INTERVIEW | 'IT firms need to relook at HR practices, job security important': Karnataka Labour Minister

The IT firms too need to look at the way they treat their employees -- how they block email IDs overnight and stop their employees from communicating with each other, Lad added.
Karnataka  Labour Minister Santosh Lad. (Photo | Express)
Karnataka Labour Minister Santosh Lad. (Photo | Express)

Nearly 18 lakh people work in the IT/ITeS sector in the state, and now, the state Labour Department is thinking of bringing these companies, a majority of them multinational, under its ambit by ending exemptions given under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. Conversing with the TNSE editors and reporters, state Labour Minister Santosh Lad said IT/ITeS firms need to relook at their HR practices.

Excerpts…

What is the status of bringing IT/ITeS firms under the Labour Department by ending the exemption given to them?
We will speak to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, and ministers concerned, including IT-BT and industries. The IT firms too need to look at the way they treat their employees -- how they block email IDs overnight and stop their employees from communicating with each other. Many stakeholders, including employees, raise these issues. But right now, we do not have a mechanism to help them. IT employees seem powerless and are worried about their job security. We are not here to hold the companies back or to show our power. They should understand that labour laws are important. Just because you are an IT company, you cannot throw your employees out overnight. This attitude needs to change. Employees need some social security. IT companies, otherwise, adhere to all other norms, including gratuity and minimum wages. Our concern is only with their firing policies.

Does it mean IT firms need to relook at their HR practices?
Yes. Job security is important. I am not trying to blame the entire IT sector, but some practices need to be looked into. We want to bring in a comprehensive law after mutual discussions.

What about the IT employees’ working hours?
Sometimes, they have more work and sometimes no work. I am only interested in their social security.

What is the status of providing social security to gig workers?
We have 1.8 crore people in the unorganised sector. Everybody wants social security. I have proposed to the government to collect Re 1 cess on every litre of petrol and diesel. I assume that through this cess, we can collect Rs 2,500-3,000 crore. With this amount, we can take care of the entire 1.8 crore people. We can give them social security, and take care of their and their family health. This is still at the proposal stage. We are going to cover some of them under health insurance in the next six months. Many other unorganised sector workers too are approaching us. In the next two years, we will be able to cover the entire unorganised sector workforce.

What is the status of the initiative to remove bogus construction worker cards?
I personally visited 16 districts. We have got Rs 13,000 crore in the Construction Board. When I was a minister in 2018, there were hardly 12 lakh cardholders, but another 39 lakh cardholders have been added in the last five years. This is because they started issuing cards without verification. A district like Haveri has 2.93 lakh cardholders. We could remove seven lakh fake or duplicate card holders, and the drive will be stepped up. We have stopped issuing new cards now. We are geo-mapping every building and projects like roads, bridges, and other works and this should increase the board collection 2.5 fold.

The scholarship for children of construction workers was reduced drastically, citing no funds ….
In 2020 and 2021, the government doubled the scholarship amount without any justification. Then, there were only three lakh claimants. But this year, claims came from 13 lakh children. If we give the same amount this year, the entire corpus will empty out in just two years. People started misusing the labour card and getting benefits for education and marriage. We decided we would give a little more than the payouts from the social welfare department. Through this, we are providing benefits to a larger number of people.

People are wondering whether health checkups you organise could lead to more scams...
The charges are the same as in government hospitals, but the checkups are being done at private hospitals. Our target is to reach 10 lakh people. Once the preventive healthcare checkup is done, we will have all the data. These checkups are important as poor families cannot afford them. If the government can do it, I believe it is a good thing. This was the plan initiated by the central government and states are following it. We will spend Rs 250-300 crore by the time 10 lakh people are covered.

Why is there a skewed ratio of local labourers in the state?
In the North, there is not much infrastructure work and people migrate from there. These workers dominate the service industry in Kerala to Tamil Nadu. They work for low salaries too. But there is hardly any exodus from Ballari anymore, as MNREGA provides work and mines have reopened in those parts, employing local people. In remote parts, workers get around Rs 320 per day under MNREGA. Why would they come all the way to a city and work for Rs 500?

How is the preparation for the Lok Sabha polls?

