Contract Labour: A necessary evil*

The excellent cover story on “Contract Labour: An era of live-in relationship” (Business Manager, May 2016) should be an eye opener for all the beneficiaries and victims of the age-old practice of legalised ‘bonded labour’ in India. In the Indian context, the debate has more relevance, as several social security systems available in other countries are conspicuous by their absence in this country. Allow me to quote a paragraph from Sir Thomas Munro’s December 31, 1824 observations appearing  in East India Papers (Vol iii, London,1826, quoted in Economic History of India, Romesh Dutt, C.I.E):
 “Even if we could suppose that it were practicable without the aid of a single native to conduct the whole affairs of the country both in the higher and in all the subordinate offices, by means of Europeans, it ought not to be done, because it would be both politically and morally wrong. The great number of public offices in which the natives are employed is one of the strongest causes of their attachment to our Government. In proportion as we exclude them from these, we lose our hold on them, and were the exclusion entire, we should have their hatred in place of their attachment, their feelings would be communicated to the whole population, and to the native troops, and would excite a spirit of discontent too powerful for us to subdue or resist. But were it possible that they could submit silently and without opposition, the case would be worse, they would sink in character, they would lose the hope of public office and distinction all laudable ambition, and would degenerate into an indolent and abject race, incapable of any higher pursuit than the mere gratification of their appetites. It would certainly be more desirable that we should be expelled from the country altogether, than that the result of our system of government should be such a debasement of a whole people.”
I found the above thoughts relevant in the context of the treatment meted out to ‘contract labour’ or the workforce on which the present day ‘service providers’ (a brilliant transformation from the ‘contractor’ of 20th Century!) depend for execution of both skilled and unskilled work for their ‘clients’ (again, not masters, they are now clients!). Just substitute PSUs or corporates for public offices and ‘outsourced’ or ‘contract’ employees for natives in the above narrative and you are close to the present day reality.
Until the country is in a position to put in place a realistic and universally acceptable prices, wages and income policy and a reasonably fool-proof social security system for all categories of citizens, we need to encourage regular employment of workforce by all establishments which can afford that dispensation. Those who work on contract today are exploited by all greedy employers, from multi-national companies to village offices.
M G Warrier
*A slightly edited version appears on page 3 of Business Manager, August 2016


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