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 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 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 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.