To ease and reform the Labour Laws during the lockdown in India
Author: Gagana S, Ramaiah College of Law
The perennial images and videos of numerous labourers walking back home with young children and women, having no other means to survive but to go back to their hometown was a catastrophic sight to see for the entire country. That being said it is nothing new that the oppressed class always needs to bear the hardships of life which is ironic considering the existing miserable lives they are leading! Now let’s focus our attention towards the backbone of the industrial sector i.e. the labourers. I shall be emphasizing on the hardships they had to go through during this time and also the legal provisions that were and are available to them. I will also be discussing about how the labour laws could be eased and reformed for their welfare. The reason it is of prime importance not only in relation towards the well- being, but also for the entire country in general, is because if they are not taken care of, economy will cripple in seconds!
Our Indian labors have faced multiple hardships. With factories and workplaces shut down due to the imposition of lockdown, millions of them had to deal with loss of income, food shortages, and uncertainty about their future. More than 300 workers died due to lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care. The International Labour Organization predicted that due to the lockdown and pandemic, 400 million workers would be poverty stricken. While government schemes ensured that poor would get rations due to the lockdown imposed, the distribution system failed to be effective. A survey published by ‘The Hindu’ states that 96% workers did not get ration and 90% of them did not receive any wage, and these statistics are alarming!
Those who decided to stay back during the exodus faced assault from their neighbors who accused them of being infected with the corona virus. Thus, they could not venture out to buy food. Many also faced police brutality. The industrial owners completely abandoned them, with no place to stay and money in the pocket, God forbid such a situation to anybody in the future. While the owners cannot be completely blamed, since they had their own economic hardships, but the moral responsibility still did exist.
Labour Laws in India
Labour laws falls under the Concurrent list of the Constitution. Therefore, both Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws regulating labour. Currently, there are over 100 state laws and 40 state laws regulating various aspects of labour such as resolution of industrial disputes, working conditions, social security, and wages. The governments of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat sought to temporarily revise the labour laws in early May with the purpose of attracting industries and investments. Labour unions criticized about this being harmful to the workers, where as it gave a greater advantage to the employers. There is no inspection of firms less than 50 workers. In Rajasthan, the government has increased the daily work hours from 8 to 12 hours. They have also increased the retrenchment of lay-offs to 300 from 100. Not only these specific state governments, but the central government vouched for the same.
Drawbacks towards the result in the relaxation of labour laws in regards to the well-being of the workers:
- Issue of social security: It would lead to fall in growth of formalization; all employees would be treated as informal workers because they would not get any social security benefits.
- Impact on the demand: The salary that they would earn would be less than the necessary skills that they possess. Due to the lower earning, it would lead to a reduction in the demand which would hamper the economy significantly.
- Spur on economic growth: This effort is taken by the government to reduce the unemployment rate but previously various states have tried to use this technique to attract foreign investment but have failed miserably.
Luckily, it is not that bad with some respite. Various exemptions have been made and those are:
- No worker should be paid less than a minimum wage rate. The wages of the workers should be within the specific time frame.
- Wages of the workers should be paid directly to their bank accounts.
- Bonded labour prohibition Act,1976 would still be applicable.
- Child Labour prohibition Act, 1986 would still be in appliance.
Due to the easing of the labour norms, it would generate more foreign investment and in turn help the country in becoming a manufacturing hub. Though various provisions abridge rights of labourers like no inspection by officers, increasing working hours, lack of additional benefits, there are probabilities that there would be an increase in unlawful practice in the factories and their provisions should be amended.
Well like every coin has two sides, every law amended or created will have the two flip sides. It will only be benefitted and applicable properly when we strike a balance between the two. Here are a few ways that can be followed, Government should encourage factories to follow the principle of two-shifts, where it would hire more employees and in turn strengthen the growth of the economy. It is necessary that there is an efficient development of infrastructure. There should be special economic zones, allocation of proper land facilities and transport facilities should be provided.
It is also equally essential that for generating economic growth, basic human rights of the labourers are not compromised. In the long term, India should work towards reducing migrant workers’ vulnerability by amending labour laws. Such amendments should align migrant workers conditions with other unorganized sector workers, while also developing norms for food security, repatriation and wage safety in terms of emergency. While emergency solutions are urgent, they must pave the way to address more fundamental issues in migrant worker- dominated sectors.