May Day Greetings!
(Transcription of a news report on Babasaheb Ambedkar’s presidential address as Labour Member, in 1945)
Dr. Ambedkar at coal miners’ colony in Dhanbad, 1943
New Delhi, November 27 (1945): Dr. Ambedkar, Labour Member, Government of India, defined the State’s obligations to labour, in his presidential address to the Seventh Indian Labour Conference which met here on Tuesday.
Taking stock of Government action on the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Labour and the ratification of I.L.O., conventions, Dr.Ambedkar observed that there were only 10 recommendations which were still outstanding, whereas India had yet to ratify 49 out of the 63 conventions. “This is due not so much to the unwillingness of the Government” but to “the rule which requires that a convention must be adopted without change or modification.” “It should be possible”, remarked the Labour Member, “for the I.L.O. to draft a convention so as to provide for stages”.
Dealing with the capacity to bear the burden of the cost involved in labour legislation, Dr.Ambedkar said “Labour may ask monied classes a very pertinent question saying if you do not mind paying taxes to meet expenditure on war, why do you object to raising funds when their purpose is to raise labour standards?”
Speaking on the agenda of the conference, the Labour member emphasized that the reduction of working hours, minimum wage legislation, and the recognition of trade unions were necessary to ease the situation in the transition period from war to peace. Reduction of hours of employment would hold the provision of employment for many. Absence of machinery for fixing minimum wages, combined with unemployment, was bound to cause labour standards to slump. Sound and responsible trade unions would help employers and workers to work together in the solution of their common problems.
“I do not propose”, observed Dr. Ambedkar “to go on a breakneck speed but I am determined to see that the Labour Department does not linger on.”
Dr. Ambedkar referred to the common pleas that that we should copy the British example, that it would be unfair to put the cost of labour legislation on Indian industries which are at present in an infant stage and that it would be useless to enact laws which must remain a dead letter owing to the absence of the necessary administrative machinery. “Far from accepting them as good and valid reasons labour is sure to regard them,” he said, “as so many excuses.” He said that the fact that the British took 100 years to have a proper code of labour legislation was no argument we should also in India take 100 years.
He added: “The argument about the capacity to bear the burden of the cost involved in labour legislation is an argument of very serious import, and labour will have to take note of it. At the same time, the question is about the faith behind the argument. Is it a bona-fide argument? Or is it merely a cloak for avoiding liability? Labour may well say that this argument about cost loses much of its force when one thinks of the money spent on war. All of us know what colossal amount of money has been raised for the war and how the monied classed classes have borne the crushing weight of high and heavy taxations for carrying on the war. Labour may well ask statesmen to say how many houseless persons could have been decently housed, how many naked persons could have been properly clothed, how many hungry men and women could have been given full nourishment, how many uneducated persons could have been educated, how many sick persons could have been restored to health, if the money spent on war had been spent on public welfare”