Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday highlighted the steps taken by the state in upholding the rights of workers and claimed that it has one of the best records in the global south in this regard.
Inaugurating the International Labour Conclave here, Vijayan said Kerala has been exceptional in protecting and advancing workers' rights, which has been waning worldwide.
"In terms of providing decent employment, forming unions, workers' cooperatives, welfare boards and pension schemes, and ensuring inclusivity and the protection of migrant rights, Kerala has evolved as a role model. We comply with the main principles of the ILO (International Labour Organisation), including the tripartite structure, in which the government, employers, and employees meet to resolve disputes," the Chief Minister said.
The three-day International Labour Conclave is being organised by the Labour Department in association with the State Planning Board.
He said that since 1957, when Kerala's first state government came to power, "we have implemented a rights-based strategy" to accommodate the requirements of workers in the formal and informal sectors.
"By passing the Kerala Minimum Wage Rules in 1958, Kerala's first ministry showed the world how workers' rights can be protected by assuring minimum wages," Vijayan said.
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He said a significant turning point in the welfare of the workers, however, was the instituting of the Kerala Welfare Fund Act, which ensured financial contributions by the government as well as employers and employees.
"As a result, a large number of Welfare Boards were set up to serve workers -- including women -- in the informal sectors. The coverage of traditional industries such as coir, handlooms, cashews, and so on is worth citing. In total, there are 24 Welfare Boards in the State which play a crucial role in reducing the livelihood crisis of informal workers," the chief minister said, adding that it was especially evident during the covid-19 pandemic.
He said that in in 1980, the state government brought in a path-breaking initiative with the implementation of the agricultural workers' pension scheme.
"It was the first major social assistance scheme in India," Vijayan said.
The CM said the recognition of the rights of domestic migrant workers is also an integral aspect of the labour policy in Kerala, with a slew of measures in place to support them.
"We honour them as guest workers. Kerala is one of the most migrant-worker-friendly states in the country. They were especially aided during the covid-19 pandemic with free accommodation, food, and medical care," Vijayan said.
He also pointed out that workers in the unorganised sector have access to a number of benefit programmes, including pensions.
"The state has given special attention to women workers, with a focus on their health, nutrition, working conditions, and other rights. Their 'right to sit' in the shops they work in has been legally assured", the CM said.
Speaking about protection of domestic workers' rights, he said that a specific bill in this regard is nearing completion and that it would be the first of its kind in India.
This is apart from the large number of benefits provided to care workers in the state, who are predominantly women. Given the fact that as many as 84 sectors have minimum wages fixed and revised timely, Kerala stands ahead of many other states with respect to wages and benefits, Vijayan said.
"Incidentally, I must point out that as per the RBI report, the highest daily wage rate for male non-agricultural workers in rural India, is in Kerala at Rs 677.6 in 2020-21. It is more than double the all-India average at Rs 315.3," he said.
Noting that the Government of India has introduced four new labour codes and draft rules appropriate for Kerala have already been prepared for discussion in the State Legislature, Chief Minister said workers' rights are part of Kerala's public discourse and "ensuring them is part of our legacy."
"We will continue to uphold them," he said.
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