April 19, 2020

Trade Unions Oppose Move to Amend Factories Act to Enhance Working Hours

CENTRAL trade unions have opposed any move by the government to amend the Factories Act to enhance the weekly working hours to 72 in the guise of "exceptional circumstances” posed by the coronavirus outbreak. The trade unions – INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, and UTUC – referred to media reports on the proposed amendments and demanded that the government clarify its stand.

In a letter to union labour and employment minister, Santosh Gangwar, on April 13, the trade unions said it appears that the government intends to shift the burden of the coronavirus outbreak-generated economic crises on to the shoulders of working masses who are already the worst victims of the present calamity. 

A section of the press has reported that the government is seriously considering amendment of the Factories Act,1948 to allow 72 hours of work per six-day week (12 hours working day), in place of the existing limit of 48 hours (eight hours working day). The move is being justified as "exceptional circumstances call for exceptional provisions".

The government has already been trying to bring in the above amendment through the Code on Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Bill, which has been opposed by the entire trade union movement. In fact, this move of the government is linked with the original project of codification aiming to end the internationally accepted eight-hour working norm and not just “exceptional circumstances”. Rather, present Covid-19 situation is being sought to be utilised to put in place such an anti-worker measure.

The report under reference talks of "shortage of workers" which is not the reality, particularly when the nation is reeling under the highest rate of unemployment, which was projected to rise further due to economic slowdown. If the projections by the employers organisations from various sectors are added, then the emerging scenario becomes even more grim as the unemployment rate may reach 23.7 per cent. The international report from the ILO has also expressed its estimations of impact on poverty status for various countries and as for India, the estimation is worrisome as it projects that 40 crores of Indians would become poorer.

“To talk of shortage of workers in this situation and to make those available to do more work through amendments to the Factories Act, exposes your government's total lack of concern to the plight of workers and the livelihood and survival needs of the families. It also displays your concern to ensure extra profits for the corporates at the cost of workers. Even so-called ‘exceptional circumstances’ or even temporary shortage of availability, if it does arise at all, can very well be taken care of within the framework of the present Factories Act, 1948. It does not require permanently ending eight-hour working day norm through hasty amendment. Further it appears that the government intends to shift the burden of Covid-19 generated economic crises also on to the shoulders of working masses who are already the worst victims of the present calamity,” the trade unions wrote.

“You are aware that we have been opposing the codification of labour laws in present forms and content. They are now before parliamentary standing committee and are yet to be finalised. We are opposed to any move to misuse the environment emerging due to the Covid-19 pandemic to push through anti-worker and pro-employer changes in the Factories Act. Even to imagine that the workers would be paid as per law under the present scenario will be absolutely illusory as the earlier advisories from your ministry have been flouted and continue to be flouted daily by the employer class as a whole with impunity. Large scale complaints of non-payment of wages and retrenchments from jobs are being brought to the notice of trade unions. These in turn have been already brought to your notice with all details. But corrective action has not been taken anywhere in the country,” they said

In another news report we get to know that the EPFO funds which are wholly owned by the subscriber-workers are being diverted to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), claiming that 3.8 lakh firms will benefit with 76 lakh subscribers with an outgo of Rs 4,800 crore. There is also report about the move to divert ESI funds for meeting government expenditures, totally unrelated to ESI Scheme. The interest rate is further reduced by the government a few days back in the name of Covid-19 crises. Eyeing this fund of poor workers, built through their contributions, will be unjust and the government should desist from it. We strongly feel that the government should consider mobilising resources in this “exceptional circumstances” from the huge wealth accumulated by the High Net-worth Individuals (HINI) in the country who have cornered virtually 50 per cent of the national wealth, instead of grabbing workers’ lifelong recurring savings in social security funds, they wrote.

CITU Demands Statutory Ban on Terminations and Wage Cuts

THE CITU has written to the prime minister against termination of employment and non-payment of wages to media employees during the lockdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak. In a letter to prime minister Narendra Modi on April 15, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen demanded a strong statutorily enforceable measure to put a ban on all terminations and wage cuts at a time the country is facing an unprecedented crisis.

“In your repeated addresses to the nation, you have appealed to the entire people to unitedly combat the corona pandemic in the country. You have also appealed to also ensure that nobody’s employment is terminated or wage cut is imposed owing to compulsion of lockdown. Accordingly, the union labour secretary and union home secretary have issued directive/advisory in the context of invoking of National Disaster Management Act to all concerned not to terminate employment and ensure full payment of wages to all workers including contractual and casual workers vide their communications dated March 20 and March 29 respectively. But despite that, massive retrenchment has taken place and in many industries wage cut is also taking place. We have drawn attention of the union labour secretary, and labour commissioners of different states on all such specific cases of terminations and nonpayment of wages requesting corrective enforceable intervention from their ends. But no result is visible as yet reducing the directives of your government ineffective,” Sen wrote.

He drew the prime minister’s attention to the incidents of termination of employment and non-payment of wages in the media sector, both electronic and print, although the media workers including journalists mostly were on work during the lockdown period to keep the nation informed of all developments and also to propagate the government’s messages.

“As per reports received by us till date…Indian Express and Business Standard have asked the staff to accept salary-cuts; Times of India has sacked the entire Sunday Magazine team; News Nation terminated 16 digital-section employees; about half of the Quint contingent have been forced to go on leave without pay; India Today has shortlisted a team of 46 reporters, six cameramen and 17 producers for removal from service; ET Panache and Bombay Times are set to merge and in this process 50 per cent of the Panache employees are being terminated; Hindustan Times Marathi are removing the entire contingent as it is going to be closed; Urdu paper Nayi Duniya and Evening Star of Mysore and the Outlook Magazine stopped their print publication,” Sen wrote.

The prevailing situation, along with ongoing termination of employment and non-payment of wages, clearly reveals that mere appeal to the employers’ class or official advisories are not enough to address the phenomenon of violating the directive/advisories/appeal relating to the workers by the employers; because lust for profit does not have any conscience. What is required is a strong statutorily enforceable measure to put a ban on all terminations and wage cut and such measure is actually warranted to address the kind of national disaster the country is facing. “I urge upon you to please intervene so that concrete measures are taken to put the directives/advisories of your own government on the above issue for execution,” Sen wrote to the prime minister.

CITU Slams BJP for Invoking ESMA in Tripura

THE Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), on April 12, denounced the invoking of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) in Tripura in the midst of coronavirus lockdown after nurses of government hospitals complained of shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to treat Covid-19 patients. It also condemned the issuance of show-cause notices to the nurses.

The CITU slammed the BJP and said that the BJP-ruled Tripura state government had enforced the ESMA for not ensuring essential services in the state during the lockdown period but to cover-up and conceal its abject failure to provide the basic minimum safety and protective devices and arrangements for the health service workers, doctors, nurses and paramedics who have been dedicatedly working in the government hospitals and at district and subdivisional health centres to combat the Covid-19 under maximum risk conditions. The CITU also pointed out that the state government had miserably failed at providing minimum relief to the poorest section of people affected by lockdown.   

The CITU said that the ESMA has been invoked in Tripura in sheer vengeance towards the nursing staff and health workers who have been collectively voicing their demand for minimum safety measures, without causing any disturbance to the health services at all hospitals and health centres in the state.

The union demanded the BJP led state government to immediately ensure safety and protection of the frontline health workers by providing adequate protective gear to all of them and revoke ESMA. CITU called upon the working people to unitedly oppose such vindictive actions against frontline health staff serving the people risking their own lives and safety.