India, a founding member of the International Labour Organisation, has been a permanent member of the organisation’s governing body since 1922. The first ILO office in India opened in 1928.
By the virtue of being an ILO members, India is under obligation “to promote and to realise, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those conventions, namely:
a) Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
b) The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
c) The effective abolition of child labour
d) The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation…”
However, these rights are being ridiculed by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at every single stage of policy making by amending labour laws.
The real state of labourers in India tells a disappointing story. The status of the working class people in India is miserable despite a scheme launched by our Prime Minister on October 16, 2014, named, “Shramev Jayate”.
The scheme has failed to bring any significant change to the lives of the working class. This had to happen since no consultation was held with central trade unions while framing labour laws.
Last year on May Day, the Union ministry of labour and employment organised an event in Delhi, where officials spent most of their time showcasing portals and apps launched by the government for “ease of doing business”. This sums up the BJP government’s intentions in “empowering” the backbone of nation’s GDP growth.
Soon after assuming power at the Centre, Modi government made climbing up the ladder of ratings in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” its sole agenda. In pursuit of this, the government has “simplified” the labour laws, which were considered hindrance in the path of corporates.
Workers of both organised as well as the unorganised sector were targeted. In the name of labour reforms, the entire edifice of labour laws which was built over more than a century of the labour movement was sought to be dismantled.
Labour laws fall in the concurrent list with legislative power for the states as well as the Centre. The changes in labour laws were initiated by the BJP state government in Rajasthan, which made fundamental amendments in four laws.
The central labour minister issued instructions for other states to follow the Rajasthan model. Rajasthan was the first BJP-ruled state to come up with “a labour law reform laboratory”, which had made amendments to labour laws. This was followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh – all BJP ruled states.
Three steps undertaken by Vasundhara Raje-led Rajasthan government, which should be considered as the most disastrous were to the amendment to Industrial Disputes Act. This change allowed companies to raise the limit of number of employees which they could lay off without government’s permission from 100 to 300.
Second, the Contract Labour Act was amended to absolve the principal employer of responsibility for compliance. Up to 49 contract workers can be employed without a licence. Third, changes in the Apprentice Act made it possible for employers to employ large numbers of people with no rights – not even the meager rights of contract workers, even after working for five years in an establishment.
Here is an overview of amendments made by the governments of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh.
Rajasthan Labour Law, 2014
The amendments in the Factories Act propose to increase the threshold limit of employment for factories operating without power from 20 to 40 and from 10 to 20 for factories operating with power. Complaints against the employer about violation of this Act would not receive cognizance by a court without prior written permission from the state government. A provision for compounding of offences has been added.
Gujarat Labour Law, 2015: Out-of-court settlement of dispute between workers and management
This provision will reduce unnecessary and endless litigation, as court cases go on for years. Thus, we want to introduce a system wherein labourers can arrive at a compromise with employers without approaching court. This amendment clearly alienates workers from their basic right of bargaining and reach a court of law.
Madhya Pradesh Labour Law, 2015
Companies are now allowed to let go of up to 100 employees without government approval. The new, higher limit will be applicable to companies where “not less than 300 workers were employed on an average per working day for the preceding 12 months”.
Maharashtra Labour Law, 2017
Large number of small and medium-scale establishments will be out of the purview of the Act. Larger establishments will also employ four to five sets of 40 contract workers to avoid coming under this law. This means employers will avoid providing statutory benefits, including provident fund, the minimum wage and leave to contract workers in smaller units.
From 2015 to 2017, workers from all states staged protests against the anti-worker policies of the Modi government. About 180 millions workers went on strike in 2016 against the “economic reforms” of government. It was termed as the biggest strike of workers of the world.
A 12-point charter of demands was prepared by the trade unions against stringent labour laws, disinvestments in central and state-owned enterprises and opening up sectors ranging from railways to insurance and defence to foreign direct investments (FDI).
Nearly 100,000 workers gathered in Delhi in 2017. The protest was called “Mahapavad”.
Meanwhile, the government is raising billions by selling shares in state-owned industries. This step has threatened the livelihood of lakhs of workers.
Health workers in some states have not been paid for months, food subsidy and distribution schemes are being neglected and private employers, who wish to discourage any kind of unionization, are being actively encouraged by the central government.
While the government talks about simplifying labour laws, there are no labour laws to cover women workers, who deliver crucial government services under various schemes such as anganwadis and the Integrated Child Development Services.
These schemes don’t even have a stipulation on minimum wage.
The demonetisation drive of 2016 was among the fatal blows that the Modi government has served to millions of workers of this nation.
About 91 per cent of the informal sector, which was dependent on cash for survival, has been permanently harmed due to demonetisation. After note ban, this huge population of the working class, including marginal farmers, suffered irreparable losses.
The 47th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) has been postponed indefinitely. No action was taken on the recommendations of the 43rd, 44th and 45th ILCs, especially on formulation of minimum wages, and pay parity.
This is among the major failures of the Modi government.
The Modi government is probably the most pro-corporate government we have had in 25 years. Hire and fire has become a norm in the corporate world to carry out their profit making deals at the cost of workers.
Announcement of labour reforms are mere lip-service delivered to prove how much the government cares for its workers, while it continues to pursue anti-labour policies.
So this international working class day, our question to the Modi government must about what has he done to make the lives of the working class people better?
In words of Karl Marx, “The entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the creation of man through human labour.”
I hope the existing distress of nation’s working class people turns against the anit-labour government and ensures it is thrown out of power.