Recently, due to the pandemic COVID-19 outbreak, an ordinance necessitating the suspension of labour laws was put in front of the numerous state legislatures. Among these states, Uttar Pradesh is the one demanding the maximum suspension of labour laws, around 35 major laws or acts governing and regulating the employing procedures and conditions of labourers would be suspended for the period of three-years. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Assam, Goa, and Uttarakhand are some of the states which will be deferring the labour laws. Most of the states are BJP ruling states, which means the party is in power at the state level along with the center as well.
The plight of labourers in the country is horrible and vulnerable due to the unprecedented outbreak of a hazardous virus. Migrant workers and labourers have been wedged in different states of the country and still many of them are trying to reach their hometown or villages. It seems from the preparations and measures taken up by the government regarding safeguarding the lives as well as the livelihood of these labourers, is very much of a political stunt as the particular community is still suffering in the course of COVID-19 virus and the situation will get worse as the newly passed ordinances by the states invites a doom for workers and labourers.
Now, with the proposed suspension of labour laws in many of the states, it can be asserted that the Union, the government, is set to elevate the economy on the cost of labourer’s livelihood. In a democratic nation having a federal structure like in India, unity is a vital force that keeps the nation resilient. But this discernment seems to be vague as the weakest section of the society, which is and has been already suffering the most during and pre-outbreak of the pandemic has been left pregnable without any proper rehabilitation and treatment. The conditions in which they are surviving for their lives is devastating and the government, amidst this crisis, brings such ordinances which may further increase the exploitation of labour rights and their working conditions.
It is the responsibility of the union to ensure unity in the nation. There can be serious repercussions to this decision made by the state legislatures as it tends to place the labourers in an uncertain situation where they are left unprotected and vulnerable as they are already suffering the most during this pandemic and along with this, the only medium through which they could enforce or demand their rights has also been put at stalk so that the states can attract investors.
CHANGES PROPOSED IN LABOUR LAWS PERTAINING TO FEW STATES
Uttar Pradesh; U.P cabinet has approved the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020. The ordinance seeks to exempt all the factories and establishments indulged in manufacturing processes from all labour laws except few, for the next three years. The weekly working hours have been increased to 72 hours from 48 hours. Daily working hours have been increased to 12 from 9 without any pay/wages for overtime.
Madhya Pradesh; The government of M.P. via gazette notification, has exempted the factories and establishments from the provisions of Factories Act, 1948, M.P Factory Rules, 1962 and amended Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 for the period of three-months.
Gujarat; Government of Gujarat via notification has suspended a few of the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948. Allowing factories to employ the labours for 72 hours a week and daily working hours have also been increased from 9 to 12 hours and no payment shall be made for overtime.
Rajasthan; The government has exempted factories indulged in distributing essential goods and manufacturing goods; from the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 for three months. Increased weekly working hours from 48 to 72 and daily hours from 9 to 12, provided with the overtime wages.
Other states have also made changes in the provisions of the aforesaid act provided that the changes or the suspension; don’t exceed more than three months of period contrary to the suspension imposed by the U.P government (3-years).
Few provisions in labour laws that are linked to the payment & wages under section 5 of Payment & Wages Act, 1936; and safety and security under Factories Act, 1948 and Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; Child labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923; Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; etc. will continue to be in force and will be applicable in every state.
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE DEFERMENT
With the struggle to elevate the Indian economy which has been hit to the hilt; the representatives of 12 employer’s associations and industry bodies asked the government to suspend the labour laws; for the next two-three years to help the industry to come out of this present crisis. Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Labour Minister, gave positive revert towards the suggestions and demands; made by the employer’s associations and stated that “the focus should now be on reviving the industries, economic activities; and employment opportunities”.
Furthermore, the state governments justify the exemptions with compliance of plentiful labour laws; as a measure and opportunity to attract FDIs as slackening the labour laws; specifically Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and Factories Act, 1948; will help in attracting the investors which would in turn help in stabilizing the economy; by increasing productivity efficiency.
The constitution of India confers abundant rights for safeguarding the interests of labourers under; part III, Fundamental rights and IV Directive Principles of State Policies; which has been violated by the changes proposed in labour laws;
Article 19 (1) (c)
Freedom to form association has been restrained under the ordinance passed by the governments. As the Trade Union Act, 1926 has been suspended; the act of the government violates this fundamental right to form unions or associations.
As the act proposes to suspend the Factories Act, 1948, Minimum Wages Act, 1948, and Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; the aforesaid action of the government violates the embodied right of labourers; to live with dignity and right to livelihood as there is no assurance of minimum wages. Also, no protection is ensured against retrenchment or layoffs.
The suspension of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 will create an environment of exploitation of the labourers; as they will be asked to deliver more physical work on unfixed or fewer wages. Article 23 strictly prohibits ‘forced labour’ in any condition or situation; and states cannot take advantage of the helplessness of labourers.
Further, the act violates the principles of state policies embodied in the constitution; as Directive Principles of State Policy directs the state to ensure;
“Operation of economic does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”.Article 39
Article 41 directs the state “to make effective provisions for securing the right to work in cases of disablement”.
The Article 43 enjoin the states “to secure to all workers a living wage, conditions of work, and a decent standard of life”.
The suspension of labour laws has deprived the poor of securing socio-economic justice and equality. Moreover, the means of livelihood of the employees or labourers can be disrupted; in accordance to the urge of employers with no legal remedy available to them.
IN-DEROGATION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL ACCORDS
Article 51(c) of the constitution adjures the states to “foster respect for international law and treaty obligations”. As per the international accords that India has signed; the act of suspension of labour laws violates those treaties as well as article 51(c) of the constitution.
ILO – International Labour Organisation has responded to the comprehensive changes made by the state governments; and asked the authorities to ensure all such relaxations adhere to the global standards. Also according to the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; bestows a duty on member states to foster; and promote “freedom of associations, elimination of forced labour, child labour and discrimination at work”.
ICESCR – International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights obliges the member states to safeguard; “working conditions, fair wages or remuneration, healthy standard of living”. But the changes made by the governments violate every criterion of the convention regarding worker’s rights.
From the discussion above, a few points to be emphasized upon are;
- Labour reform is needed but not at the expense of labour force.
- For sustainable industrial growth, reasonable reforms are the essence that would enable industries to expand; while keeping the labours intact, secure, and safeguarded.
- The Judiciary must put a cessation on any possible exploitation of labour community; due to the issuance of such notifications by state governments.
- The last but not the least, the government must show united gestures rather than uplifting others; by exploiting the livelihood of one particular community.