September 5 Mazdoor-Kisan Rally: Stop the Anti-worker Amendments to the Labour Laws

Ensure strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption!

WHY do employers evade labour laws? Simple! To increase their profits!

But why does the government permit evasion of labour laws? Any ordinary citizen violating the laws of the land is generally taken to task by the law enforcement authorities. But not so in the case of labour law violations! Strangely it is the workers, who are being punished, victimised and implicated in false cases for demanding implementation of labour laws while it is very rare to find any employers anywhere in the country being punished for non implementation of any labour law.

Worse, the government is amending labour laws against the interests of the workers and to make them favourable to the employers. Why?

This is a serious matter that needs to be considered.

All the statutory benefits that the workers have today – eight hours working day, minimum wages, equal remuneration, maternity benefit, bonus, social security benefits including provident fund and ESI, the right to form trade unions etc – have been achieved through hard struggles and huge sacrifices by the working class. They were not granted out of benevolence or charity by either the employers or any government.

The capitalist class have been putting pressure on the governments to weaken the labour laws. The successive governments at the centre, succumbing to the pressure of the capitalists, have been trying to weaken these laws through a thousand tricks and loopholes. The previous Congress government had forced changes in laws to make registration of trade unions more difficult to prevent workers from organising. But workers held massive struggles including country wide strikes and many of these attempts could be defeated.

But the present BJP government, which has come to power on its own majority, is surely intoxicated with power. It thinks it can do anything totally ignoring the protests of the workers. It has decided to go ahead and do what many governments in the past were not able to do. It is determined to bring about wholesale changes in labour laws that will make them toothless and irrelevant. It wants to impose slave like conditions on the workers facilitating increased exploitation by domestic and foreign capitalists.

The government has decided to merge the 44 central labour laws into four labour codes. The Minimum Wages Act, the Payment of Wages Act, the Bonus Act and the Equal Remuneration Act are merged into the Labour Code on Wages. The Industrial Disputes Act, the Trade Unions Act and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act have been merged into the Code on Industrial Relations. 15 labour laws related to social security of workers, including the Provident Fund Act, ESI Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Employees’ Compensation Act, Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, the Beedi Workers’ Welfare Cess Act etc are merged into the Code on Social Security.

The Code on Wages Bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha and the Code on Industrial Relations Bill is ready for introduction in the parliament. The Draft Code on Social Security has been placed in the public domain.

DISASTROUS IMPLICATIONS

What will be their implications on workers? In one word, they will be disastrous. They seek to take away the hard won rights of the workers.

The Code on Wages is totally silent on the formula for fixation of minimum wages as unanimously recommended by the 15th Indian Labour Conference along with the Supreme Court judgment in the Raptakos and Brett case, which was repeatedly reiterated in the 44th and 46th ILCs; it does not give the option to the workers on the method of payment of their wages, in cash or by other methods. Enforcement provisions including the system of inspection has been totally diluted in favour of the employers; definition of employees and workers in the Bill are so designed as to facilitate misinterpretation by employers to squeeze the workers and their rights

The Code on Industrial Relations is highly detrimental to the interests of the workers; it is in fact intended to impose slave like conditions on workers. Employers in establishments employing up to 300 workers can retrench them at their will, they need not take formal permission from the government; they can ‘hire and fire’ according to their needs. The Code makes forming trade unions by workers next to impossible; and going on struggles and strikes on their genuine demands almost impossible. A virtual ban on right to strike has been imposed along with heavy penalty for joining and organising a strike.  The Bill empowers the employers to unilaterally change the service conditions of the workers; the right of the workers to oppose or dispute the same has been severely curtailed.  In one word, it seeks to impose slave like conditions on the workers and also virtually do away with trade union rights. Even people supporting workers’ struggles will be punishable with huge fines and imprisonment. At the same time employers are let off with no punishment or very light punishments for any violations on their part.

The government’s claim of ‘universal social security protection’ through the Code on Social Security is highly deceptive and fraudulent. The Code proposes not a single specific social security measure for the workers. What it specifies is that all the funds with EPFO, ESI, Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess etc will be merged and brought under the control of a national advisory board to be set up under the chairmanship of the prime minister. Obviously this huge fund will be made available to the share market.

It is not only strange but also ridiculous that the BMS has acclaimed the Code on Social Security as a ‘historic and revolutionary piece of legislation’. Can any trade union really committed to the interests of workers ever praise such a retrograde and harmful proposal like this?

Now, why is the government doing this? Obviously, the government is more interested in helping the big corporates, both domestic and foreign, by improving its ‘ease of doing business’ index. The corporates, the employers’ class allege that the labour laws in India are ‘restrictive’, and demand that they should be given the right to ‘hire and fire’ workers according to their will, close or open factories according to their needs etc. They demand union free workplaces so that they can freely exploit workers without organised resistance, increase their profits and amass their wealth.

