[India] Suspension Of Labour Laws Will Hurt Low-Income Workers

24 JUN 2020

To compensate for economic losses incurred during the COVID-19 crisis, several states in India have issued ordinances suspending labour lawsThe Diplomat reports.

The suspended laws relate to legal working hours, safety conditions and recognition of trade unions. The suspension will last 1,000 days (3 years).

Several states including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have also increased the working week to 72. The first state to implement the increase was Uttar Pradesh, the most highly populated state in India. Uttar Pradesh is governed by Hindu nationalist monk Yogi Adityanath. 

In reaction to the negative impact of the lockdown on economic activity, on May 6 the state government made a decision to “exempt all companies, factories and businesses from the application of labour law,” except with regard to child labour.

The provisions of the new regulations include an increase in working hours from 8 to 12 hours per day. The regulations also prohibit the forming of any association or unions. Although wages have been fixed in proportion to the working hours, experts are concerned that the move will affect workers’ minimum wages and the minimum selling price for farmers.

The law suspension is expected to either directly or indirectly impact the large percentage of India’s population employed in manufacturing and other primary sectors.

Manufacturers and small industrialists, however, have welcomed the move, saying it will benefit them by compensating for the dip in demand and declining market consumption.

Labour experts in India reacted with shock to the new laws and are extremely critical of the move, warning that the amendment will adversely affect workers’ lives.

“These new labour laws puts us back into 19th century or pre-industrial revolution Britain, where only the employer and the government will decide how to deal with workers. This is clearly a condition which is akin to slavery and bondage,” Ravi Srivastava - director for employment studies at the Institute of Human Development in Delhi - said.

The ordinance will only be implemented after it has received the president’s assent. The Uttar Pradesh Worker Front has filed a petition demanding that certain regulations of the amendment be relaxed. State farmer and labour unions have also organized protests against the proposed amendment.

Calling the labour law changes made by states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh “draconian,” on June 19 ten central trade unions held protests across the country to oppose the suspension and ‘tweaking’ of labour laws by states. A joint statement by the trade unions said hunger strikes, demonstrations and processions were held by workers at several locations to increase pressure for the withdrawal of “draconian changes” in labour laws.

In New Delhi, the national leadership of the central trade unions participated in the hunger strike at Gandhi Samadhi, Rajghat. Some of the protesting leaders were subsequently arrested and taken to Rajendra Nagar police station.

“This new labour reform is leading to slavery. The government has given free hand to industrialists. It is using the pandemic to pass such amendments,” Mukut Singh - a member of state farmers’ union All India Kisan Sabha - said.

The government said that the labour reforms will give a boost to entrepreneurs and industrialists and help to revive the economy. The government insists that the focus of these reforms is ensuring that the micro, small and medium enterprises benefit from them. 

However, an official at the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises - a body responsible for the growth and development of these sectors - refused to comment whether reform will really boost the sector. The official added that they have yet to receive any information from the Uttar Pradesh government on the labour reforms.

Source: The Diplomat