In the last few days, several state governments have suspended crucial labour laws in their states under the pretext of providing stimulus to the economy. It is being hoped that such measures will help attract investment and allow existing businesses to recover the losses which have resulted from the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
The UP government, through an ordinance titled ‘The Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption for Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’ has made as many as 38 labour laws defunct for a period of one thousand days i.e. almost three years. These include the Minimum Wages Act, all but one section of the Payment of Wages Act, the Trade Union Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, the Act on Occupational Safety and Health, the Contract Labour Act, the Interstate Migrant Labour Act, the Equal Remuneration Act and the Maternity Benefit Act.
The Madhya Pradesh Government has brought drastic changes in the Factories Act, the Contract Act and the Industrial Dispute Act. At least eight state governments (Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab) have increased working hour from eight to 12 hours a day through executive orders. While Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have promised to pay the overtime rates specified under the Factories Act, the rest have not.
These changes will allow employers to hire and fire workers at will while retracting the rights of workers to raise disputes and have their grievances redressed. Working hours will go up to 72 hours a week and the right to a guaranteed minimum wage will be suspended. Contractors will not be required to obtain a license for contracting out workers, which will effectively allow them to function without any government regulation or control. The requirements regarding inspections of factories and other workplaces will be withdrawn and the entire labour law enforcement machinery virtually suspended.
These changes will strip workers of even the few basic rights and protections they have left in our country after decades of neoliberal, anti working class policies and practices. Ten central trade unions have filed a complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) against these measures. India is a signatory to the ILO convention of 1919, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention. Countries which ratified the convention agreed to fix the upper limit of permissible working hours at 48 hours a week. Indian states’ move to increase weekly working hours to 72 is a blatant violation of this commitment.
On May 22nd labour unions from around the country are going on strike to protest these oppressive measures. The Socialist Party (India) stands in solidarity with India’s labour unions and supports their call for a nationwide strike. The party demands that the government restore all labour laws immediately. The injustice, inequality and indignities present in our society have been the biggest hindrance in our fight against COVID-19. It is clear that our way out of this crisis will not be found through even more of the same, but can only emerge from a thorough-going commitment to social justice and human dignity.
Pannalal Surana, President, Socialist Party (India) | Ph: 9423734089
Sandeep Pandey, Vice-President, Socialist Party (India) | firstname.lastname@example.org
Niraj Kumar, President, Socialist Yuvajan Sabha | email@example.com | Ph: 7703933168
Shyam Gambhir, General Secretary, Socialist Party (India) | firstname.lastname@example.org | Ph: 981823939
Surabhi Agarwal, Spokesperson, Socialist Party (india)