Who regulates the ‘outsourced’ workplace?

M G Warrier

In December 2016, I concluded a brief response to a media report on currency management, post-demonetization, with the following observations:
“One possible reason for the chaotic position is outsourcing of work by banks in piece-meal to agencies which have no moral allegiance to the institutions which hire them. We need to invent new strategies to build up reliable relationships between masters and servants, in the modern era of hiring and firing at higher levels and contract/bonded labour at lower levels”.
A response to my above observation read like this:
“As rightly said, the decentralization and outsourcing have created a hell of problems to customers. Sometimes even simple things like request for nomination  in FDs is routed through some outsourcing agent. Though we fill up details of nomination in the same application, it is not recorded in FDs and a separate letter quoting the FD regarding  nomination is received from some other outside agency  by separate post. If we miss the post, there is no proof for our having made a nomination. Instances are many. This is simply outsourcing without entrusting responsibility and commitment”.

In a recent issue of a reputed finance magazine from Kerala, I happened to read an open letter addressed to Chief Minister of Kerala, Shri Pinarayi Vijayan by one Shri Thomas Mathew of Alappuzha regarding  Nokkukooli , an alleged practice under the aegis of  militant trade unionism. In the case quoted by the writer, an establishment in Alappuzha receives and dispatches truckloads of parcels during nights and to ensure safe handling uses own workers for loading/unloading goods. The local INTUC and CITU leaders approach the establishment on first of every  month and allegedly receive cheques for Rs 5000 each against signed receipts as “Nokkukooli”  

Those opposed  to leftist ideology and are envious of the progress made by Kerala, thanks to several reasons including the interest shown by our ancestors in improving literacy and distributive justice which was taken forward by progressive political movements including Communist Party, carry two weapons to disgrace Kerala. One, the inter-group rivalry which result in frequent avoidable violence and two, militant labour movement which supports stoppage of work or extract disproportionate remunerations for work done and for ‘work denied’ (as in the case of Nokkukooli alleged by Shri Thomas Mathew in the letter mentioned above).

Here are some thoughts that came to my mind, which, I feel, if further researched and developed, may help policy makers handle the criticism about wages better.

In India, legally taxes can be collected by government only through its various arms. Other than taxes, citizens need to pay for purchases they make and services they avail. A third payment citizens voluntarily make is donations for purposes they consider worthy of promoting, like charity, sports, festivals etc.

But outflow from the citizen’s pocket doesn’t stop with these payments. Money is necessary for the following purposes and has to come necessarily from people:
(a)  Political parties need funds for running the affairs of the parties  and  fighting elections.
(b) Unemployed need money for livelihood.
(c)  Many who are employed consider themselves under-paid and sometimes try to make good the difference by collecting some ‘non-government taxes’ from wherever they can.
While political parties are able to collect funds from their ‘clientele’ (those who will benefit from their policies, whether in government or in opposition), collection of funds by (b) and (c) category above attract criticism.
Nokkukooli, is the fine people pay when they deny work to the local workers. Workers have no legal right to enforce such payments and therefore they collect money by using muscle power. Here, government need to intervene. Local workers’ right to get employment with reasonable compensation and job security should be protected. When, for skill-related or for any other ‘comfort’ reasons, employers opt to import labour,  they may have to compensate for displacement of job opportunities on terms acceptable to government.
There is another angle, which is being ignored. While so much of criticism is being faced in regard to Nokkukooli in Kerala, there  are other kinds of forced collections in Kerala and elsewhere. Take the case of unauthorized markets including vegetable/fish markets on footpaths or other open spaces. Those who do business in such places are liable to pay a huge portion of their daily earnings to ‘unknown’ collectors. The solution lies in having more regulated markets and slowly removing the middlemen.
One is aware that several initiatives are in progress to improve the situation, in several parts of the country. But the measures are half-hearted and face several hurdles caused mostly by vested interests. Here, the role of government to intervene and regulate ‘outsourcing of work’ keeping in view the interests of employers and workers from economic development angle and need for ensuring reasonable remuneration from social security perspective becomes significant.


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