Amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, an increasing number of states that include Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have pushed through changes to their labour laws by way of amendments — ordinances or executive orders — some of which would require approval from the central government to come into effect. Reacting to the move by states, trade unions have condemned the blanket exemption to employers from labour laws and termed the move as regressive.
The Uttar Pradesh government had, on Wednesday, cleared an ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of most labour law provisions for the next three years. However, labour laws related to bonded labour, deployment of women and children and timely payment of salaries will not be relaxed under the ordinance.
“The industrial and economical activities in Uttar Pradesh have been severely affected and slowed down due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Businesses and economic activities have slowed down due to which labour welfare has also been affected. This is because businesses and economic activities came to a halt more or less due to the national lockdown. To bring economic activity back on track, new investment opportunities would need to be created along with fastening the businesses processes and productivity,” a statement issued by the state government said.
CPI(M)-linked Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) condemned the blanket exemption to employers from labour laws, terming it as a “barbarous move to impose conditions of slavery on the working people who are actually creating wealth for the country, simultaneously suffering from brutal exploitation and loot by the capitalists and big-business”.
The latest is the more aggressive move to liberate corporate employers from obligations under almost all labour laws in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, CITU said. Most other state governments will follow the same path while competing with others in “the name of development and attracting investment in the state on the dubious plea of revival of their economy”, it said.
Along with an extension of daily working hours to 12, Madhya Pradesh has exempted employers from some obligations under various labour laws, like Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act and Industrial Disputes Act, as well as Contract Labour Act for 1,000 days, allowing employers to hire and fire workers “at their convenience”. The state has also allowed exempted firms flexibility of extension of working hours. Further, it has exempted new factories under the Factories Act, 1948 from inspection from the Labour Department and permitted the flexibility to conduct third party inspections at will.
The state has also issued an ordinance to the Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1982, exempting all newly established factories from filing annual returns and paying Rs 80 per labourer per year to the Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board for next 1,000 days. Changes to the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1961 will exempt industries employing up to 100 workers from the law’s provisions.
Experts have termed the amending of labour laws by state to be in contravention to the globally accepted norms. States including Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab have extended working hours in manufacturing units to 12 hours from 8.
Reacting to the development, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury on Thursday tweeted, “Wealth is nothing but the monetisation of value. Destroying labour means destroying economic growth. BJP’s diabolical agenda must be resisted and defeated to save “India, that is Bharat”.”
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