The reality is that in our country over 90 percent of the workers are not covered by labour laws at all. Even in the organised sector, more than 50 percent of workforce is now made of contract workers in public sector units while their share is 70 percent in private units. They are considered to be beyond the purview of labour laws. Overwhelming majority of the small proportion of workers who are legally covered by labour laws do not benefit because of poor or non implementation. The BJP government has already further diluted and weakened their implementation through computerised random inspections under its ‘Shrameva Jayate’ programme. But the employers are not satisfied. They want workers to be further subjugated. Their dil mange more!

The BJP government at the centre feels obliged to satisfy their corporate masters. This is revealed by the Bills already enacted or pending for enactment in parliament.   

It has amended the Apprentices Act so that apprentices can be made to work for years together without payment of statutory minimum wages and social security benefits.  The definition of ‘workers’ has been changed in this amended Apprentices Act to include contract, casual and daily rated workers. Now the employers can deploy 30 percent of the total of such ‘workers’ as apprentices; pay them nominal amounts and increase their profits.

As a follow up to the amendment of Apprentices Act, the government has launched in a big way the so-called ‘National Employability Enhancement Mission’ (NEEM), most dubiously designed to pave the way for gradually replacing the regular workers by induction of trainees/apprentices. NEEM regulation 2017 provides three years period of ‘training’ with minimum wage paid as consolidated amount without any statutory benefit or increment. This experiment is already under operation in many MNCs like M/s Exedy in Greater Noida, UP (an auto-spare manufacturer) which has been taking work from 400 trainees under NEEM scheme replacing almost its entire workforce of 450 (both contract and regular in phases. M/s Chemplast in its factories in Tamilnadu and Pudduchery has been making the same experiment by removing its regular workers through VRS and replacing them by NEEM trainees. The labour department of the concerned state governments (BJP and its allies) have been patronising such unlawful experiments with impunity.   

This BJP government has also passed the Labour Law (Amendments) Act. Any establishment employing 19-40 workers will be treated as small establishment. On the pretext of simplifying labour laws, these are exempted from filing returns and maintaining registers related to 16 major labour laws including Factories Act, Payment of Wages Act, Minimum Wages Act, Weekly Holidays Act, Contract Labour (R&A) Act, Building and Other Construction Workers Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Payment of Bonus Act, Plantation Labour Act etc. With today’s technology most of the establishments having large capital investment and huge profits employ less than 40 workers. It is estimated that over 72 percent factories in this country will now find it further easier to evade all these 16 labour laws.

The Factories (Amendment Bill, partially passed by parliament under BJP rule, envisages factories employing less than 40 workers (operating without power) and less than 20 workers (with power) to be pushed out of the coverage of the Factories Act. This means 70 percent factory workers in the country will be thrown out of the purview of Factories Act. This means that there will be no regulation on working hours, overtime wages, overtime hours, safety at workplace etc for these workers; they will be at the mercy of the employers. 

The latest move of the government is to move for amendment of Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970 to legalise the deployment of contract workers in permanent perennial jobs which has been so long going on illegally in various establishments. Workers deployed by contractor for jobs outsourced by the principal employers will not be treated as contract workers. They will henceforth be out of the purview of the Act. The contractors employing less than 50 workers will not be required to obtain license and thereby freed from all regulatory inspections. In reality, if these amendments are passed, contract work will totally replace regular employment.

Thereafter, on the same spree to do away with the very concept of regular employment from the workplaces in a phased manner, the government amended, through executive order, the Central Rules under Industrial Employment Standing Order Act. It has allowed “fixed term employment” in all establishments. Workers employed for fixed term can be retrenched after the end of the term without notice or compensation. Already even in many PSUs, workers are being employed through this provision. Now this phenomenon is going to become widespread everywhere making the conditions of even the regular workers extremely vulnerable.

In the background of large scale changes in labour laws pushing the majority of the workforce out of the purview of all labour laws, these moves of the government to amend Apprentices Act, Contract Labour Act and introduction of fixed term employment have to be understood together as a comprehensive design of the BJP government to convert the employment relations in all workplaces to a state of temporariness and insecurity. Through this process it seeks to curb the trade union rights of the workers. It is a comprehensive design to ensure “ease of doing business” for the corporates with whom the present government is absolutely in bondage. Workers must identify their real enemies who are also enemies to the nation as a whole, in clear terms.    

The government of India has directed all the state governments to amend the labour laws in their states in the pattern of the BJP led Rajasthan state government. Several other state governments including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, etc have followed in the footsteps of Rajasthan government and happily implemented the recommendations of the government of India. Several other state governments including in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc have announced their intentions to do the same.

It is clear that it is payback time for the BJP – to pay back those corporations, both foreign and domestic, who have helped the ruling party with big money during elections and continue to support it including through the media they own.

All the arguments about amendments to labour laws attracting investments and creating jobs are just humbug. International Labour Organisation (ILO) has reported about studies that have clearly established that it is not so.

The ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ before the parliament on September 5, is against such predatory attacks on the basic rights of workers and the nefarious design to impose slavery on them.  It should reflect our anger against such onslaught on our rights. It is to warn the BJP government that such anti-worker policies will no more be tolerated; that slavery will not pass!

Let us Unite! Fight!

  • No to governments that work for the 0.1%
  • For policies that benefit the 99.9%

 

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