Suspension Of Labour Laws
Issue 2 | June 27, 2020
As the entire world stands torn and shattered, with businesses and economy at halt due to the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic, the worst affected have been the migrant labours. Their plight and conditions have created an outrage across the country demanding provisions, schemes and actions with respect to the security and protection for the least cared section of the society. It’s an obvious fact that the Indian Government and Judiciary have failed our labour force. On one hand the government has failed to address the glaring issue, and on the other they have scrapped the existing labour laws which is only going to add up to the plight of the migrant labours.
The notification dated 6th May, 2020 released by the Uttar Pradesh (“UP”), government aims at suspending all the labour laws of the country, barring three laws i.e. Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; and the Bonded Labour Act, 1976 for the next three years. The State of UP has promulgated an ordinance called the 'Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020' ("Ordinance") which focuses on granting exemption from complying with a majority of the labour laws for a period of three (3) years. Whereas, States like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have also released notifications granting exemptions under certain labour laws like Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act, 1948 etc. These exemptions though have been laid down with a motive to give concessions to new industrial investments, new industrial establishments as well as ongoing industrial establishments and factories from the operation of labour laws, temporarily for some period of time. Hence, in the next three years, operation of current labour statutes is allowing certain concessions. It aims to bring more flexibility to businesses and employers in order to help curb the effects of the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, but simultaneously have raised major concerns regarding protection of the rights of the Indian labour force.
Repercussions of the Suspension:
The concept and the term ‘LABOUR’ comes under the Concurrent List, falling under Entries 22, 23 and 24, List III of the Seventh Schedule read with Article 246 of the Indian Constitution and therefore doesn’t require Union government’s executive signature and the assent of the President as per Article 245 of the Constitution.
· The suspension of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and other related acts/ rules dealing with the subject of ‘minimum wages’ to be paid to the labours, will not only hamper the earnings of the labours, but is also in violation of their fundamental rights. The labourers will be paid their wages but the minimum amount that will be paid is uncertain, indirectly leading to their sheer exploitation and adding on to the plight of the migrants rather than easing it down. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sanjit Roy versus the State of Rajasthan (1983) 1 SCC 525, Para 3 ruled “Every person who provides labour or service to another is entitled at least to the minimum wage and if anything less than the minimum wage is paid to him, he can complain of violation of his fundamental rights under Article 23 and ask the court to direct the payment of the minimum wage to him so that the breach of Article 23 may be abated”,
· Further, the Factory laws read with other related laws/rules are vested with provisions with respect to safety, security and protection of labours and other benefits. With the suspension of the factory laws, the added benefits and protection granted to the labours under these laws, shall also be nullified.
· Exemptions granted in laws related to Shops/Establishments will severely hit the service industry, nullifying the provisions related to payment of wages, hours of work, leaves, holidays, terms of service and other work conditions of people employed in shop and commercial establishments. Additionally, rules framed for women employees will not be applicable anymore. Hence all protections through rules given to women workers, including sexual harassment rules, and facilities to women employee (night shifts, transportation facilities) will be nullified. Separately, the suspension will impact the maternity benefits to pregnant women workers.
While the economic curve might get flattened in terms of stabilizing of the economic growth, but in terms of protecting the labours , the curve is sloping upwards directing towards deteriorating conditions of the labours. This move by the Government aims to revive and boost businesses and industries, keeping the condition of the labours at an altar. This move has received criticism throughout the country on the ground that the Ordinance and relaxations of key labour laws infringe on worker rights and many workers have voiced their anguish at the betrayal they have felt at the hands of their employers, a betrayal augmented by the loud silence of the professional class.