By Gyan Pathak
When India will begin its financial year on April 1, the organized labour force under the joint platform of 10 Central trade unions in the country would be tearing up or burning the copies of four new labour codes. We have just witnessed a spate of movements since March 15 against several other policies of the Modi government, such as privatisation of the Public Sector Undertakings (PSEs), of Public Sector Banks (PSBs), of General Insurance Companies (GICs), and of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) etc, and also against the three farm laws that brings corporate sector to the farms of the country. All the agitating labour force, employees, and farmers are supporting each other in their demand and agitation plan, and therefore it is a matter of serious concern.
Another matter of serious concern that we cannot ignore in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic that it has triggered conditions of modern slaveries in the world. ILO has warned all the countries to keep eyes on such a trend that is surfacing due to little government actions and may worsen in the near future. Any wise man will not disagree with the view of the Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi who has said ‘freedom from slavery’ in non-negotiable. It must also be noted that the labour force that are likely to fall in the modern form of slavery are mainly informal and unorganized labours.
There are also informal, contractual, and casual labours in the organized sectors. All of them account of 92 per cent of the labour force of the country. They are most vulnerable because they can’t even protest because of the fear of losing their jobs, and there is no other social security system which can even feed their family members and their children, not to talk about other needs such as medicine, clothings, education and so on.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdowns and containment measures have caused unprecedented damage to the economy and livelihoods of the people. The labour force in the organized sector, who are only 8 per cent of the total workforce in the country were more fortunate than the 92 per cent informal labour fource. When the Indian economy started unlocking, the companies cut the salaries, wages, and other benefits to the working force, with only two options – either accept new terms or quit. Millions could not return to their jobs because they were not given even these two options because they could not restart their enterprises or business
. One can just visualize the modern form of slavery of the working class, who are enforced by their very miserable financial conditions to work on whatever terms an employer wants to employ them. In millions of cases working class is not even getting minimum wages, ie Rs 176 per day at national level which works out to be merely Rs 4,576 per month. It is another matter that many among us may not agree on such a low wage to be given to anyone. Moreover, people are not getting work daily, and their actual earning are much less than the minimum monthly required.
It is in this context, the four labour codes are seen by the working class – both from organized and unorganized informal sector of the country. Working class engaged in all the sectors of the economy are under grip of fear, because most of them believe that conditions of the economy would not be normal in near future. Their fears are not groundless. Take example of the commercial real estate, on which the latest IMF report has said it may not recover in near future unless appropriate steps are taken by the government. People have no money to purchase houses, and builders have no money to invest when there are no buyers. Thus construction workers would find themselves in very difficult position in finding jobs.
The draft rules that have been prepared to do away with 44 central labour laws of the country in favour of four new labour codes – the Code on Wages, 2019; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020; and the Code on Social Security, 2020 are therefore agitating and uniting all the labour force. They believe them to be anti-worker and pro-industries and pro-business. Codes would be implemented after the proposed rules are notified, which Modi government is claiming necessary to put economy back on track.
The rules are feared giving sweeping powers to employers against the workforce the trade unions allege. They would put workers on the mercy of the employers, and conditions in the private sector would deteriorate more sharply than in the public sector. Several states have already halted implementation of labour rules in favour of business and industries, such as in Uttar Pradesh. The rules would even give option of 12 hour working day for four day at a stretch.
Working class knows how they need to work 10-12 hours daily, even when there is law of 8 hours working day. They are thus fearing exploitation. The labour rules providing ‘companies with flexibility’ would give powers to the employers to hire and fire on their whims. Quality of job will be gone, which is reflected even in the fluctuation in the employment and unemployment rates in the last four months. One month employment is gained and the next month it is lost. This condition is prevailing even before implementation of the codes.
All these are indicative of some grave labour unrest in the country in near future which may escalate to social unrest. Government must be watchful and should not rush through the proposed labour reform in the present circumstances. (IPA Service)