Battle against dilution of labour laws to culminate in Supreme Court?

Labour rights in the country in peril as, even though the UP gov't notification has been withdrawn, the UP ordinance and notifications issued by other states that dilute labour laws, still persist


The Uttar Pradesh government, on May 15, withdrew its notification dated May 8 in which it was stipulated that daily work hours for factory workers will be increased to 12 hours and weekly hours will be increased from 48 hours to 72 hours. Further it had also amended the interval of rest by reducing it to half an hour which can be taken after 6 hours of continuous work, while the law stipulates one hour break after 5 hours of continuous work.


In Allahabad High Court

This notification was challenged before the Allahabad High Court vide a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and after the state government was issued notice, it appeared before the court stating that it has now withdrawn the said notification thus rendering the petition to be infructuous. There is absolutely no victory in the outcome of this case though. The reason being that the notification is separate from the UP government’s ordinance which suspends more than 30 labour operational in the state, including central as well as state laws and has similar provisions as the now withdrawn notification. 

Since labour is a concurrent subject, all states have supplemented central laws with laws of their own. This ordinance suspends several such laws giving absolute liberty and leeway to employers at several establishments to treat the labourers in a manner they please with, almost no interference from the government. The pertinent point to be noted is that the withdrawal of the said notification is nothing but a farce since similar provisions persist in the ordinance promulgated by the UP cabinet which has been sent to the President for approval.

The Allahabad High Court, after recording the state’s submission that the impugned notification has been withdrawn, disposed off the petition deeming it infructuous.


SC – Petition against UP, MP and Gujarat notifications

However, a PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the dilution of labour laws not just by Uttar Pradesh, but also Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The petition filed by one Pankaj Kumar Yadav through Advocate Nirmal Kumar Ambastha seeks directions to quash these notifications issued by these states. Now that Uttar Pradesh has already withdrawn this impugned notification, it means that part of this PIL is already infructuous. It however does not mean that the entire PIL will be dismissed in toto since the Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat notifications are still in operation.

These notifications have been passed under section 5 of the factories Act which gives the state government the power, in times of public emergency, to exempt factories from all provisions of the Act, for 3 months at a time.

The PIL states that the poor labourers cannot be exclusively burdened to bear the detrimental effects of economic growth of the economically ruined country. It states that the welfare of the labourers cannot be overridden in the interest of boosting economic activity. The PIL states that the exemptions proposed by these states “amounts to invasion on the rights of the citizens (poor labourers) under guise of exemption for economic development granted to their employers, which clearly defeats the ostensible object of the benevolent legislations enacted for comfort, welfare and safety of the poor workmen and therefore, same are arbitrary and unconstitutional and deserves to be quashed.”

The petitioner also points out that these exemptions are illegal as they grant the employers a free hand without giving due regard to physical, mental and economic welfare of the poor workmen and also amounts to infringement of the fundamental rights of these labourers. The petitioner states that these notifications have been issued without application of mind and hence, deserved to be quashed by the court.  


SC- Petition against all such notifications and ordinance of states

Another PIL has reached the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the notifications issued by Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Punjab, and Goa.

The petition filed by a law student Nandini Praveen, through Advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker, contends that central laws cannot be abridged by state government by way of executive orders.

The notifications that have been issued by these states are under the power to exempt in case of public emergency as provided under section 5 of the Factories Act. The petitioner contends that the current situation does not qualify as a public emergency as per the Factories Act. The petitioner states that “public emergency” means “a grave emergency whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression of internal disturbance.” The petitioner states that inconvenience caused to the public at large and the administration due to the strict lockdown guidelines imposed by the Central and state government cannot be termed as an internal disturbance. There is no situation of ‘domestic chaos’ as well.

The petitioner states that these notifications and ordinances are arbitrary, unjust and illegal and are liable to be quashed for infringing upon the fundamental rights of the workers. The petitioner also stated that by suspending welfare and health measures of workers and by increasing work hours constitute forced labour and asked the court to view the term in a broader sense as subscribed to by the apex Court in People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (1982 AIR SC 1473).

The petition further stressed upon how these notifications and ordinances impinge upon the labourers right to health, minimum wages, right against exploitation and forced labour and also constitutes violation of international covenants related to labour rights.

The petition seeks directions from the court to the Centre to ensure strict implementation of the central laws which have been affected/diluted by these notifications and ordinances and then quash the same for being arbitrary as well as violative of fundamental rights under Articles Article 19(1)(C) [right to form associations of unions], 21 [right to life] and 23 [prohibition of forced labour].

Since the second petition deals with a wider array of notifications, it is likely that both petitions before the Supreme Court may be combined and if the court finds these executive orders of the states to be invalid, the ordinances will become invalid even before becoming a law. If the apex court deems all these notifications and ordinances to be invalid and unjust, it will not only set a strong precedent for violation of labour rights but will also deter other states from taking the same course of action any time in the future. Indian Constitution cares a great deal about labour laws and the same is evident from the fundamental rights as well as the Directive Principles of state policy, which even if being unenforceable, are still vision of the drafting committee of the Constitution which cannot be overlooked when adjudicating upon the constitutionality of a law.



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