India, the world’s largest democracy, a nation of a teeming billion, a land blessed with young vibrant human resource and an emerging global contender, is a nation labelled as “Shining”, because of its growing GDP and growth rate. But what is failed to be understood by the larger society is that the rising GDP figures of the Indian economy are certainly not the sole contributions of multi national companies and corporate sector. The real nation builders are the 433 million workers belonging to the unorganised sector. India’s workforce constitutes 459 million out of which 433 million works in the unorganised sector in appalling conditions, yet contributing very positively towards a shining India.

The unorganised sector workers contribute 65 percent to our country’s gross domestic product. Even till date, agriculture remains the backbone and largest contributor of the Indian economy employing 269 million unorganised workers.

Women workers, who constitute 48.5 percent of the unorganised workforce, stand the “double burden” of combining the tasks of production and reproduction, of which both are imperative for the survival of any society but they are the ones who undergo ruthless exploitation and discrimination in all sectors of informal work.

Despite the fact that the unorganised sector is the principle source of livelihood for majority of India’s workforce, this sector is characterised by poor working conditions, minimal income, unskilled labour, minimal application of technology, limited market knowledge, limited access to education and training, absence of social security measures, lack of safety mechanisms and continuous employment.


National Centre for Labour (NCL) is an organisation dedicated to articulate the hopes, aspirations and demands of the most exploited, marginalised sections of India’s working population. Formed in the year 1995, NCL, is an apex body of independent labour organisations working in the unorganised sector in India. With a membership of about a million workers from 10 states, it represents the interests of the Construction workers, Agricultural workers, Contract workers, Forest workers, Anganwadi workers, Hamalies (loading and unloading workers), Domestic workers, Cobblers, Marble and Granite workers, Tiny and Small Scale Industries workers etc.


The need for a national platform to demand for the implementation and enforcement of rightful and secured employment for 433 million workers from the unorganised sector, brought together like-minded individuals and organisations for the first exploratory meeting organised in New Delhi in December 1991 at Gandhi Dharshan, from which emerged a consensus for the vital need of a National Forum to represent the Unorganised Sector.

In May 1993, after an in depth discussion in Bangalore about the role and space of the unorganised sector in the larger political and economic scenario of the country, the idea of a National Centre emerged.

Subsequently, in the month of October 1993, the National Federation of Construction Labour (NFCL) organised a National Seminar on the New Economic Policy (formally introduced by the Congress Government in the year 1991) and its impact on unorganised workers. This meeting was attended by a number of independent trade unions and academics from different parts of the country representing various sectors viz Agriculture, Fisheries, Construction, Forestry, Small Scale Industry, Self-employed, etc. The participants expressed a need for further co-operation amongst the unions and a formalised national organisation. The objective of such an organisation would be to highlight the problems of the workers and demand for meaningful and concrete alternatives. However, it was necessary to identify and involve more unions and organisations working in the unorganised sector in order to strengthen the foundation of such a national level co-operation.

Therefore, on the 6th and 7th of April 1994, NFCL organised another meeting in New Delhi inviting academics, trade unions, labour organisations and leaders to further the discussions of forming a national platform for the Unorganised Sector of Labour in India.

In 1994 on the 4th and 5th of August in Ahmedabad, participants representing different sectors of unorganised labour produced the First Draft Framework for the National Centre for Labour and the Constitution was jointly drafted at the meeting.

Later, the draft constitution was finalised into draft principles in New Delhi on the 19th-21st December 1994 and referred the draft to the primary constituencies for approval. The Organising Committee was also constituted thereby finalising the procedural and administrative details for NCL.

After three years of deliberations, finally in 1995, the National Centre for Labour was launched through a massive rally with approx. 80,000 unorganised sector workers gathering at the historical Cubbon Park in Bangalore. At that time NCL represented over 500,000 workers from all parts of the country, working in various sectors like fisheries, construction, agriculture, home-based and self-employment.

NCL was constituted by its founding organisations namely National Federation of Construction Labour (NFCL), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), National Fish Workers Forum (NFF), Sarva Shramik Sangh, Van Mazdoor Mandal, Kamani Employees Union and other independent trade unions.


