First they came for the farmers, now they come for the workers

Lok Sabha passes three labour bills dressed up as ‘reforms’ , but will dilute workers’ rights more


On Tuesday, even as the Opposition staged a walkout and boycotted proceedings, the The Lok Sabha passed three labour Bills. These bills, once also passed in the Rajya Sabha, will become labour laws that  will combine existing laws on social security, occupational safety and industrial relations. However, while it is termed as ‘reform’ the laws will actually make the workforce more vulnerable to easy firings, lesser security, even unreasonably long work hours. 

The biggest change is that this empowers companies which would usher in changes including allowing companies and firms who employ less than 300 workers to ‘hire and fire’ them  without prior government approval. According to a report in the Indian Express, the bill also adds more conditions restricting the rights of workers to strike; moves that will empower employers, and not workers. 

The Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020, was introduced in Lok Sabha on Saturday, and Union Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar also introduced: The Code on Social Security, 2020, and The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. They were passed on Tuesday. Minister Santosh Gangwar has hailed them as “historic” and said that once they become law it will “usher in long required reform in industry and labour” reported The Hindu.

The Industrial Relations Code, 2020; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020; and the Code of Social Security, 2020, were passed by voice vote after a debate in the Lok Sabha. All this without the presence of the Opposition.

The news report quotes Ganwar, as saying “after 70 years of Independence, 50 crore workers, including the unorganised sector, will be brought into some kind of social security net.” The report adds that among the 13 Acts subsumed under the Occupational Safety Code, 2020, was “the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation and Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979,” which became a point of discussion when the sudden Covid-19 lockdown left migrant workers jobless, shelterless, and hungry, forcing an exodus not seen in recent times. The new Bill covers contract, and directly hired inter-State workers, reported The Hindu.

In the absence of the Opposition, amendments proposed by these members were not taken up and the Bills passed. These will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on September 28, added the news report.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has condemned the Bharatiya Janata Party Goverment’s “authoritarian assault on the Indian Parliament in its desperate push of brazenly destructive anti-farmer, anti-workers bills to serve the interests of the big landlord-corporate-farm traders’ nexus.” 

Eight members of Rajya Sabha, including CITU National Secretary Elamaram Kareem, were been suspended “only for insisting on having a division on the motion on Farm Bills and for protesting against unjust refusal of such unalienable democratic right in utter violation of the parliamentary procedures striking at the very root of democratic legislative process,” the Centre stated on Tuesday night.  The CITU has demanded a revocation of the Farm Bills and withdrawal of the suspensions of the Rajya Sabha MPs, the Opposition has collectively decided to boycott both Houses of the Parliament. 

“Instead of addressing the genuine demands and concerns of the Opposition, the BJP Govt is now seeking to push through a number of important Bills in the Opposition-free Houses of the Parliament,” added the statement. 

According to CITU, three Labour Code Bills on “three entirely different workplace related issues, viz., Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code; Code on Industrial Relations and Code on Social Security” were taken up together “reflecting abnormal haste of the Govt to satisfy their corporate capitalist masters through imposing conditions of virtual slavery on the working people, who actually create GDP for the nation.”

It explained that now passed these will make “more than 74% of the industrial workers and 70% of industrial establishments” vulnerable to a  “hire & fire regime” at the will of the employers. Now even forming trade unions will be extremely difficult; and a “virtual ban on workers’ right to strike and even collectively agitate on their grievances” will be enforced.

In all the three Code bills, in respect of many substantive rights and working conditions of the workers, atrocious provisions are stipulated which will open-endedly empower the executive i.e the Govts “to unilaterally alter and change those provisions through executive order obviously at the dictates of their corporate masters.” 

The CITU has said that the “only way” now for “the working class movement is not to accept the designs of slavery”. It has urged that “united struggles both at workplaces and at the national level” be launched to assert and demand rights which are being “snatched away through these Codes”.  The trade unions have called for ground-level “action of defiance and resistance” and said the working class must now “prepare for such heightened struggles”. There is a Countrywide joint trade unions protest today, September 23, and a farmers’ and workers agitation on September 25.


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