Are The Labour Laws In India Nothing But Dead Letters?

Posted on May 21, 2014 in Society

By Manavi Jain: 

India is one country which takes pride in its well-drafted, well-codified labour laws. From the Industrial Disputes Act to the Trade Unions Act; we keep our head held high because we have all our workers under the aegis of laws protecting and promoting their interests. India’s labour laws, like almost every other legislation our country produces, might be very encompassing and extremely well worded; but have they met the purpose for which they were framed? Let us have a look at a very recent unfortunate event that took place in our very own capital city.

Textile workers protest

Rakhi was a woman worker in a factory of Swiss Auto Pvt. Limited in Jahangirpuri, Delhi. She was deserted by her husband and had three children to take care of. Her employment in the factory was terminated on account of being a few minutes late for work. Days earlier, she had raised her voice in support of fellow workers against the factory management. After being terminated from the job, she committed suicide. (read the story here)

The purpose of this article is not to sensitize the death of a mother of three, as tragic as it may be. I do realize that many women and many men have laid their lives at the altar of poverty. If you support the argument that suicide was indeed a drastic step to take when the woman had three children left behind with nobody to look after them, I do nod my head in agreement. But, as I said earlier, this article deals not with the plight of the poor. This article derives from Rakhi’s story instances which show how the so-called labour laws in India are being openly flouted and made a mockery of.

Firstly, simply terminating the employment of any worker, without giving any due notice to the employee being terminated, is not only the violation of labour laws of our country, but also of natural laws. The notice should be given, and should state the reason for the termination.

No such notice was given to Rakhi. No action has been taken as of yet against the defaulting managers.

Secondly, not being naïve enough to believe that the reason stated in the story WAS the actual reason for Rakhi’s termination, and looking at the bigger picture; how lawful is it to curb the right of a worker to voice his/her demand, or to support the demand of a co-worker in a country that is ornamented with the gems of laws pertaining to formation of trade/workers’ unions and the like?

The truth is: like any other voice that isn’t amplified by power (monetary, status-germinated or otherwise generated) the voice of these workers dissipates in thin air. We probably do not live in a democracy where law gives power to your voice; but in a democracy where law needs external power to be implemented.

Thirdly, what makes the enforcement of these laws as difficult as making my favourite fictional character come to life? The provisions clearly word the procedure along with the punishment if the procedure is not followed. What, then, makes it not possible for the officials to punish those infringing these laws? Is it the lack of awareness among those governed by these laws; or is it an inherent flaw in the enforcement agencies responsible for proper implementation of these laws?

The sad bit is that this lethargic enforcement machinery has reduced these beautifully drafted laws to nothing but dead lettered laws — laws on paper and on paper only.

Fourthly, I wonder, is the media now-a-days taking the liberty to choose to report certain issues and ignore the rest? Ms. Kavita Krishnan, the one leading the fight for justice for Rakhi’s cause, reports that very few journalists accepted her offer to cover the protests that were organized to seek justice for Rakhi.

Media, the fourth pillar of democracy, turning its back to such sensitive issues is lethal and if such instances continue to occur, the very base of this pillar will be destroyed.

The conclusion being, some life needs to be blown into the laws pertaining to the labour class. We are a developing nation, the workers and the labourers are seeds that will harvest development. When unemployment is the main villain that needs to be killed for a happy ending, why let the labour laws suffer from slack? We need to ensure that the workers are being paid the minimum wages stipulated by law, that there is no gender discrimination for similar work that the children are not seen in factories but in schools; we need a mechanism that protects as well as promotes the interests of these labourers. We need to give them what they deserve to bring out the best in them if we need to build a nation we always thought we will be. Like it is said, as you sow so shall you reap!