A.  Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare

National Centre for Labour through its constituent members, the Karnataka State Construction Workers Central Union (KSCWCU), National Federation of Construction Labour (NFCL) and along with National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL) headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer have played a pivotal role in the enactment of “the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, a central legislation passed during the Prime Ministership of Shri H. D Deve Gowda.

NCL in the course of its pro-active lobbying with the Union Ministry of Labour, pressurised the government to initiate the process of framing the rules for this legislation which provides for the creation of State Welfare Boards to implement various Labour welfare, Safety and Social Security Schemes for the benefit of construction workers in India.

By way of its continuous struggles NCL and KSCWCU demanded the Government of Karnataka to frame state rules, resulting in the formation of the Karnataka State Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board in November, 2006.

B.  Need – Based Minimum Wage entitlement for Unorganised Sector Workers

The concept of ‘need based minimum wage’ owes its origin to the report of the Sub Committee, appointed by the Planning Commission of India in 1961.  For the first time in the history of the country, the concept of need based minimum wage was defined in terms of quantification basing on certain scientific assumptions. The Indian Labour Conference (ICL) in 1957 in its 15th Session, in pursuance of the policy commitment of the Government, entrusted the task to define the fixation of the minimum wage through normative criteria.  The exercise evolved by the Sub Committee of the ILC is famously known as the ‘norms for fixation of need based minimum wage’.  There are two important dimensions to the aspect , (i) the clear indication of the Conference that these are the guiding principles for the various wage fixing authorities including the wage boards and the committees under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and (ii) subsequent laying down of the ratio by the apex Court in the famous Unichoy Case (1961) approving legally these norms for the fixation or revising the minimum rates of wages by the appropriate Governments under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
Subsequently history proves that the State Governments have fallen  way behind in adhering to these norms in the fixation or revision of the minimum rates of wages under the Act.  Against this background,   NCL has taken keen initiatives and as a primary effort to revive the movement. NCL  organized six high level National Consultations and Workshops in inviting field leaders, academics, bureaucrats concerned and nutritional experts in order to arrive at a definite idea about the concept of ‘ Need – Based Minimum Wage’ with the aid of the apex court ratio.  Later NCL conducted several public rallies in New Delhi and in Bangalore to pressurize the Government to implement these norms in the fixation or revision of minimum rates of wages for various scheduled employments under the Minimum Wages Act 1948.

This exercise also resulted in many trade unions and the associations working in the unorganised sector to understand the essence of a of ‘Need – Based Minimum Wage’  and this  influenced the Second National Commission on Labour to deal with this aspect at length in its report ,and thus gaining sufficient momentum.

C.  Contract Labour System – The Claims of the Contract Labour

The National Centre for Labour has taken a planned initiative in exploring the uses of the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970, from the perspective of contract labour.   Undoubtedly the legislation is a complete code in ensuring protective standards for contract labour as far the conditions of service in the employment.  The crux of these issues are made clear to the leaders involved in field work in order to bargain for better working conditions for contract labour by organizing   workshops. NCL has made good in roads in ascertaining the clear ratio of the apex Court as far as the claims of the contract labour are concerned in situations of genuine and sham contract systems from the inputs received from the academics.

NCL has conducted four national workshops and consultations on the subject, which has helped its members (both cadre and grass root workers) in facing the challenging issues under the Act.  The experiences of field workers was also ascertained in order to deal with the issues in a more practical way with the aid of the emerged ratio as laid down by the apex Court.

D.  Issues relating to Forest Workers, Fish Workers and Women Workers

NCL has initiated six national Consultations to highlight the paramount issues related to Forest Workers, Fish Workers and Women Workers who were adversely affected with the initiation of the New Economic Policy.  Most of the women workers are employed in the food processing zones under contract and sub-contract systems under highly exploitative working conditions.  The issues related to traditional and customary rights and privileges of the forest and fish workers are highlighted in the said Consultations in order to put a halt on the draconian reforms initiated by the State that affect the rights of these workers.

