Dangerous dilution of labour rights underway in UP, MP and Gujarat

CITU calls it “barbarous” and said this will enable factory and business owners “to impose conditions of slavery on the working people”


In what has set back welfare and rights of workers, by a century, if not more, two of the largest states in India have left lakhs of workers at the mercy of their employers. 

On Wednesday, the Yogi Adityanath led Uttar Pradesh government passed an ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of almost all labour laws. This exemption is valid for the next three years and, according to the UP government this has been done to help industries that have been slowed down or shutdowns in the wake of the sudden  national lockdown announced in March to try and slow down the spread of Coronavirus Pandemic in India. 

The UP government issued a press statement citing their reasons for passing the  ‘Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’. “The horticultural and economic activities in the states have been severely affected and slowed down due to the outbreak of Covid-19. This is because businesses and economic activities came to a halt more or less due to the national lockdown,” a press statement issued by the state government said. 

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has called this move “barbarous”. Strongly denouncing the ordinance, the CITU has said this will only enable factory and business owners “to impose conditions of slavery on the working people”. It is the workers, the labourers, who are suffering the most in the Coronavirus lockdown and have faced job loss, starvation, and even death. Now they will also have to work under altered circumstances where the factory and industry owner can dictate terms and conditions.

These workers are the ones creating wealth for the country said CITU, and they are the ones “simultaneously suffering from brutal exploitation and loot by the capitalists and big-business.” The CITU has called upon the all trade unions “irrespective of affiliations”, and “working people in general to unite and resist this barbarous and brutal machination on their rights and livelihood both at workplace level and at state and national level through determined united struggle.”

The potential for exploitation of labourers is massive with the laws now diluted. As explained by a report in the Business Standard all business establishments, and factories etc. only have to follow these three labour laws, for the next three years: Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, Bonded Labour Act, 1976 and Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (the right to receive timely wages) will be valid in the state. 

All the other labour laws will become defunct. In UP this will apply to existing and new industries and factories. 

A similar move in favour of business and factory owners has been announced In Madhya Pradesh too. On Thursday MP  Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that his government will exempt new manufacturing units from almost all provisions they have to follow and comply with under the Factories Act, 1948 for nearly three years. A “1000 days” he said. According to the new report these labour law exemptions in Madhya Pradesh, will allow more factories to operate without following safety and health norms. They will also allow the factory, and business owners to employ, and use the services of labourers as they wish. This exception now awaits a nod from the Union government.

As news reports remind us day after day, migrant labourers who moved to work across the country, and workers who have stayed in their home states have already been subjected to inhuman sufferings in the nearly 50 days of the national Lockdown 2020. Many of them undertook long marches home to escape the hostile environment of the cities they built. They were already living in difficult conditions even before the danger of Coronavirus pandemic hit, and things just got worse as they were the first to lose jobs, wages, face eviction and hunger. 

The workers were reduced to “non-entities by the profit-hungry employers’ class in the process of 45 days lockdown, the Govt of the day at the centre has pounced upon those working people only with fangs and claws to reduce them to the stature of virtual slaves,” stated CITU  General Secretary Tapan Sen.  

According to the trade union, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led, or  “compliant state governments” are the ones to have started this cruel exercise. “The BJP led Gujarat Govt pioneered to unilaterally expand the daily-working hours from eight hours to 12 hours without lawful compensation as per Factories Act ,while the governments of Haryana and Madhya Pradesh followed suit. Subsequently the state governments in Punjab and Rajasthan are reported to issue similar notification increasing daily working hours to 12 hours, obviously at the dictate of the corporate class and the Govt of Tripura and Maharashtra also are reportedly moving in the same direction,” stated CITU.

In Madhya Pradesh the Chief Minister’s decision  exempts employers from “ obligations under various labour laws like  Factories Act, Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act and Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Labour Act etc  through appropriate amendments by executive order or Ordinance for a period of 1000 days, i.e., three years empowering the employers to hire and fire workers “at their convenience”. 

In effect, the labour department cannot intervene, or address any  establishments for the next two and a half months or so. “Not only that, the employers were also exempted from payment of Rs 80/- per labourer to Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board” said CITU.

The UP government has justified this move as one which will “give employment” to the migrant workers who are now headed back to their home state on special trains. “The idea is that in the present circumstances where we need to provide employment to workers who have migrated back to the state and to protect the existing employment, some flexibility has to be given to business and industry,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary RK Tiwari was quoted by Business Standard and added that, “some” labour laws have been kept intact and “they will continue to be protected”. 

According to news reports the BJP-led Govt of Tripura has also proposed increasing daily working hours to 12 hours, “and also to permit hire and fire of workers as per convenience of the employers in all establishments employing up to 300 workers”.

Uttar Pradesh was the first State to announce that it will bring back all migrant labourers who wished to retun home, from other parts of India.  But as reported in The Hindu, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been asked by the CMs of  Punjab, Karnataka, Haryana and Gujarat to “prevent flight of labour” back to their home state.

According to this news report CM Adityanath “received calls from the four Chief Ministers assuring him that migrant labour from his State needn’t leave and would be taken care of as a graded exit from the lockdown now looms.”

The  Chief Ministers are “worried that economic revival in their States, post lockdown, would be hampered as more and more labour left their borders,” said the news report.  The labourers, and workers, meanwhile, wait to hear from political leaders who are yet to make any substantial announcement assuring them that their rights will be protected above all.




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