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Dilution of Labour Laws: Is this the package?

By Dr Abhishek Atrey

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In a period when people are locked in their houses for more than two months and the governments very badly failed to provide even basic human needs such as food, shelter, security etc., to the poor labourers, whose daily needs are bare minimum, which are necessary to remain alive and the migrant labourers are compelled to travel for thousands of kilometres by bare foot or on bicycle without food or water, bearing stick blows of police, facing ire of locals, by fitting in cement mixture or 100 people in a truck and dying of starvation, normal diseases without medicines or treatment or while sleeping on railway tracks. Central Government can pay airfare of people stuck in other countries but they have no money to pay for travel of migrant labours in their own country and State Governments and political parties instead of helping them genuinely made it a heated issue of politics. Supreme Court in several cases held that right to live with human dignity is part of fundamental rights of every person residing in India as given under Article 21 of the Constitution, but perhaps in present scenario that right is not available to these migrant labours and Supreme Court also refused to interfere in their situation. In every democracy and capitalist economy it is a hard fact that riches are getting rich and poors are getting poor day by day. According to the report of Oxfam published in January 2020 India’s richest 1% hold more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people who make up for the bottom 70%. No doubt during the lockdown all the industries in India had to shut and resultantly they removed all their workmen from employment. It is true that industries and manufacturing units are backbone of economy of any country and in order to revive Indian economy Indian government is giving special packages to these industries worth several lakh crores, but one should not forget that this amount is entrusted by the common people of India in the hands of government by paying several kinds of direct and indirect taxes, which is entrusted to the Government to use for benefit of all and not only to a certain class of people. The labour class forms a large number of population and they have equal right on this money. Unfortunately today the labourers are being treated as resources for industries and not as human beings and they are provided to industries as part of packages by diluting several laws, which were enacted by Parliament or Legislative Assemblies or pronounced by Courts in past 75 years to provide them a life with little dignity, which is also being snatched from them. Now have a look of these laws passed by certain States and many more are in the way of coming in the name of special package for industries.

Government of Punjab

Government of Punjab vide notification dated 20th April 2020 has exempted all factories for three months from certain provisions of the Factories Act and enhanced working hours to twelve hours per day and spread over hours shall not exceed thirteen hours in one day instead of a maximum of ten and half hours as provided under Section 56 of the Act. The workers shall be provided wages at the rate of twice the ordinary rate of wages as provided for overtime under Section 59 of the Act. All precautionary measures advised by the Government for sanitization and principles of social distancing and less contact shall be strictly adhered to.

Government of Gujarat

The Government of Gujarat vide notification dated 20th April 2020 has directed all factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948 shall be exempted from various provisions related to Section 51 weekly hours, Section 54 daily hours, Section 55 interval for rest etc. of adult workers and Section 56 Spread over hours and extended working hours to 12 hour per day with half hour interval after 6 hours.

Government of Himachal Pradesh

Government of Himachal Pradesh vide notification dated 21.4.2020 has exempted all factories in the state from the provision of Section 51 (Weekly Hour), Section 54 (Daily Hour), Section 55 (Interval Of Rest), Section 56 (Spread Hours) with effect from 21st April 2020 to 20th July 2020 and working hours of adult workers have extended to twelve hours in a day and seventy-two hours in a week with half an hour interval after six hours. Wages are increased in proportion to the existing Minimum Wage fixed State under Minimum Wage Act 1948.

Government of Uttarakhand

Government of Uttarakhand vide notification dated 28th April 2020 has exempted all factories in the state from the provision of Section 51 (Weekly Hour), Section 54 (Daily Hour), Section 55 (Interval Of Rest), Section 56 (Spread Hours) with effect from 21st April 2020 to 20th July 2020 subject to conditions that the factories may function in two shifts at 11 hours each with one hour break between the said two shifts, thereby allowing 3 hours of overtime each day for which the overtime wages shall be paid accordingly. The workers shall not be engaged for more than 6 days in a week and the overtime shall be limited 18 hours per week. The notification shall be applicable only to the industrial establishments which have been allowed to function during the lockdown strictly following social distancing, sanitization and other safety provisions.

Government of Haryana

Government of Haryana vide notification dated 29th April 2020 exempted all factories registered under The Factories Act, 1948 from the provision of Section 51 (Weekly Hour), Section 54 (Daily Hour), Section 55 (Interval Of Rest), Section 56 (Spread Hours) and enhanced daily working hours to 12 hours per day till 30th June 2020 subject to wages for the overtime period and social distancing, sanitisation etc.

