Shivaram Hebbar, Labour & Sugar Minister: Can’t force law on struggling MSME sector”

Economy


Karnataka’s Labour & Sugar Minister Shivaram Hebbar (63) bats for restrained use of labour laws in these tough times. “We cannot kill jobs to prove a point of law to employers,” he tells ET’s KR Balasubramanyam.

Edited excerpts.

When can we expect real estate industry to resume fully?
We have permitted construction activities except in red zones and containment areas. In fact, small constructions are already underway. We have allowed transportation of labourers between districts within the state. The only condition is the contractors have to provide labourers with food and accommodation there. They cannot be allowed to commute. The contractor has to ensure they adhere to all Covid-19 safety protocols.

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Are industries allowed to rework pay packages?
Every day, I get hundreds of complaints from workers saying they have not received wages or they have been cut. When I discussed this with some small scale industries, they said they are working on thin cash balance. Some said they have not got payment for the goods they have supplied. There were some others who said they are sitting on piles of inventory, and their working capital is stuck. A garment exporter in Peenya said his business is stuck because of the business condition in Europe and the US.

Both sides have their own issues. I have conveyed these sentiments to the CM. We will get some clarity on labour related issues by this month end.

Can micro and small scale enterprises (MSME) sector cut staff to stay afloat?

We are aware the MSME sector is in difficulty and if the central and state governments don’t lend a helping hand, it is going to hurt workers. Even many large scale industries are dependent on MSME units for supply of components. So a weak MSME sector will have an overall negative impact on jobs, big manufacturers as well as the economy. As of now, industry associations have assured us they will neither cut wages nor sack workers.

What are industry demands?
In the recent tripartite meeting that I held with industry and trade union representatives, industries have asked for some reliefs like waiver of electricity charges for the period they suspended work , tax holiday for 3-4 months etc., on the grounds that it will take them about three months to settle after opening up. The CM will take a decision soon..

Some industries say workers should put in extra hour. Would the government support such measures?
It is true some industry leaders have said it will help them in these extraordinary times if workers put in an extra hour daily; Not as a permanent measure, though. Some union leaders, however, are not in favour. This matter is still under the discussion. We will decide soon.

Industries seem worried that the government may take action in the event they cut wages…

We are passing through an extraordinary health emergency. It has thrown both industries and sections of workers into disarray. It is precisely because of this reason, we cannot look for a solution to most of the problems through our legal system. Laws don’t generate jobs, industries do. Our approach is to act as a bridge between industries and workers, and help both sides arrive at some sort of an understanding to overcome the tough times. If I use law with an iron hand, many small units will collapse, and permanently erase thousands of jobs. We cannot kill jobs to prove a point of law to employers.

The CM told this paper recently that MSME units are in bad shape. How will you support them?

The government is working on the issues they have raised as MSMEs sector is the biggest employer. They have placed some 7-8 demands, and we are studying them. While the MSME units deserve a big support from us, the government is also confronting many financial challenges. Nevertheless, we are open to doing our best. We will work out a formula to help them.



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