Laziness' labour lost

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Laziness' labour lost

Getting paid not to work will not be a viable option even in Kerala, come May Day

In the recently released Bollywood film Chef, the character played by Saif Ali Khan's has a near-coronary when he and his son who along with his estranged Malayali wife's domestic staff are painting, fixing and loading a beat-up to serve as a food truck. A bunch of labour union leaders walk into the house's compound and tell them they can continue their work but payment for the labour notionally lost by the workers who ought to have been employed for the task will still have to be made. Fisticuffs are just about prevented in the ensuing argument but unlike in the films, in real life, Kerala has long borne the brunt of militant trade unionism which though birthed by the CPI-M has seen the Congress go along with it too. And the practice of nokkukooli, under which money is paid to unionised workers without them rendering any (especially loading) service for the purpose of allowing non-union workers to finish their task unhindered, has marked the pinnacle of this perverse mindset. Nokkukooli has resulted in frequent altercations between workers and businesspeople, especially because the conditions, attitude and complete lack of interest by the former in performing a task ensured that the latter had to employ non-unionised, in extreme cases even domestic staff, to do the work. And then pay for union bosses for the privilege.

Now, the CPI-M led LDF Government has decided to end the decades-old practice of loaders taking money without rendering any service with effect from May 1, Labour Day. The trade unions — surprise, surprise — have extended support to the Government and the Chief Minister has announced that district collectors would convene a meeting of unions to operationalise the decision which would also include an end to the practice of unions “supplying” workers to establishments. He, however, provided more than a decent-size fig leaf for the trade unions by insisting that there was no complaint about labour in the State from trade and business or no company had shut down due to labour problems in the past decade. Well, one of the reasons for that is there aren't too many companies and industries operational in Kerala in the State, as critics have pointed out. Not to mention the fate of a complainant if s/he did decide to, say, complain against the CITU to the CPI-M!

In the wake of the demographic changes in India which has led to an aspirational class coming to the fore and forming an increasingly restive electorate combined with the fact that the development agenda has been put at the heart of political discourse by the BJP, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the Communists too read the writing on the wall. It was a long overdue decision, though better late than never. At least now one can hope that industrialisation and flourishing businesses will boost the economy and generate employment in 'God's own country'. And that the so-called Kerala Model will not be dependent on repatriations from the Gulf.

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