Ten central trade unions on Monday (May 11) threatened to move the International Labour Organisation (ILO) while launching a nationwide agitation against tweaking of labour laws by some state governments.
In a joint statement, leaders of these trade unions took serious exception to the changes made in labour laws by six state governments, enhancing work hours from the currently mandated 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day.
State governments, including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh issued executive orders to enforce the changes which are considered violation of the Factories Act. The BJP government of Tripura is also mulling similar changes.
These governments claim the move will facilitate companies to operate with fewer workers as mandated by the lockdown protocols and reduce the number of shifts. They say the changes will help factories to meet deadlines of executing orders on time.
The Centre on Friday (May 8) backed the decision of the state governments. “Reformist zeal to push through structural reforms will alone ensure sustained growth. UP and MP emerging as big reformers,” tweeted Amitabh Kant, CEO of the NITI Aayog.
The central trade unions, however, consider the step as an inhuman crime and brutality on the workers, besides being gross violation of several ILO conventions and internationally accepted norm of eight hour working day – espoused by core conventions of the ILO.
“While seriously considering to lodge a complaint to the ILO on these misdeeds of the government for gross violation of Labour Standards, the central trade unions calls upon the working class to oppose these designs of imposing slavery on the workers and employees in the interests of the employers’ class through united agitation and prepare for countrywide resistance struggle both at workplace level and at national level,” read the joint statement.
Apart from changes in working hours, some of the BJP-ruled states also provided blanket exemptions to all establishments from the employers’ obligation under the existing labour laws for a period of three years.
“In UP already the Ordinance in this regard has been promulgated and the same is going to be done in Madhya Pradesh too as asserted by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Media report has also indicated that a similar move of liberating the employers from all labour laws is going to be initiated in Gujarat also for a period of 1200 days, i.e., more than three years,” the joint statement said.
The Uttar Pradesh government, in an ordinance, exempted all establishments in the state from almost all of the 38 existing labour laws for a period of three years.
The Madhya Pradesh government announced its decision to bring appropriate amendments to existing labour laws such as the Factories Act, the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act, and Industrial Disputes Act to exempt the employers from their obligations under these laws for a period of 1000 days, i.e., three years.
The trade unions say it will empower the employers to hire and fire workers “at their convenience” and that there will be no labour department’s intervention in the establishments during the exemption period.
In Madhya Pradesh, employers were also exempted from payment of ₹80/- per labourer to the Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board.
“Now that the government at the Centre has taken the strategy of letting loose their pliant state governments to take such anti-worker and anti-people autocratic measures, many other state governments are expected to follow suit,” the joint statement added.
Leaders of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sangh (HMS), and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) among others signed the joint statement.
Even as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is not the signatory to the statement, sources said it has conveyed its concern to the Labour ministry and the NITI Aayog.