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Explained: Reforms In Labour Laws By State Governments During COVID-19

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

On 5 May 2020, Uttar Pradesh government passed the “Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption From Certain Labour Laws Ordinance 2020” to exempt all establishments, factories and businesses from the purview of all but three labour laws and a section of another act. The only labour laws that are now applicable in the state of Uttar Pradesh are:

1. The Buildings and Other Construction Workers Act 1996, which regulates the employment condition of construction workers.
2. The Workmen Compensation Act 1923 which provides for compensation in the event of injury or accident.
3. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 which prevents physical and economic exploitation of workers and Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act 1936 that extrapolates the provisions relating to wages.

Similarly, many other states made reforms in the Indian labour laws

Reforms in Madhya Pradesh:

1. Madhya Pradesh increased working hours of labourers from 8 to 12 hours, it also allowed units of businesses and industries to be operated without many requirements of the Factories Act.
2. It also issued an ordinance to the Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Fund Act 1982 exempting all newly formed factories from the filing of annual returns and paying Rs 80/labour per year to the Madhya Pradesh Labour Welfare Board for the next 1000 days.
3. M.P has abolished the necessity of multiple registers and returns for getting a business permit, meaning only one register and a return will be sufficient.
4. The state has also made provisions that ensure licenses will be issued within 24 hours and renewals will now be given for a decade

Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh have also increased the working shifts in factories from 8 to 12 hours with extended provisions of overtime.

There are four major central legislators that form the core of labour laws in India:

1. Factories Act 1948
2. The Shops and Commercial Establishments Act 1961
3. The Minimum Wages Act 1948 (UP govt. has suspended this law)
4. Industrial Disputes Act 1947

The process of the abolition of these major laws in COVID-19 crisis will have a huge impact on labour class and migrant workers who are the most vulnerable part of the society, it will tear them apart.

The Crisis Of Job Security In COVID-19

The suspension of labour laws will create a “hire-and-fire” model for the availing of the workforce. This will add to the growing problem of seasonal employment as there is no job security. The creation of seasonal employment will mean that more workers will face problems like eroding of wages or less work which will further push them into poverty which will eventually lead to a decrease in rural consumption due to lower wages.

The M.P govt. reforms have removed the requirements of inspection at factories that employ less than 50 workers and inspection in SMEs can now be done only with the prior approval of a labour commissioner or if there is a complaint. This reform will have a huge impact on child labour where the employer can easily hire cheap labour.

The Judicial Test

The apex court has always been vocal on the subject of workers right. In the landmark case M. Gopalan Vs State of Kerala on 10 April 2002, it states that the “right to life means right to work”.

As state governments hurry to relax multiple labour laws, most legal experts feel that before they come into effect, these measures will have to go for judicial test.

1. The states will need central approval to bring resolution in effect because of the concurrent list, which divides the legislative power on certain issues between the two. If the state doesn’t get the centre’s assent in this then it will be unconstitutional under Article 254 (inconsistency between laws made by Parliament and laws made by the Legislatures of States).
2. The second test refers to a fundamental right accorded to each citizen which the centre has often interpreted liberally i.e right to equality. The right to equality has been interpreted to include the test of non-arbitrariness which means the object to achieve something cannot be arbitrary. This relates to the relaxation adopted by some states and relating to cleanliness, disposal of waste, urinal and even drinking water.
3. Since the trade union has been suspended, the unions could argue that it violates Article 19 – the right to form associations.

The Global Approach:

The trade unions can approach ILO (International Labour Organisation) regarding some serious violations of laws. The CTUs considered these moves as a gross violation of the rights to freedom of association (ILO convention 87), rights to collective bargaining (ILO convention 98) and also the internationally accepted norm of 8 hours working day. Ten centre trade unions said they are considering to approach ILO affairs amid suspension of major laws in some state.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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