Modi unveils reforms to boost manufacturing

Updated 16 October 2014
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Modi unveils reforms to boost manufacturing

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unveiled a string of labor reforms, seeking to fullfil a pledge to boost the country’s manufacturing sector.
Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in May on a mandate to revive India’s flagging economy, said he wanted to simplify the byzantine rules and regulations that manufacturing businesses face.
“We have replaced 16 forms (for factory owners) with one form, which will be available online,” Modi said in a speech in New Delhi.
“Fifty types of departments chase them, 50 types of forms have to be filled in. The world has changed,” Modi said, adding that companies would now only need to fill a single form online.
The change would benefit chiefly firms that employ just a few people, he said. In 2009, 84 percent of India’s manufacturing workers were employed by firms with fewer than 50 staff, research by the Asian Development Bank shows.
Just 8 percent of Indian workers have formal jobs with any security and benefits, such as the Provident Fund, while the vast majority work in the informal sector, experts say.
Even though the World Bank says India has one of the world’s most rigid labor markets, fears of a trade union backlash and partisan politics have deterred governments from reform.
He also announced plans to streamline labor laws and make scrutiny of factories less cumbersome.
Modi called for greater respect for manual laborers in India.
“We must change the way we look at manual laborers. We must respect them if we are to surge ahead as a country,” he said.
Businesses argue that conforming to India’s 44 national and more than 150 state labor laws is not only costly and time-consuming but has deterred foreign investors.
Business leaders welcomed Thursday’s announcements, which followed an Independence Day speech in August in which Modi invited the world’s industries to set up shop in the country.
“Simplification of procedures has been a longstanding concern for industry,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, in a statement.
“This initiative... will considerably ease the burden of compliances.”
Business leaders have high hopes for Modi, an advocate of smaller government and private enterprise, to change that.
Industry groups said the new measures would warm business sentiment and help boost the slowing economy.


Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

Updated 39 min 17 sec ago
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Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

  • The job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era
  • In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism

BASRA: From a roving cafe to scrap metal sculptures, young Iraqis unable to tap into the country’s oil wealth are having to find creative ways to make a living.
While their parents generally went straight into public sector jobs after graduation, the job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism.
But now, as 26-year-old Karrar Alaa discovered, there are no more guarantees.
Three years ago, he was counting on his business degree leading to a public sector job in the southern port city of Basra.
But tired of waiting, he has turned entrepreneur.
After gathering up all of his savings and borrowing money from relatives, Alaa invested in a car and transformed it into a coffee shop on wheels.
“It’s the first of its kind in Basra. I got the idea from a video shot in Europe and posted on Facebook,” he told AFP.
The “Coffee 2 Go” car has a giant plastic cup mounted on the roof, while an image of a cup of cappuccino and coffee beans is emblazoned on the body.
An initial investment of $20,000 has led to daily earnings of around 150,000 dinars, or $120, from cups of coffee made in a machine installed in the car boot.
Mashreq Jabbar earns similar sums from his little bookshop squeezed into a corridor of a Basra fashion mall.
“Renting a shop costs $6,000 a month; I only pay $2,500 for my hallway,” said the slim 26-year-old, as he tidied shelves of school books, romantic novels and poetry collections.
The geology graduate had also hoped to get a job as a public official, confident that his degree would make him employable in the local oil industry.
But even though the sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, it provides only one percent of jobs as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
The lack of opportunities is nationwide; from the capital Baghdad to second city Mosul in the north, and from the agricultural east to the western desert.
It is not uncommon to find engineers working as taxi drivers, or sandwich stalls manned by literature graduates in a country of avid readers.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 24.
A mushrooming number of private universities — with Baghdad boasting around 30 — has made the situation even worse among graduates.
The private sector which emerged after Saddam’s rule has failed to fill the employment gap, with many young Iraqis holding out for the coveted public sector posts.
“The common view is that there’s no choice but to work in the public sector,” said Ahmed Abdel Hassan, an economics professor at the University of Basra.
“Young people who go to work in the private sector say it’s a temporary move before getting a post in the public sector,” he said.
Even Basra’s entrepreneurs see the benefits, with Alaa noting the social security and pension perks, while Jabbar pointed to civil servants’ guaranteed salaries.
Many of those holding out for a state job, however, are left unable to move out of their parents’ house.
Omar Abdallah, 28, had pinned his hopes on getting a teaching job at the end of his studies in fine art.
Iraq once had a high-quality and free education system, but that was left in tatters following the international embargo of the 1990s after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Having failed to land a job and with no capital to start a business of his own, Abdallah began collecting scrap metal.
“I could only count on myself and my talent,” he said at his family home, where one room serves as both his workshop and exhibition space.
Abdallah has transformed old bicycle chains into scorpions, cutlery into dragonflies and used nuts and bolts to make motorbike models.
In a good month he can sell half a dozen sculptures, charging between $200 and $250 apiece.
“People love my sculptures,” he said proudly. “They tell me: ‘How did you manage to make something so beautiful out of rubbish?’“