unions or Movements. These will be recognized by state governments[17]. But presently, the union’s fight for decent work is very weak. The aim of Trade Union Act and Movement is to protect and safeguard the legitimate interest of workers and save them from inhuman and cruel exploitation of employer. To a great extent, it has been serving the purpose for legal empowerment of workers. But over the years the misrepresentation has happened in unionism. For some of them especially leaders it has become a profitable affaire .They take the innocent gullible workers for a ride to serve their own vested interest. Unions fail because they demand wage without work and fight for it instead of demand for right to work.

Some Practical Suggestions

The workers’ empowerment will take place only by organizing workers with specific, systematic, people oriented and legally binding activities, where the decent work becomes a reality. This legal empowerment of workers would derive from right based security scheme and assistance of union or movement activities. We have model for this types of program i.e., The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, wherein the scheme is supported by law and the involvement of people’s organizations. This approach & strategies should extend and widen to all sections of employment that would help all workers to come under the organized sector. Pope Benedict XVI observes ”Workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.”[18]

There are two ways of organizing workers. One is enabling workers for collective bargaining, mainly as in organized sector and the second is empowering workers with welfare of right based schemes. Unorganized workers’ organizations should make its activities more systematic, people oriented and legally binding through right based welfare programs. Labour organization has to establish Workers Facilitation Centers- Mazdoor Suvidha Kendra at village level with the help of trained facilitators or workers’ leaders. This platform is being used to educate the working class about their rights, duties and availability of various government welfare schemes. As a concept of public-private participation unorganized workers’ organizations do present the available schemes of unorganized workers in a coordinated way. This facilitation work is the need of the hour in India in order to safeguard the interests of the workers in the unorganized sector. Today unorganized workers need legal empowerment. It is a systematic mapping or identifying the workers, like union and movement memberships and renewals. Thus union or movement center would facilitate the workers to acquire the welfare scheme benefits. Here union leader will be a facilitator and union office would be a facilitation center to educate the working class about their rights, duties and availability of various government welfare schemes for them. This approach would lead to organized trade unions to form workers’ Movements, Forums, SHGs and Cluster groups sector-wise, where worker would get independence and dignity. In this process promotion of social dialogue between organizations of workers and employer would take place that would lead to creation of platform for decent jobs in the society.

Workers’ India Federation

Workers’ India Federation, a national level workers’ organization, established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, has been working all over India through affiliated labour movements and trade unions . Most of the members are unorganized sector workers. Past 39 years, with the help of various Church-social centers, technical institutions, child and women rehabilitation centers and dedicated leaders, CBCI Labour Commission has been rendering service to nation. With limited facilities and resources some programs have been executed and many issues and problems related to workers’ have been addressed and solved by CBCI Labour Commission. Even then we are aware; it was only a humble effort to bring peace to families of workers, to create a society free of child labour, to fight for sustainable livelihood for workers with just wages and social security. In its efforts to create an atmosphere for decent work in our society, Workers India Federation (WIF) plans the future course of programs with the support of likeminded people in coming years.


Pope Benedict XVI says “Today the picture of development has many overlapping layers. The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the
problems”[19]. Hoping the realization of this great vision, we wish all the workers of our country, A Happy May Day!

Most. Rev. Oswald Lewis
Chairman, Labour Commission
& Bishop of Jaipur

* * *


[1][2]–en/index.htm[3] Ibid

[4] Caritas
in Veritate No 63[5] Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi , Neither Saint, Nor Sinner, YI, 11-4-1929, p. 144-15[6] The Bible. Mathew, 20

[7] ILO Global Employment Trends 2011: Weak Jobs Recovery to Continue, Page 45[8] TV Mohandas Pai, Board Member, Infosys Technologies, The Economic Times daily 30 Jan, 2011[9] Draft Strategic Plan of Ministry of Labour & Employment for next five years, 2011, Page 43

[10]Labour Ministry’s 2010 Annual Report to People and Employment Para 2[11] Draft Strategic Plan of Ministry of Labour & Employment for next five years, 2011, Page 2[12] Report of National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector 2007

[13][14] ILO Global Employment Trends 2011: Weak Jobs Recovery to Continue, Page 47[15] Unorganized Sector Workers Act, 2008,Chapter III

[16] Social Security for unorganized Sector Workers in India: A Critical Appraisal, V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, Delhi, 2010, Page 8[17] Unorganized Sector Workers Act, 2008, Section 12,A[18] Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI “CARITAS IN VERITATE” No .25[19] Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI “CARITAS IN VERITATE” No 22

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation