Migrants may go back home after trade union petitions against government in Karnataka HC

Maharashtra government increases work shifts for labourers from 8 hours to 12 hours per day


The coronavirus induced lockdown has been an excruciating experience for migrant workers. During the first phase of the lockdown, after they lost their jobs and were uncertain of their ability to survive in the cities without food, they were scrambling to their native villages by whatever means they could. Forty days later, when the government announced special trains and buses for which migrants could register to go back home, a new problem cropped up before them.

In Karnataka, migrants were in for a rude shock, after the government cancelled trains that were scheduled to take them back to their villages. This decision was allegedly taken at the behest of the powerful and influential builders’ and property developers’ lobby who were worried about the shortage of labour when restarting their construction projects post the lifting of the national lockdown.

The migrants had no consent in this decision. Chand Mohammed Sheikh, a migrant worker from Nadia, said Tuesday night’s cancellations had shocked the thousands of labourers looking forward to catch trains home on Wednesday, the Telegraph India reported.

“It’s wrong to give the impression that we are just slaves with no rights. I request the Centre and state governments to understand this and give us trains,” Sheikh said.

He said the decision was particularly heartbreaking because the government had gathered details of thousands of workers, including which states they wanted to go to. He also said that around 2,000 workers from his neighbourhood – the Thubarahalli slum in Bangalore’s eastern suburbs, had applied for transport.

This indirect use of migrant workers as bonded labourers, prompted a court petition on Wednesday and sparked allegations that labourers were being treated as ‘slaves’, The Telegraph India reported.

The builders’ lobby contested reports about having got the government to cancel the trains so it could resume construction, saying it had merely asked the authorities to “stop a mass exodus”.

Following the cancellation, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions, petitioned the Karnataka High Court seeking the relief of migrants. “We (have sought) urgent hearing on May 7,” council general secretary and lawyer Clifton Rozario told The Telegraph.

“Denial of travel facilities and forced labour are serious violation of their (labourers’) rights,” he added.

While the Congress termed the government decision “heartless”, CPM labour arm CITU called it “inhuman and cruel”.

R Kaleemullah, member of socio-political organization Swaraj Abhiyan said, “The migrant workers are furious and disappointed and might even walk home in large numbers.” The organization walked around Bangalore’s colonies to discuss the next move of the workers. Bangalore alone has 3 lakh migrant workers from the eastern and northern states. They endured the lockdown without wages, surviving on handouts from voluntary organisations. All they want is to go home and meet their families,” Kaleemullah said.

However, after all the hue and cry from civil society and various organizations, it has been reported that the Karnataka government has decided to restart trains for migrants. Arun Dev, Bureau Chief, Karnataka – The Quint, tweeted –



The letters have been sent to the governments of Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Odisha.

Builders wash hands off responsibility

It was noted that the government ordered the cancellation of trains after a delegation of the builders’ association CREDAI met with the CM asking help to resume construction activities.

However, Suresh Hari, Chairman of the Bangalore chapter of CREDAI said, “We didn’t ask the government to stop labourers from going home. We only requested the government to stop a mass exodus since that would do no good to either party.”

“We only wanted a clearance to kick-start construction. But that cannot happen without workers, which is why we requested the government to ensure adequate availability of workers, by jointly providing incentives,” Hari added. He also denied that working at construction sites would put the workers’ lives in danger said that CREDAI had developed an SOP that governed the safety guidelines for all employees at construction sites.

Labour hours increased

In Maharashtra, the government announced that there would now be 12-hour work shifts until June 30 in factories across the state that were facing a shortage of labourers, reported The Indian Express. It was reported that the decision to increase work hours after the demand for the same was raised by an industry association citing the shortage of workers.

“We had received representations from two industry bodies requesting that 12-hour shifts be allowed citing shortage of labourers, as many have gone back to their villages. The government has allowed 12-hours shift till June, exercising the power given in the Factories Act,” Labour Minister Dilip Walse Patil said.

As per the Factories Act, an eight-hour shift and an additional one hour overtime is allowed, said officials.

Deputy Secretary (Labour) Shrikant Pulkundwar stated that factories who were facing labour shortages were being permitted to allow 12-hour work shifts with certain riders. According to some of these conditions, factories should pay double the regular wages to the labourers for the additional four hours of work. Also, the factories are expected to take all possible precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in their premises, ensure safe distance is between two workers and make wearing masks mandatory.

“The factories that have been allowed to operate amid the lockdown can benefit from this. But this is applicable only to those industries that are facing labour shortages,” said Pulkundwar.

However, labour unions opposed the move, alleging that it may lead to job losses for many.

In the same vein, the Rajasthan government had passed a notification last month, extending working hours for three months, saying this would allow firms to run operations for six days with a reduction of 33 per cent capacity of “people passing through the facility”. Other states that have passed similar rules include Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

The move of increasing work hours is said to be contentious, because global and International Labour Organization (ILO) norms mandate 48 hours of work per week. India has also ratified to the first convention that ILO adopted – the Hours of Work (Industry) convention, 1919 in which it proclaimed a 48-hour work week to be followed.

The decision also violates the Section 51 of the Factories Act 1948 (FA) which stipulates that no adult worker should work for more than 48 hours in a week and within this framework no worker should be allowed for more than nine hours a day (S.54). In addition to this, the total spread-over time inclusive of rests should not be more than 10.5 hours a day (S.56) and subject to S.51 and S.54, more hours worked will be paid at the rate twice the ordinary wage rate (S.59), reported Business Standard.

Of all the states that have extended work timings, only Rajasthan and Punjab have made provisions to giver overtime (OT) pay. Gujarat’s notification however says, “wages shall be in proportion of the existing wages”. So, if wages for eight hours are Rs 80, then the proportionate wages for 12 hours will be Rs 120.

The 12-hour work day poses multiple problems. Women workers will face a disadvantage as they have to be present to honour responsibilities at home as well. Increased hours of work will result in more fatigue and stress, probably affecting productivity. Accidents at the workplace too could pose a big risk. The decision by state governments should have been in taken in tandem with the recommendations of trade unions who know the real problems that workers face. Pushing migrant labourers to the sidelines for the benefit of the industries after leaving them to fend for themselves during the lockdown shows a very grim picture of the ruling party’s governance.


Does the Karnataka Govt think migrant workers are bonded labourers?




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