Oscar Fernandes

Minister of Labour and Employment


April 7, 2014

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March-April 2014

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Striving for technical education

Oscar Fernandes, Minister of Labour and Employment

Oscar Fernandes, Minister of Labour and Employment

Oscar Fernandes who has been given the additional charge of the Ministry of Labour and Employment recently, is concerned about technical education of the youth, especially in the rural areas and this is the primary concern of the ministry. In addition, he is concerned about the issue of organised and unorganised labour. For this, the ministry has been keen on developing infrastructure and is inviting private sector for investment, which will in turn enhance employment.
• I would like to begin by asking you that you have come back to handle Ministry of Labour and Employment after a gap of some years. What is your main observation right now and what are the challenges and opportunities?

There are various areas – one area where I am very much concerned is the area of providing technical education to our youth. We have been able to send our youth to the universities. And it has been increased from seven per cent to 18-19 per cent. The youth is going to the universities for technical education, medicines, engineering, etc. Now, we have to take the rest of the youth to the technical education and this is the need of the hour also because technology is spreading all over the country, even in the villages where there are facilities like broadband, telecommunication and road connectivity. Roads are reaching to villages. There is a need to transport the material grown by the people of the village. The goods produced by them should reach the market. They need fertilisers, seeds, insecticides in the villages. So, we should have connectivity between these rural people and the growth that takes place. For this, we require large number of technically qualified people. Take for example, a plumber. If you go to a village and if there is a need to fix a pipe, you have to call a man from the city, which you normally don’t get. Therefore, there is need to train the rural youth into a plumber or an electrician. If fuse goes off and villager is not aware of it, then you have to call an electrician. But if you will be able to train an electrician in the village, he will service the requirements. All these things will be done in a large number. So, we need to train large number of youth in technical education. The government had planned to open 50,000 vocational training institutes all over the country. We are giving top priority to the technical education. With this, the earning capacity of the youth will increase. So, a little bit of polishing – whether to a welder, mason or plumber – will give them a better tool to earn more. This is one area. Another area is the issue of organised and unorganised labour. For the issue of organised labour, we help them to arrive at the charter of demands are given by them, negotiations take place, and we sort out the matters if they don’t arrive at the understanding. The organised sector has no bargaining capacity. Therefore, the government has come forward to give them social security and through social security, what we cannot give them through regular employment though it is not a substitute; to some extent, we attend to their problems like when there is death, we give them death cover under insurance; when there is disability due to accident, we give them disability cover; when their family is not keeping well, we give them cover of Rs 30,000 for the family of five so that they can go and have treatment. So, these are the facilities we are offering. Under the health side where we provide treatment to the workers, we are having large number of hospitals all over the country. We are short of doctors, experts, and paramedical staff. So, we thought that why don’t we upscale the level of treatment available in our hospitals. Under the rules, if we are unable to provide them that kind of treatment, we have to send them to the centres where that treatment is available and we have to pay for that. So, what we thought is that instead of paying money to somebody, capitalise that money and start medical colleges. If you have medical colleges, the entire gamut of medical treatment is under medical education. To give that, we have to upscale the facilities available in the hospitals. To have super-speciality, you should have everything modern available in the world in your own institution or hospital. So, at the time of teaching, you need these facilities. For teaching, you need the patients. You have bed-cum-patient ratio that can be maintained. The patient will get the treatment at the lesser cost. You will get the necessary exposure to the students required in the medical field. So, we decided to open atleast one medical college where there is a medical facility (hospital) in every state and about 10-12 super-specialities all over the country along with that nursing and paramedical courses all over so that you can supplement this activity. So we are working to provide health treatment to all the workers. Furthermore, we also included one item, i.e. to give seats to workers’ children, which is a unique thing and you will not find it any other programme. We have provided seats to the workers’ children. With this, our activities are moving forward. Now, we are working towards social security to domestic workers. We are trying to extend our insurance cover to people like vendors, auto rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers, under the unorganised sector.

• The government has set certain targets like ‘x’ number of million people would be covered in the first year with the launch of two insurance schemes. Are you meeting those targets?

