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Vol. XXXIV No. 6, July 1-15, 2024

Madras Employment Exchange

-- by Karthik A Bhatt

The Employment Exchanges have for long been the lifeline for many aspirants seeking employment with government departments and agencies. The year 2024 marks the 80th since the establishment of the first such organisation in Madras.

The origins of the Employment Exchange in the Madras Presidency date to the closing years of the Second World War. The scarcity of skilled workers for the war industries prompted the opening of the first Employment Exchange in Madras on January 4, 1944. It was an adjunct to the National Services Labour Tribunal, Madras which administered technical training for service with army units or in factories doing war work. The duties of this Employment Exchange were two-fold.The first was to serve as a platform to bring together job seekers and job givers and the second, to increase the suitability of the workers by giving them training in technical and vocational trades. It was realised at the time of its inception that the ex-servicemen would be the ones mostly in need of employment assistance and hence for the first couple of years of its existence, the services were restricted to them.

The Employment Exchange planned and executed several cooperative societies for the benefit of the ex-servicemen as a part of the post-war development schemes. These were primarily land colonies, workshops (engineering, metal and timber) and transport societies. The administration of these schemes was later transferred to the Cooperative Department. As a part of the training schemes, the Resettlement and Employment Organisation (under which the Employment Exchange was originally constituted), took over a number of training centres that had been constituted by the National Services Labour Tribunal to train recruits for various branches of the defence forces. In the Madras region, there were 32 such centres, which included the ones set up by the Corporation of Madras, College of Engineering, Guindy, the Instrument Mechanics Training Centre at T. Nagar and the Chengalvaraya Naicker Training Institute, Vepery in the city and other private and government schools elsewhere. The training was imparted in trades such as bricklaying, boiler making, carpentry, painting and decoration, plumbing, electrical works etc. A special training centre for the war-disabled functioned at Jalahalli, Bengaluru.

With the close of the war, the Employment Exchange was expanded into a full-fledged Regional Employment Office in August 1945. Gradually, the categories of people served by the Employment Exchange was expanded to cover discharged government employees, backward class etc. and from April 1, 1948, it was thrown open to all classes of citizens. The area of operations too expanded, as district employment offices and sub-regional employment offices came up in places such as Vellore, Coimbatore, Trichy, Vishakapatnam etc. The first Regional Director of the Employment Exchange was V Ramakrishna, ICS. Those who served as the Directors in the early years include T. Bhaskara Rao, ICS (who succeeded V. Ramakrishna), C.K. Vijayaraghavan, ICS (IG of Police) and V.N. Kudva, ICS.

In 1954, the Shiva Rao Committee Report recommended that the ‘day-to-day administration of the Exchanges should be handed over to the States, with the Central Government being responsible for laying down the policy and standards and for coordination and supervision of the work of the Employment Exchanges’. This recommendation was accepted at the Labour Ministers Conference of all States held at Hyderabad in 1955 and in November 1956 the day-to-day administration and control was transferred to the State Governments.

In the 1970s, the Employment Exchange became the major recruitment platform for vacancies that did not fall under the purview of the Tamil Nadu Public Services Commission. It also became mandatory for all institutions that received financial assistance from the government or quasi-government institutions to fill their vacancies only through the exchanges. Other forms of recruitment such as through advertisements could be adopted only after obtaining prior sanction of the government or a non-availability certificate from the exchange.

This recruitment policy ran into rough weather in a writ petition filed in the Madras High Court in 2010, challenging the filling up of vacancies of village assistants only through the Employment Exchange, without inviting applications from all eligible persons of the general public. The Court quashed the recruitment process and ordered that advertisements had to be called for in all leading newspapers and other media setting out eligibility criteria such as educational qualifications, age limit etc and also the setting up of a selection committee. The Director of Employment and Training preferred an appeal against the order, which was dismissed.

Long queues are a common sight in front of the counters at Puducherry Employment Exchange for registration and renewal. Picture Credit: The Hindu.

According to recent newspaper reports, the number of people registering with the employment exchanges (which stood at around 64 Lakhs as of October 2023) has seen a steady decline over the last decade or so, with the above order being considered to be one of the watershed moments in its history.

Despite its challenges today and questions about its relevance in an era of digital transformation and online job platforms, it is worth remembering that what started off as a war-time creation provided at least a couple of generations with a secure future.

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