When the Government of India opened its sea to foreign vessels for fishing NCL through its constituent members stalled the efforts of the Central Government  by protesting to fast unto death and organizing rallies all along the myriad coast.

E.  Issues relating to Social Welfare and Social Security Protection for the Unorganized Sector Workers

For the first time in the history of independent India, the Government appointed the National Commission on Labour, (1999) with a two hold terms of reference viz, (1) Rationalization of existing labour legislations and (ii) to suggest an umbrella legislation ensuring a minimum social security protection for the unorganised sector workers.  The Commission annexed a model bill in its Report (2002) entitled ‘Unorganized Sector Workers Welfare Bill’.  Hence forth a series of five draft bills have emerged from the government on the subject,  without any final commitment.  Then the minister of labour of the UPA goverment brought in another draft version on the same subject with slight modifications.  Amid all these conflicting situations, the Government again constituted the National Commission for the Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (2004) to suggest the reviewing of existing labour legislations and also to come with a possible social security mechanism applicable to the unorganised sector workers in the country.    

The basic theme of the concept of labour welfare and social security as envisaged under various labour legislations in India as far as the Central sphere is concerned, was its applicability being confined to the situations where there is a clear employer-employee relationship existing within a confined premises such as a factory. As far as the unorganized sector workers who are involved in various types of employments, the question of ensuring them the basic welfare and social security benefits is a matter that involves various complexities.  Even in respect of wage employments these workers work under different employers depending upon the level of their wage earnings.  The remaining vast segment of self employed workers work independently, without any effective coverage of welfare protection under the existing labour legislations.  In this context, NCL explored the possibility of assuring them a meaningful social welfare and social security protection by organizing various explanatory workshops at an all India level, inviting experts from Social Security Association of India and academics from premier legal institutions viz, the Center for Labour Studies, National Law School of India University, Bangalore and union leaders. It dealt comprehensively with the issue and lobbied with the Government to bring a comprehensive social welfare and social security legislation applicable to all categories of unorganized sector workers in India.   (Further NCL has taken effective initiatives by organizing various rallies and protests between the period 2005 to 2008 in the Capital and in various States to highlight the urgent issue.)

F.  NCL and the Gender Perspective
Women employment and leadership would become a reality only when women workers organise themselves and participate in the decision making hierarchy of industrial relations as well as in the trade union activities.  Thus NCL is committed to women workers and is constantly involved in taking and promoting initiatives in developing their leadership qualities thus motivating them to emerge as leaders in the unorganised workers movement in the country.

According to the  Report of the National Commission of Labour, (2002)  women work in exploitative conditions in various promotive and export sectors such as  Special Economic Zones (SEZ), Food Processing industry, Garment/Textile industry and in the packing processes of the Electronic industry. Women workers are also engaged in large numbers in the Construction Sector, Agarbathi (incense stick) Rolling and Domestic Work.  The women workers in the unorganised sector are paid lesser wages then their male counter parts for similar work there fore they are continuously confronted with the payment of low wages, denial of various welfare and social security benefits such as maternity, dependent’s benefit, invalidity and old age protection.

NCL has conducted four national level workshops and training programmes exclusively designed for the women unorganised workers in creating awareness in leadership qualities and in educating them on key labour legislations such as minimum wages, social security and contract labour.  NCL as a progressive measure made a provision in its constitution providing 40% of the leadership positions for women from the unorganized sector in order to enable them to participate in the decision making structures of the apex body. NCL has been pressurizing the Central Government to pass Bill  providing 33% Reservation of seats for women in the Parliament, State Legislatures and in the Local Self Governments in the rural and urban areas.

G.  NCL and the report of the Second National Commission on Labour (2002)

NCL has initiated series of debates and discussions by holding appropriate consultations at the National level by inviting experts from various fields in order to have a detailed understanding about the implications of the Report of the second national commission on labour on the working class masses in the country.

Yet again NCL was the only organisation in the unorganised sector to ascertain the implications of the Recommendations of the Commission on this sector in the country by preparing a document paper entitled ‘The Report of the Second National Commission on Labour and its impact on Unorganised Sector Workers and circulated it among its members for further course of action with specific reference to the draft bill on Unorganized Sector Workers Welfare Bill’ annexed to the Report.


