Are we in a democracy? Are we in a Parliamentary System? This is the doubt of every common man of this country. The Rajya Sabha has cleared 15 Bills in a 2 days without any discussion by the Opposition Party MP’s. All these Bills were passed when the Opposition Parties were not in the Parliament. The present Government in the name of Codification and simplification of Labour Laws have shaken the basic structure and objectives of all the Labour Laws of our Country. The newly passed Labour laws have not spared any category of workers. This is an attack on the entire working class of our country. The wage code has been amalgamated and have amended four Labour Laws viz. Minimum Wages Act, Bonus Act, and Equal Remuneration Act. Similarly the Occupational, Health, Safety and Working Condition code 2019 (OHSC) has amalgamated and amended 13 Labour Laws which includes the Major Laws Factories Act, Contract Labour Act, the Inter State Migrant Workmen Act, and Specific Laws concerning Beedi Workers, Plantation Workers, Motor Transporter Workers, Sales promotion employees and working journalist.
The Government’s own description of passing all these Bills, is that, to help and support the Industries and the Corporates and not the workers. The Government claims that all these Labour Laws are passed only to promote setting up of more companies, which means that the interest and welfare of the workers are no priority for the Government. The decisions taken by the Government are autocratic, arbitrary and a clear violation of the ILO Conventions especially Convention No . 144 which reads as follows:
“Each Member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this Convention under takes to operate procedures which ensure effective consultation, with respect to the matters concerning the activities of the International Labour Organisation set out in Article. 5, Paragraph-1, below, between representatives of the Government, of Employers and of Workers”
The above ILO convention was ratified by the Indian Parliament. According to this it is binding on the government to discuss with the Trade Unions before bringing in major and important changes in the laws. All the Central Trade Unions had given various objections to the draft Industrial Relation Code circulated by the Ministry of labour. None of the objections raised by the Central Trade Unions and even the recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee on labour was considered by the Government before finalizing the Bill which was passed in the Parliament.
The Labour Code have taken away the hard earned rights of the workers. The Trade Unions are fighting for the past more than 20 years, especially after the implementation of Neo-Liberal Economic policies that labour Laws are not being implemented in our country. Even today payment of minimum wages is an issue which is not being implemented in many Industries and Sectors. There are many such violations which attracts penalties. The present Bill has conveniently removed many of the penalties to the Employers for violations including attachment of property in cases of non-implementation of the Labour Laws. Under the New Wage Code the responsibility of the Principle Employer for payment of wages and other Statutory benefits has been taken away. The Labour will be let to the mercy of his Employer.
The Industrial Dispute Act 1947 requires an Industrial Establishment Employing more than 100 workers to seek Government permission before declaring retrenchment. This limit has now raised to 300 with the power to the Government to raise it further through a simple notification. The Factories Act 1948 defines a “Factory” if it employs 10 workers and uses electricity or 20 workers without using electric power. This limit is now raised to 20 and 40 respectively. These Provisions were not there in the original 2019 Draft Bills. Without any discussion with the Trade Unions, which is a clear violation of ILO Convention No.144.
In the name of “Inspection Raj” the Government wanted to remove the Inspectors from the Factories Act 1948. Already companies in the Special Economic Zone etc., are exempted from Inspection by the Inspectors. Against this the Central Trade Unions have already filed a complaint to ILO which came up for discussion during the 108th session of the ILO, in which the Author of this Article also participated. The Government of India was advised by the ILO to strictly follow the Labour Laws. Now in the new Code Employers are no longer bound by the Act to cooperate with the Inspectors. The Government has gone to the extent of changing the designation of Inspectors as “Inspector cum Facilitator”. It is unfortunate that there is no law for ensuring better compliance and implementation of the Labour Laws.
The New Codes takes away the rights and powers that was with the Parliament, especially in the case of workers and the poor people. Now all these down trodden people will be at the mercy of bureaucrats and the ruling Government. The present Government have got serious concerns for the Crony Capitalists and Private Corporates, but no concern for the worker and farmer of this country.
Under the New Code on Industrial Relations, which governs the Working conditions, Dispute Resolution, Trade Unions etc., the Government can exempt any Industrial Establishment from the Provision of this code. The Government has not spared even the most exploited Contract Workers. The threshold of 20 Contract Workers for application of Labour Laws have now been raised to 50 workers. In the previous Contract Labour Act. Contract Labourers cannot be deployed in permanent and perennial jobs. Now according to the new Code, Employment of Contract Workers are prohibited only in core activity and it permits Contract Employees in a big list of Non-Core activities, which includes Sanitation, Security and Canteen Services.
Many Industrial Establishments like Atomic Energy, Space and DRDO are now exempted from the definition of “Industry”, which was not there in the Draft of 2019. Under the New Law, No Industrial worker will be allowed to go on Strike without 60 days Notice.
In a nutshell the Government has withdrawn the 2019 Draft Labour Code +Bills and have arbitrarily introduced the 2020 Labour Code Bills, without any consultation and discussion either with the Trade Unions or with the MPS in the Parliament. Sufficient time has not been given by the Government to the Trade Unions or even for the MPs to go through the Drafts and understand its implication on the workers. Some of the major recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on labour was also rejected by the Government. These New Bills which are passed in the Parliament once its implementation process starts, there will be serious problems in the Industries which will ultimately affect the productivity and harmonious Industrial Relations. Almost all the opposition parties have opposed the autocracy of the present Government and they marched from the Gandhi Statute to the Ambedkar Statute in the Parliament premises opposing and protesting against the Anti-Farmers, Anti-Workers bills, that have been passed in the parliament in the most undemocratic manner. The Central Trade Unions have already observed a massive protest and demonstration throughout the country on 23/09/2020, in which a large number of Defence Civilian Employees have also participated. We have to study in depth the new Codes passed by the Parliament and to understand its implications on the workers and should immediately react.
The Employees and their Trade Unions will not keep quiet. The struggle will continue and the Nation will witness intensified and relentless struggle by the Working Class, their Trade Unions and the peasants of this country. The Government cannot simply ignore the more than 90% population of this country.
The views expressed here are those of C.Srikumar, General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation and the Convener of AITUC, Public Sector Unions