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Government of Madhya Pradesh also issued Madhya Pradesh Labour Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 dated 6.5.2020 to amend Madhya Pradesh Industrial Establishment (Standing Order) Act, 1961 and to grant exemption to the establishments from the Madhya Pradesh Shram Kalyan Nidhi Adhiniyam, 1982. Apart from this Government of Madhya Pradesh amended Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Madhya Pradesh Rules, 1973, The Madhya Pradesh Factories Rules, 1962, The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, The Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relation Act, 1960, The Madhya Pradesh Shops and Establishment, Act 1958 in the state. Various provisions under the Factories Act 1948 and Madhya Pradesh factory Rules, 1962 have been exempted for three months. Contract Labour license validity has been extended till the period of the contract. Exemption was granted to factories from provisions of inspection of factories and recognizing third party inspection for non-hazardous category factories employing upto fifty workers. Industries of the states are exempted from all the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act 1947 except Chapter V-A, Section 25-N,25-O,25-P,25-Q and 25-R of Chapter V-B for next one thousand days.

Government of Uttar Pradesh

Government of UP vide notification dated 8.5.2020 issued under the powers conferred by section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948 directed that all the factories shall be exempted from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, overtime, intervals etc. of adult workers under section 51, 54, 55, 56 and 59 of the Act and enhanced working hours to 12 hours daily and 72 hours weekly with an half hour interval after 6 hours, however wages are increased proportionately. Government of UP also issued an Ordinance with the name “Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020” and sent it for assent of President, where it is still pending. By this Ordinance the Government intended to exempt all factories and manufacturing establishments from all labour laws for a period of three years sucject to fulfillment of certain conditions given in the Ordinance viz.

  • Details of workers shall be registered electronically on attendance register,
  • No worker shall be paid less than minimum wages prescribed by UP Government, within time limit prescribed in Payment of Wages Act, 1936, and their wages shall be paid only in their bank accounts,
  • Provisions of Factories Act, 1948 and Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 relating to safety and security of the workers shall remain applicable.
  • The workers shall not be allowed or required to work for more than eleven hours per day and the spread over of the work shall not be more than twelve hours per day.
  • For any death or disability due to accident arising out of and in the course of employment compensation shall be paid in accordance with Employees Compensation Act, 1923. 
  • The provisions of the various labour laws relating to the employment of children and women shall remain applicable.
  • The provisions of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 shall remain applicable.

By the aforesaid Ordinance the Government of UP wants to impose a blanket stay on all the Acts made by Parliament in the territory of UP, which not only against human dignity of workers but also against federal structure of India. Needless to mention here that according to our Constitution both States and Central Government can make laws only on the subjects assigned to them in three lists provided in Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. It is pertinent to mention here that in the Ordinance it was not specified by the Government of UP, which this Ordinance wants to stay. Due to space constraint, it is not possible to give gist of all the labour and industrial laws made in last 100 years and are presently applicable in India, but their names only speaks in volume about these laws, therefore only names of some of those Acts are given below for a look, which are (1) The Child Labour( Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, (2) The children (pledging of labour) Act, 1933, (3) The Cine-workers and Cinema Workers Theatre (Regulation of Employement) Act, 1981, (4) The Collection of Statistics Act, 2008,  (5) The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, (6) The Dangerous Machines (Regulation) Act, 1980, (7) The Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1948, (8) Employee’s  Compensation Act, 1923. Earlier known as Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, (9) The Employee’s Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, (10) The Employee’s State Insurance Act, 1948, (11) The Employee’s Liability Act, 1938, (12) The Employment Exchanges (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959, (13) The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, (14) The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, (15) The Factories Act, 1948, (16) The Fatal Accidents Acts, 1948, (17) The Industries Disputes Act, 1947, (18) The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, (19) The Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, (20) The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, (21) The Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971, (22) The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, (23) The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961, (24) The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, (25) The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, (26) The Payment of Wages Act, 1936, (27) The Personal Injuries (Compensation Insurance) Act, 1963, (28) The Plantations Labour Act, 1951, (29) The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, (30) The Sales Promotion Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, (31) The Trade Unions Act, 1926, (32) The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, (33) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, (34) The Weekly Holidays Act, 1942, (35) The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act. The list is not exhaustive but only suggestive as Acts proposed to be stayed are not mentioned in the Ordinance.

Conclusion

After seeing all these notifications and Ordinances and speech of the Hon’ble Prime Minister on 12.5.2020, it appears that all the State Governments and Central Government have made up their mind to increase working hours of workers in factories and exempt the factories and manufacturing establishments from several labour laws, that will worsen the conditions of labourers and will left them with no remedy and will prove that they are merely resources for factories and not human beings having no applicability of Article 21 of the Constitution on them.

—The writer is Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court. With inputs from Rajesh Kumar, advocate, Supreme Court

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