Reviving industrial investment is not strictly the job of a labour minister, unless, of course, one is also the Union steel and mining minister. It's a tightrope walk for Narendra Singh Tomar, who is simultaneously trying to address labour issues and create a friendlier investment climate - and doing these while keeping environmental and social concerns in mind.
In his first interview since taking charge as a minister, Tomar told Business Standard the government had asked trade unions to create an atmosphere that promoted industry. After a meeting with state labour ministers, trade unions and employers' organisation last week, Tomar is likely to soon hold meetings with chief ministers to discuss mining issues. He has already written to them to evolve a "transparent and efficient system for lease allocations, along with a robust regulatory framework that best serves India's interests".
His letter underscores the need to safeguard environmental concerns and says "intergeneration equity" should not be compromised in the process of easing the mining sector. The priorities also include re-invigorating the mining sector, improving the investment scenario and reaping benefits of enhanced technology and best practices.
Tomar said the Centre was responsible for ensuring that industry was not affected by labour unrest and worker interest was not harmed by industry. "To oversees these, if need be, we will have tripartite talks, simplify laws and carry out discussions."
The minister said the National Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi was committed to fulfilling the social security of the poor and the working class. But he added industrialisation should be promoted while securing labour interest, so that a different environment could be created.
"Employment will be generated through industrialisation. There is a feeling among labour group representatives that industry exploits them; industry and labour are complementary. The Centre is here to see that labour interest is not harmed."
On the Rajasthan government's move to amend certain sections of the Factories Act, Contract Labour Act and Industrial Disputes Act, Tomar said: "We have not received their proposed Bill. As labour is a concurrent subject, state governments can frame good laws for their regions. Our effort at the Centre will be to strike a balance between the business and labour communities. We will consider the proposed amendments when we receive them. But if a state goes ahead with amendments in sync with its local, economic, political and social conditions, it is a healthy practice."
Rajasthan's move has met with criticism from labour unions. According to the proposals, the state will not require the Centre's permission to retrench up to 300 employees, compared with 100 at present. Another amendment says the Contract Labour Act will be applicable to companies with more than 50 workers, against the current 20.
The Centre is also planning to make changes to four labour-related laws - the Minimum Wages Act, Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, Factories Act and Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers) Act. While the changes in the child labour law will bring India on par with Conventions 138 and 182 of the International Labour Organization, amendment to the wage Act will create a national floor level for minimum wages.