By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Implementation of the four labour codes in the current financial year 2023-24 has well neigh been stalled. BJP’s debacle in Karnataka Vidhan Sabha election, the result of which came out on May 13, has changed the priorities of the party and RSS, where they have just seen how their narrative has failed along with Modi’s so called charisma as vote catcher.
The indication of the implementation being stalled comes from two sources – one from the top officials of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, who have just stopped the talks with the representatives of the joint platform of 10 Central Trade Unions (CTUs), the same officials who had been telling that the government was inclined to take all stakeholders on board for which there needs agreement with them on key provisions of the labour codes. Since the CTUs barring the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) are strait forward in their demand that the Centre outrightly withdraws the labour codes, there could not be unilateral implementation of the labour codes.
As for the RSS backed BMS is concerned, though they support the BJP-led Modi government at the Centre, its General Secretary Ravinder Himte, has said that there was no possibility of agreeing to some of the codes until the government accepted their recommendations, especial on the Industrial Relations Code 2020, and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2020. He said that BMS supports “whole-heartedly” the other codes, Code on Wages 2019, and the Code on Social Security, 2020.
The hardening of stand of BMS indicate the RSS family has taken the Karnataka debacle of BJP more seriously, since their narrative and Modi’s lofty rhetoric have just met humiliating defeat in the state, at a time when Lok Sabha 2024 elections are to be announced within 10 months from now in March 2024. In this situation, RSS family believes, that implementation of the four controversial labour codes would politically prove to be suicidal, and hence these should not be implemented anytime before the Lok Sabha election 2024 is over and results are out by May 2024.
Majority of leaders of the RSS family, including of the labour wing BMS and the political wing BJP, believe that in case of implementation, if joint platform of 10 CTUs –INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC– resorts to strike actions, as they have already threatened, the entire economy would be disrupted which would go against the Modi government. More so because the latest efforts by state governments to amend the old laws in the light of the new labour codes did not go well with the workers, which also hampered the prospect of BJP’s winning election.
Karnataka has been the latest example where the ruling BJP had got passed an amendment to the Factories Act 1948 in the Legislative Assembly of the state only in February 2023, just on the eve of Karnataka Vidhan Sabha Election. The amendment allowed the industries to extend working hours up to 12 a day while keeping the maximum weekly work hours at 48 hours. It was opposed by trade unions of the state and the joint platform of CTUs. An amendment has also relaxed the restriction imposed on women workers to work night shifts. Workers unions have not only opposed the amendments but also campaigned against the BJP during Karnataka elections against the labour codes, privatization of public sector, and promoting Gujarati companies and cooperatives against the people of the state. The issue has also played a crucial role in BJP’s humiliating defeat in Karnataka.
A similar amendment in Tamil Nadu had to be withdrawn after stiff resistance. Some other states – especially Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have been preparing to bring amendments to the existing labour laws on the line of the new central labour codes, however the Karnataka debacle has put them on their backfoot. They are now planning to tread carefully in the matter of dilution of labour laws in the country, though they are willing to do it for the benefit of the multi-national companies and big corporates.
Karnataka election results have put the RSS-BJP clan including the PM Narendra Modi on backfoot on implementing the four labour codes before the Lok Sabha Election 2024. Their priority has been changed and they need to drastically change their narrative – including open communalism and the propaganda against Muslims to consolidate Hindu votes in their favour – that miserably failed in Karnataka. Implementation of labour code may politically and economically backfire at this juncture, they believe.
Karnataka election results have tremendously emboldened the political parties in opposition to BJP, since it has clearly shown that BJP and its leader PM Modi, and its so-called Chanakya Amit Shah are not invincible, even with their communal propaganda. They have now high morale and if Centre rolls out the labour codes, they would surely be able to derive political benefit since the working class and trade unions would stiffer their resistance and start even campaigning against the BJP. CTUs, Farmers unions, Bank and insurance employees, government employees etc are already campaigning against the BJP and PM Modi.
The Centre had directed the administrators or Lieutenant Governors (LGs) of UTs to be ready with the labour rules according to the new labour codes. In the meantime, Supreme Court has ruled that elected government in Delhi have the real powers not the LG. Labour is in concurrent list of the Constitution of India, and hence Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal would oppose any move of the BJP led Centre to implement the codes for obvious political reasons, especially after the party leaders are being hounded through CBI and ED cases.
Moreover, working class is under pressure on account of joblessness and price rise and undergoing a cost-of-living crisis. Politically, it is not the right time rolling out the four controversial labour codes that the working class allege anti-worker and pro-corporate. PM Modi and RSS family would first try to protect their declining political fortune, and if they come to power in May 2024 for the third time, they would immediately roll out the labour codes pending for the last five years – the entire second term of PM Modi during which he has been lauding the codes as much desired, overdue, and the biggest labour reform in independent India. Since the Kerala election result has made their return to power uncertain, the rolling out of the labour codes has become highly uncertain. (IPA Service)