I feel, for the last 10 years, the BJP government has been working only on propaganda, creating a perception rather than performing. Propaganda can cover the biggest of failures. I am hopeful with the INDIA alliance. BJP holds only North Indian states as of now. Muslims, Dalits and OBCs will lean considerately towards Congress. Ideologically, BJP will play the Lord Rama card, I hope Rama will bless us more than them. Our five guarantees have reached the grassroots level. These are the programmes that we are banking on.

Do you think AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge will be a better PM than Rahul Gandhi?
It’s a hypothetical question. I don’t think I will be able to answer this. It’s all about the party’s decision. It is too early for me to say anything on this.

You are also Dharwad district in-charge minister and the issue of arresting the Kar Sevak after so many years started from Hubballi. Do you think the timing was a mistake?
I think the BJP gets lucky with controversies. There are so many acquittals in the state. It’s all about public relations. It is not about running the government anymore. This country is run by PROs now.

But the issue was started by Congress with the arrest of Pujari. Shouldn’t the government have waited for some more time?
Eight other people were acquitted (in the Hubballi case) and BJP is not talking about it. The arrest of one (Srikant Pujari) was part of a procedure as he was denied bail by the court. Those acquitted in the same case were Hindus and then, they (BJP) should give credit to the Congress government. What does R Ashoka (Leader of the Opposition) have to say about those acquittals?

Do you think as a politician it is difficult to focus on development because of other distractions?
Today, there is no talk of policymaking. Elections are fought on propaganda and there is no pragmatic approach, like getting the audit sheet and seeking votes on performance. Perhaps, I too have to educate my wife. How can I change her when a heavy dosage of visual media has been feeding the propaganda. I am not against BJP or Narendra Modiji, who is also my Prime Minister. But winning elections is a different thing, and it does not mean everything is right. It is high time that we fight elections based on real issues. I feel things have to change. There should be a platform for all parties to tell people why they should be chosen. Why is there a platform only for two parties? Let it be 50 national parties. Today, if we have power everything can be managed. We have to accept it.

But it is alleged that you pick Tipu Sultan to appease a particular community...
What’s wrong with it? If I have a good opinion about Tipu Sultan, am I not a Hindu? Why are you (BJP) appeasing Ram? Emperor Ashoka was a big warrior and a great king. Why only Ram and why not Sita, who is not talked about much. Let’s have a debate over it. Why is there no debate on scientific and economic issues including, like the country’s GDP? Compare India’s GDP with China’s. In 2014, China was a $10 trillion economy. Now it has surpassed $20 trillion . We were a $2.5 trillion economy in 2014 and now we are hardly a $3.5 trillion economy. Is this your (BJP government’s) great achievement?

But we are the world’s fastest-growing economy. We have made much progress in science and even landed on the Moon…...
That’s why I am saying why should not these things be debated. But India’s rupee value against USD went down, while even Afghanistan’s and Bangladesh’s currencies fared well. Even assuming that we are the fastest-growing economy, we’re nowhere near China. India’s external debt rose. The debates should happen on these issues. Instead, it is happening only on controversial issues. We need to talk about issues such as demonetisation. Where are Rs 2,000 currency notes? Before demonetisation, Rs 17 lakh crore worth of currency banknotes were in circulation and today it has increased to 33 lakh crore, as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman has said.

Isn’t Congress also responsible for raking up controversial issues instead of talking about development since the time of Indira Gandhi?
BJP came to power talking ill about Congress. Assess their achievements in the last ten years in terms of economy to the GDP of the previous Congress government. Also, compare the growth rate with that of the neighbouring countries.

Any ministers likely to contest the Lok Sabha elections?
I am not contesting the LS polls as I am not interested in national politics. I recommended a few names for the Bidar LS seat and they are confidential.

How many seats Congress expects to win in Karnataka?
Though things have not set on the ground yet, we should win 17 seats at any given point of time. This is my assessment.

Irrespective of the LS polls results will the Congress government continue in power and Siddaramaiah as CM?
We have got the mandate with 135 MLAs. BJP and JD put together have 85. To make it equal, 53 MLAs from Congress have to resign or two-thirds of MLAs should switch sides technically. Some who have faith in astrology kept speculating about the fall of the government. Definitely, Siddaramaiah will continue as CM for five years and the party high command will take a call on the issue. I don’t have any opinion about the creation of more DCM posts in the government.

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