Actually, there has been some difficulty because states are part of this. They have to contribute 25 per cent to the premium to be paid and centre pays 75 per cent. But some of the states have their own schemes like medical schemes. So, they feel that since they are already funding the medical scheme, this will be an additional burden. On the contrary, they should think that they are getting this facility and this will supplement their efforts. But we are talking to them. Already 33.9 million people have been registered under this but our target is to take it to 300 million people. There are two parts – one is below poverty and other, people above poverty. Above poverty line will tackle later. This will be atleast 300 million people below the poverty level but not all of them come under this category. So, all those who come under this category, we are trying to cover.

• You talked about skill development, which is one of the major focus areas of the government. You have set up National Skill Development Council. Are you looking to collaborate with foreign countries and private sector?

We are encouraging private sector to get into this because hands on, what today required is experience. More than what you study in the classroom or laboratory or workshop, your experience should deal with that. So, if you don’t have that kind of experience, you are getting first class marks, with first rank that doesn’t get help in getting employment. The first rank student should know how to use welding machine or any other equipment which he is handling; he should be able to deal with it. We have started something called apprentice course. But it was there earlier also. But we have to do it in the big way so that the youth get proper training. They are able to set up their own workshops or whatever institutions they need to and that will help them to earn more.

• Are you getting adequate response from the private players or do you want them to do more?

They have apprehensions in the sense that they don’t mind taking bright boys and using them. But they are reluctant to absorb all the boys stream because growth has to be there. Every year, you take one batch. Out of them, they may absorb 2-3 good boys. They cannot absorb rest of them. But they will go the market. I have been to number of schools – ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes). When I asked them, they said, “Sir, we have campus recruitment.” That means everyone is booked; nobody is there who will not get the job. That was the situation when I visited some of the institutions. There is shortage of carpenters, drivers, plumbers, welders, etc.


The ministry is working towards making the country slum free by providing technical education to the rural youth

The ministry is working towards making the country slum free by providing technical education to the rural youth

• Across the world, atleast in Europe we have seen that when the economic crisis started, unemployment was the challenge for the government. What is the situation in India?

In India, we are facing a situation. The impact of meltdown in the west is felt here also. So, what to be expected the kind of boom in the production industry, it is not there but the things are slowly changing and from now onwards, I think the economy will pick up again.

• But has the government launched any new schemes to promote employment because of the situation which you have seen now?

The government is keen on infrastructure. If there is infrastructure, there is spin of activity. Without infrastructure, you cannot expect a spin of activity. So the government is keen to speed up the building of infrastructure.


Fuelling India’s youth with technical education

Fuelling India’s youth with technical education

• One last question is about the foreign direct investment (FDI); sectors like aviation and retail are opened up. Do you see it boosting employment generation?

When there is activity, there is opportunity for employment. Our main thinking for inviting foreign investment or domestic investment is to develop this infrastructure. If infrastructure is in place, anybody will come and say – I will establish a factory. But if there is no connectivity between the place of production and the market, then nobody will venture into open any kind of industry. So these are basic requirements of an industry. For example, you want to start an industry, if you don’t have electricity, you would not be able to start a unit. This is the problem.

• In terms of skill development and employment, do you see disparities within different parts of India – in some parts employment opportunity exists and people are skilled and in some parts not?

That’s why I said – when there is investment, there is infrastructure. When there is infrastructure, there is attraction. A honeybee doesn’t go and sit on a leaf; it always sits on a flower. It wants to draw nectar out of it. So, if you tell people to go and start somewhere, unless there is an incentive like market or easy availability of the labour or evacuating the product early for sale, people will not take the risk.

• So, how do you balance the requirements of the under-developed areas because there, the youth is still looking for jobs?

Today, what you find is that whenever there is economic activity, the youth migrate. You go – whether Pune, Bangalore or Trivandrum – people are coming from all over the country and are working. So, whenever there is opportunity, there is a flow of labour and that advantage local people should take and others should build up.

• You mentioned about people coming from outside. Has the government made it easier for the foreign workers to work in India? a

I am not talking about foreign workers. If someone is starting its unit, they can bring in foreign workers but they would prefer Indian workers. But expertise has to be there. Experience has to be there. So, if you have to carry your industry, you need people trained. So for that reason, people may come from outside (foreign) otherwise India is capable of giving right mix of talent and experience in doing the work. When you say that your people should go to other country and work, then you can’t block the passage for the people of that country to come and work here. This will have balancing impact.



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