The ordinance passed by Uttar Pradesh Government providing easement and relaxation in labour laws must be seen in both positive and negative light.
By: Lalima Gupta, B.A LL.B.(Hons), 4th Year Student, UILS Panjab University.
“Labor is prior to and independent of, Capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration”
(First annual message to Congress, December 3, 1861)
The global pandemic has left the world shaken and countries like India are most hit by the economic downfall apart from the health hazards. While in the debate on how to work for the upliftment of GDP, many reasons, consequences and suggestions are being put forth, some think that going back to the primary sector can aid the upliftment, some think amending the industries and labour laws might be the harbinger of good news and relief.
Hence, amidst the clash of opinion, the Uttar Pradesh government has planned to take a major step by bringing about a temporary yet revolutionary ‘Exemption clause’ hoping to give ‘twig to the drowning man’.
Generally, the Labour Laws are a subject of concurrent list i.e. both the state and the Center have a power of control over this section of laws. Owing to this characteristic, as of now about 100 state laws and central laws are governing the labour laws including aspects like wages, working conditions, leaves, health facilities, etc. and as the general position, in case of dispute, the central provisions prevail unless the President gives his assent to the state Amendment. But presently, for the easement and maintenance uniformity, the central government is trying to codify all these laws under four major categories which are generally part of various Acts and amendments.
- industrial relations,
- occupational safety, health and working conditions,
- wages, and
- Social security.
Powers with the state government
Labour under state legislations can be governed as under:
- passing its own labour laws, or
- amending the central level labour laws, as applicable to the state.
States’ approach to the present perturb
Since the states have the power to mold the state laws, various states have chosen to make new rules and pass ordinances to curb the menace. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa have drafted a new policy to temporary change/ease/amend/alter the laws to push the growth of the economy. Talking specifically about Uttar Pradesh, an ordinance passed to suspend the Labour Laws for the next 3 years is a major move to comprehend the situations like unemployment and increased un-attended labour and the growing need for factories, industries, and new manufacturing units being set up.
As per the ordinance, apart from following labour laws, all other laws shall be suspended for three next years on fulfilment of certain conditions:
|Rule/Act||Of State/ of Centre||Name of the Rule/Act NOT SUSPENDED|
|ACT||centre||Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976|
|ACT||CENTRE||Employee Compensation Act, 1923(statutory liability upon an employer to discharge his moral obligation towards employees when they suffer from any physical disabilities or diseases, during the course of employment in hazardous working conditions);|
|ACT||CENTRE||Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 (safety, health and welfare measures)|
|ACT||CENTRE||Section 5 of Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (APART FROM SEC 5 THE ENTIRE ACT SHALL BE SUSPENDED)|
|RULE||STATE||Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Rules|
|RULE||STATE||Payment of Wages Rules (PARTIALLY SUSPENDED)|
|RULE||STATE||Workmen Compensation Rules|
The conditions so required to be complied by are:
- Wages: The Ordinance certifies that workers cannot be paid below minimum wages and that that the workers must be paid within the time limit prescribed in the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. The Act ensures:
(i) Establishments with less than 1,000 workers must pay wages before the seventh day after the last day of the wage period and
(ii) all other establishments must pay wages before the tenth day after the last day of the wage period. Wages must be paid into the bank accounts of workers.
- Health and safety: The Ordinance states that provisions of health and safety specified in the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 and Factories Act, 1948 are not repealed. These provisions regulate the usage of dangerous machinery, inspections, and maintenance of factories, amongst others, and focuses on safety against hazards.
- Work Hours: Workers cannot be required to work more than eleven hours a day with the spread of work not being more than 12 hours a day.
- Compensation: In the case of accidents leading to death or disability, workers will be compensated as per the Employees Compensation Act, 1923.
- Bonded Labour: The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 will continue to remain in force. It provides for the abolition of the bonded labour system. (Bonded labour refers to the system of forced labour where a debtor enters into an agreement with the creditor under certain conditions such as to repay his or a family members debt, due to his caste or community, or due to a social obligation, generally, an age-old practice, categorized as social evil).
