Even as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made a case for elevating 700 million poor people to the “middle-class”, the working community reminded him of its long-standing demand for pay parity between permanent and contractual jobs, higher minimum wages and social security.
Gandhi held a meeting with labour unions (mostly Congress-affiliated) here Thursday to seek their suggestions for the party’s 2014 election manifesto.
Gandhi went back to his views at the All India Congress Committee meeting earlier this month where he had said that a new class of about 700 million people was emerging which was “just above the poverty line but below the middle class”.
In his interaction Thursday, he said the 70 million people “build the country” and the aim should be to bring them in the middle class in the next “5-10 years”.
“The 70 million people... if we want to put them in the middle class, that is what the aim should be... we have to provide a concrete surface beneath their feet. In 5-10 years, they should feel they are in the middle class,” he said.
However, several labour union leaders spoke for higher minimum wages and social security.
“We suggested that the party should take steps to hike minimum wages. Women working in aanganwadi should get uniform wages across all states,” said Jai Prakash Chhajed, president of the Maharashtra unit of Congress-affiliated trade union INTUC.
Another union leader said, “Several representatives spoke on strengthening social security for the unorganised sector.”
Some NGOs working in the labour sector demanded total abolition of child labour and manual scavengers.
While Gandhi elaborated on his oft-repeated issue of “opening up the political system” in the meeting, he also pitched for a minimum standard of living with access to basic health, education and income standards.
While asking the workers also to participate in selecting their local candidates for the 2014 polls through the US-style primaries, Gandhi said the voice of earners, carpenters, painters and construction workers should be heard in the assemblies and parliament.
(With agency inputs)