New Delhi: Trade unions today asked government to increase tax exemption limit to Rs 5 lakh, raise minimum pension to Rs 3,000 and a minimum wage of Rs 18,000, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley underlined the need for providing social security to unorganised sector workers.
During a customary pre-Budget meeting with the Finance Minister, the unions also sought a special package for victims of the recent Tamil Nadu floods.
These demands were raised under a 15-point charter submitted by 11 central trade unions to Jaitley during pre-Budget consultations held here. The Union Budget for the next financial year, 2016-17, is slated to be presented in Parliament in February end. It will take effect from April 1.
"We have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month which is higher than our earlier demand of Rs 15,000," Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh Zonal Organisation Secretary Pawan Kumar said after the meeting.
The 7th Pay Commission has recommended Rs 18,000 as minimum monthly wage for central government workers and it should be the benchmark, he said.
Jaitley, as per a Finance Ministry statement, said that making social security schemes accessible to unorganised sector workers is a major challenge, which the government is keen to address at this juncture where the unorganised sector is growing at a faster pace.
He further said that to make health and social security benefits accessible to un-organised sector workers like construction workers, migrant labourers, volunteers of different schemes like Anganwadi workers "are one of the major priorities of the present government".
The minister suggested that a mechanisms can be thought of wherein social security benefit contributions to workers can be made by employers at a single window for all workers.
After the meeting, All Indian Trade Union Congress Secretary DL Sachdev said: "We have also demanded Rs 3,000 minimum monthly pension for all and asked for a special package for flood ravaged Tamil Nadu to provide relief to workers as well as industry in the next Budget."
Sachdev said that in view of price rise "we have also demanded from the government to increase the income tax exemption limit to Rs 5 lakh per annum".
The unions have also asked that fringe benefits like housing, medical and educational facilities and running allowances in railways should be exempted from Income Tax.
The unions also demanded that PSUs should be strengthened and expanded and the disinvestment of government shares in profit making PSUs should be stopped.
Besides, they said that the budgetary support should be provided for revival of potentially viable sick PSUs.
The unions' joint charter of demand said the threshold limit of 20 employees in Employees' Provident Fund Scheme be brought down to 10.
It said that the government and employers' contribution be increased to allow sustainability of employees pension scheme and for provision of minimum pension of Rs 3,000 per month.
The proposal for introducing option for subscribers in EPF and ESI made in the last year’s Budget should be dropped, it said.
The unions also demanded that the New Pension Scheme be withdrawn and newly recruited employees of central and state governments on or after January 1, 2004 be covered under the Old Pension Scheme.
On Labour Law Reforms, they said: "The process of labour law reforms being pursued by the government to provide for unhindered hire and fire and for pushing the majority of workers outside the purview and protection of most of the labour laws -- all for ease of doing business, be stopped. No labour law amendment be undertaken without the consent of trade unions and workers who are the main stake holders and also the most affected."
On 7th Central Pay Commission, they said: "The government must discuss the issues raised by National Joint Council of Action of Central Government employees and other organisations before taking any decision on the recommendations of the Commission. The issues of minimum wage quantification, lowering of rates of some allowances and abolition of some others have wider ramifications and therefore require
About the contract or casual workers they said that these workers should not be deployed on jobs of perennial nature. Till regularisation, these workers should be paid the same wages and benefits as paid to regular workers doing the same work.
Unions said that the massive workforce engaged in ICDS, Mid-day meal scheme, Vidya volunteers, Guest Teachers, Shiksha Mitra, the workers engaged in the Accredited Social Health Activities (ASHA) and other schemes be regularised.
They added that there should be no privatisation of centrally funded schemes. Budget allocation should not be drastically cut as done in last year; it should be substantially increased.
The unions said that the proper management of cess under construction workers welfare funds be also ensured and there should a national fund administered by central government.
At present, states collect these funds and their welfare boards spend this money for providing benefits to workers.
Unions opposed the hectic measures of changing labour laws by the central as well as some states.
They asked the government to make provisions in the Budget for revival and rehabilitation of MSMEs in Tamil Nadu, which have been destroyed due to floods and for rehabilitation of affected workers.
"It is unfortunate that none of the suggestions made by us collectively in 17th January, 2015 pre-budget consultation meeting were included in 2015-16 budget. Rather drastic cut to the tune of Rs 4.40 lakh crores was made in the allocation of funds for social sector schemes. This drastic cut needs to
be restored and covered up," the unions said.