- Women and children: Provisions of labour laws relating to the employment of women and children will continue to apply.
An Analysis of the Ordinance
The ordinance though aimed at helping 1.35 million (estimated as per May 2020) workers with job provision and subsequent food security, might have to face some criticism in near future. It could be thought of as a move to shift the burden on the already burdened-labor and labour migrants and might have provided a long term benefit to those looking for an opportunity. Critics, on analyzing both the situation and the respective ordinance have not forgotten to mention the following concerns:
- MINIMUM WAGES: Definitions of critical components such as ‘minimum wages’ are missing and discretion is granted to governments to determine their own methodology to categorize them thus creating a circumstantial and necessity-based amount, favoring the influential
- COMPLETE PROTECTION: Principal employers are protected from financial and criminal responsibility, such as from workplace accidents or death.
NO SCOPE FOR DETERRENT ACTIONS: Removal of deterrent and punitive penal provisions also stand removed, thus creating a free environment for the exploitation of the needy.
- THE TRADE UNION BILL: AMENDMENT AFFECTING RIGHTS OF WORKERS: Trade unions in the past year had been agitating against the Trade Unions Amendment Bill of 2019 which vests complete control in the hands of the government to recognise trade unions. Thus affecting the democratic rights of the workers.
- STATUS OF JOBS: The status of jobs created under the three-year program is under skepticism. They might appear to be tempting at present but subsequently, the workers might be at the status quo. This may lay the basis for ‘use and throw’ labour. It might result in courts flooded with the cases and parliament with the bills.
- THE WELFARISM MIGHT TURN INTO CAPITALISM: as believed that at the initial stage what started as a welfare scheme by the government might turn into a trap by capitalists thus entrapping millions of workers. As depicted above a carefree attitude allowing the industrialists to work in an atmosphere free from the penalty for criminal records(as excluded by the ordinance) would resultantly create a tyrannical state where it will not be ‘the rule of law’ rather one believing ‘might is right’
Judging the decision from just one angle would be prejudicial to the overall approach. Thus it becomes evident to focus on the beneficial effects, the object with which the ordinance has been passed. Some of the determinations are:
- FACING THE REALITY: the present ordinance is a means to cope up with two basic demands: firstly, the depleting GDP growth and secondly, to solve the problem of unemployment. Although the two are complementary to one another, yet the aspect that matters here more is the fact that millions of migrants had to leave their homes overnight and treaded without any source of traveling, they opted for walking for miles, all this because their earlier conditions were already not satiating their needs. Had they had enough money to sustain themselves, they would have stayed at respective places. Thus the present plan aims at more employment opportunities and subsequently more ingress of income with the hope of a better wage system.
- LESSER THE LAWS MORE IS THE EFFICIENCY IN THEIR FULFILMENT: with only a few laws to abide by, this creates an atmosphere of free trade and production. There will be lesser restrictions and more efficiency and thus the few laws that are necessary would be followed religiously.
- AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SKILLED AND UNSKILLED: the main question that concerns everybody at present is employment. We already lag the target of 20 lac jobs per year and in the current situation this adds on to the adversity. Thus the easement in labour laws will be seen as an opportunity for more employment with fewer restrictions and impediments.
‘With the rights come the liabilities’ must be the guiding force in the current scenario. The massive steps being taken by the government to cater to the need of industrialists and other big investors, the onus now falls on them to respect the laws and be bound by them. The workers and the migrants are already under the great need of work and job security, and the ‘exploitation of the weak by the powerful’ is the law that practically runs in society. On one hand, the measures might safeguard the economy from further downfall while on the contrary, it is on its toes to harass the downtrodden.
Thus, with the doing away with major laws like child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Rules, Maternity Benefit Rules, Trade Unions Rules, U.P. Shops, and commercial establishment Rules, Factories Act 1948, the state has ignored major provisions once enacted for safety, security and against exploitation to a large extent. The changes might be temporary but the effects are permanent and hence state as the guardian must take play an active role and interfere intermittently.