NCL is a pioneer in the initiation of the Karnataka Unorganised sector workers welfare bill in Karnataka during the congress rule. The core committee of NCL (Bangalore Unit) repeatedly represented by submitting the appropriate measures in the areas of (i) regulation of employment aspect; (ii) the manner in which the registration of the workers to be provided; (iii) the types of various social security and welfare benefits to be contained; (iv) the manner in which the social security fund to be created and its facilitation and (v) the administration of the Act, by taking into consideration closely the Tamil Nadu experience.  Finally, when the Government was non committal in reshaping the crucial areas on the Bill, NCL gave its strong objections to the present form of the Bill.


National Centre for Labour as a first measure has conducted an All-India Level Workshop in Mumbai in December 2001 to discuss the pros and cons of the draft Unorganised Sector Workers Bill  submitted by the Study Group constituted by the Second National Commission on Labour. The recommendations of the Workshop on the Bill were sent to the Second National Commission on Labour.

In August 2002, NCL conducted an All India Consultation represented by many of its constituent members to discuss the draft Bill on ‘Unorganised Sector Workers Welfare’ annexed to the Report of the Second National Commission on Labour, 2002.  Followed by the next Consultation on working the draft version of the Unorganised Sector Wokers Bill in September, 2002 in New Delhi.
NCL as the next major step in this regard invited officials from the Labour Department of various States and the members from Central Trade Union Organization and organized a two day Round Table Consultations on matters pertaining to (a) regulation of employment aspect; (b) the issue relating to minimum wage; (c) Social Security measures; (d) the welfare measures; (e) dispute settlement mechanism and (f) implementation and prosecutions in collaborations with the National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Social Security Association of India at National Law School of India University Bangalore in 2003.
In collaboration with Centre for Labour Studies of National Law School of India University, Bangalore, NCL came out with a draft version of the Bill pertaining to Unorganized Sector Workers Welfare.  And the Bill was put forth for discussion at the workshop conducted in New Delhi in the month of January 2005.  The outcome of which was the emergence of a ‘common forum’ (an amalgamation of likeminded National Organisations) to fight  for a comprehensive Bill covering every aspect of protection for the unorganised sector workers in the Country.  After taking the views of the House, it was decided to entrust the draft finalization to an expert group consisting of Mr. T.R. Shankaran, R.K.A. Subramanya, Dr. I. Sharath Babu, Smt. Geetha, Mr. T. Thangappan and  Mr. N. P. Samy.  Accordingly the Expert Group met in Chennai in February and finalised a draft Bill on the subject.

As the next step towards the enactment of the bill NCL organised a ‘Two Day Workshop’ in the 1st week of March, 2005 at New Delhi and placed the draft Bill for final discussion. On 3rd March 2005, NCL along with members of the Forum met the Union Minister of Labour Shri. Chandrasekhar Rao and presented the finalised draft version of the Bill entitled ‘Unorganised Sector Workers Welfare Bill, 2005’.  The Hon’ble Minister accepted the draft and assured all possible efforts in this regard.

The Bill was introduced in the Parliament in the year 2007, in view of various diverging opinions on the draft provisions, the Government referred the same before the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament.  The NCL successfully submitted it views on the draft with a delegation before the Committee and presented the issue in a more pragmatic manner. The most notable incidence was the assurance given by Shri. Oscar Fernandes, Hon’ble Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, who on invitation participated in the NCL’s Two Days National Consultation on “Protective Legislations and Organising the Unorganised Labour in India”, held on 27th to 29th July, 2007 in Bangalore.
Finally in 2008, the Government enacted the ‘Unorganised Workers Social Security Act and was passed  in the Parliament.
Though the enacted legislation does not adequately meet the aspirations of the unorganised workers in India, NCL has welcomed it as an initial step towards the achievement of the intended goals in the long run, by simultaneously working on the adequacy of the legislation with appropriate programmes and struggles..


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