By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Though the Centre and States are holding back announcement of roll out of the four controversial labour codes brought in 2019 and 2020 fearing adverse political fallout during 2024 general election in the country, India has already begun witnessing relaxation being given to employers. Several states have already relaxed their laws and several others are preparing to do so. More and more enterprises are also resorting to anti-labour policies such as layoffs and fixed-term or informal employments without providing social security to workforce.
Roll-out of the four labour codes – the Code on Wages, 2019; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (IR Code); the Code on Social Security, 2020 (SS Code) and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code) were expected to be notified from April 1, 2023, but in absence of any consensus among Centre, States, and representatives of industries and trade unions, the date has been deferred. The series of talks have just stopped now, and there is no indication of its being resumed.
Central Trade Unions are still insisting on their demand of rolling the codes back alleging those to be anti-labour, while the Centre seems bent upon rolling them out, if not in 2023, may be after the election result of 2024 after which Modi government hopes to come back to power.
Union Minister of labour has said several times that they are ready for implementation of the codes since these are the much desired and awaited biggest labour reform in the country since independence but the chief reason of holding them back is that all state governments are yet to notify their rules, which is important because states are also required to do so because labour is in the concurrent list of the Constitution of India.
Some of the states have even reservations about the rules, while the CTUs have been threatening to intensify their protest against the codes, and if implemented unilaterally, they would again go on strike across the country and across sectors.
In the meantime, the existing labour laws are being changed. In February 2023, Karnataka legislature had passed an amendment to the Factories Act of 1948 to be implemented in the state. It now allows industries to extend working hours up to 12 hours a day while keeping the maximum weekly work hours at 48. It has been opposed by trade unions of the state and also Central Trade Unions. The amendment has relaxed the restriction imposed on women workers to work night shift in factories by introducing a provision to section 66 of the Act.
Tamil Nadu assembly has also passed the Factories (Amendment) Bill 2023 providing flexible working hours for employees, including the option for employers to increase the per-day working hours of their staff to 12 hours from the current 8 hours a day working schedule. The bill was passed amid protests and walkout by political parties including ruling DMK allies CPI, CPM, and VCK.
Tamil Nadu has amended the Factories Act, 1948 by introducing a new section (section 65 A) which enables the state government to exempt any factory from restrictions relating to weekly hours, holidays, daily working hours, interval of rest, spread over and prohibition of overlapping shifts.
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) organised protests against the passage of the bill and said, “Even before the union government implemented its four anti-worker labour codes, the state government has passed the bill with the provisions of the labour codes. The bill has been drafted and passed without holding consultation with trade unions and without a tripartite meeting of officials, industrialists and trade unions. The pro-corporate and anti-labour bill must be withdrawn immediately.”
On the other hand, Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO) has termed the passage of the bill as “historical labour reform” that will help the CM’s vision of making Tamil Nadu a trillion-dollar economy.
After change in labour legislation in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, some five-six states, including Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat are preparing to bring amendments to the existing labour laws even before the four controversial codes are notified for implementation in the country.
The rules are being changed to favour foreign multi-national companies, like Apple and Foxconn etc, who have been demanding relaxation in the existing Indian labour laws even before the labour codes are implemented. It must be noted that may tech companies have laid of thousands of workers in the last two years in utter violation of the Indian labour laws and taking benefit of the loopholes therein.
Dilution in the factories act is a serious matter for the workforce since large workers are dying while on work, while employers are going almost scot-free. For example, between 2018-2020, there were 3,331 deaths but only 14 employers were arrested. It goes without saying that we need more occupational and health security rather than diluting the provisions. It should also be noted that highest fatal injuries were registered in Gujarat in registered factories which was 920, followed by Maharashtra (578), Tamil Nadu (391), Chhattisgarh (333), Andhra Pradesh (267), Karnataka (248), Telangana (220), Uttar Pradesh (218), Odisha (173), Haryana (155), Punjab (128), Madhya Pradesh (122), and Rajasthan (118).
Few other states and UTs are also trying to dilute labour rules in favour of employers. Maharashtra has approved the rules relating to the Industrial Relations Code in March 2023.
The Centre has directed the administrators or Lieutenant Governors of NCT Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Chandigarh, Puducherry and Lakshadweep to formulated rules under the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, so that those can be implemented.
Even though as many as 31 states have pre-published the draft rules under the Code of Wages, 28 States under the Industrial Relations Code, 28 states under the Code on Social Security, and 26 states under the Occupational Safety Health and Working Conditions Code, Centre has been strategically encouraging amendments to the labour laws by states and UTs so that the codes would face less resistance at the time of their implementation. Workforce of the country is under pressure of rising unemployment and high inflation, and hence willingly accepting low quality low poorly paying jobs, such as informal and short-term contract jobs without any social security. (IPA Service)