Decade Long Attack on Indian Worker rights

construction workers

Ever since  Bharatiya Janata Party came to  rule India a decade back in  2014, attacks on unions and the rights of workers increased consistently. Legitimate rights working class  won earlier through their collective struggles are being attacked ruthlessly. The attack on the working class is often carried out under the guise of reform of labour laws. To please foreign and  domestic monopoly corporations several employment regulations are introduced and new labor codes have been broughtin. The draconian anti worker  regulations have resulted in  contractual short term insecure low paid jobs replacing regular employment, social protection and decent working conditions. The reforms carried out in the name of New labour codes by present BJP regime are nothing but  continuation of the same  neoliberal economic reformsinitiated by earlier governments, but with more vigour and urgency.

In the first term in office Modi government initiated dismantling of labor laws. Before the new labour codes were condensed to 4  from earlier 40 central laws and more than 100 state laws on labour and related matters. Labour laws are in concurrent list ie. In purview of both central and state governments, that hitherto provided though some protection of democratic rights that were hard  won after a series of militant struggles waged by trade unions. Earlier  40labor codes pertained to -Industrial relations, Wage fixation,  Social security, Work Safety, working conditions, Welfare and other aspects. The  reduced 4 labor codes  now include- Code on Wages, Industrial Relations Code, Social Security Code and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code.  Though from surface major codes have been retained, in content most of the  labor rights  have been robed of their content and left to  the discretion of state governments and  bureaucrats. Importantly the regulatory powers of labor department and  inspectors have been pruned and taken away by  factory owners. Subsequently the employers  aregiven  self certification powers on  employment and laborrightsvarious issues replacing  the labordeprtment.

Keeping in view of the enoromisity of the subject I will  discuss below only issues- Wage code and Industrial Dispute Act. There are other serious  codes of omission and violation work safety, social security and other  legitimate worker rights.

Wage code concerns

  1. Firstly,  there is no clarity on the formula for fixing the minimum wage and also on the particular authority designated for fixing the minimum wages. This means a minimum wage  for a given work can be fixed  by state government administration  taking advise from employer bodies like industrial, Chamber of commerce and others. Fixation of wages is so arbitrary that there is no recommendation to link with  Whole Sale Price Index  to provide  relief from ever rising prices to workers. Neither  no mention on inclusion of representatives of  Trade Unions  while fixing the wages.
  2. The case of deduction of wages has been over simplified. Employers can fine and deduct wages in case of absence or delay to  work place even for a few minutes. Workers will have no right to appeal against in case of injustice.
  3. The revised Code omits the employer’s liability to pay wages if the labour contractor  fails to do so. Presently, 90 percent of employees are  hired temporarily  on contractual basis,  it is difficult to  pinpoint the  responsibility of non payment of he principal employer is defined broadly in the Code making it difficult to pinpoint responsibility of factory  owner  for payment of wages by a contractor.
  4. The Code also takes away the jurisdiction of courts in providing justice to workers wh faced injustice and violations with respect to their wages. This means that workers can no longer access courts to contest the wages paid to them by their employers, but can only approach the quasi-judicial body and appellate authority set up under the provisions of the Wage Code. This is a draconian clause that robs the workers of their democratic right to appeal in court of justice.

Industrial Relations Code

 As per the Industrial Employment Act, 1946 it is mandatory for an industrial or service establishment  empoying 100 workers, to  define conditions of employment and  abide by  all the  stipulated labor laws in favour of workers. However, in the  new code the threshold has been raised to 300  and employer  is only mandatory to  observe  stipulated newlabor  rules. Employing below  the strength of 300, the employer  now does not need prior permission of government.

Prior permission of the government is no more necessary before closure, lay-offs or retrenchment of employees in establishments having more than 300 workers.

  • With the increased threshold, it becomes more flexible and easier to hire and fire thus  increasing job insecurity and  unemployment.
  • Importantly, new provisions are  introduced in the  revised labor codes that takesaway workers right to strike.

The Code also introduces new conditions for conducting a legal strike.

  • Employees are prohibited from going on strike without giving a 60-day notice.
  • Employees are also prohibited from going on strike during the pendency of proceedings before a Tribunal or a National Industrial Tribunal.
  • They should also not go on strike before 60 days are completed after the tribunal’s proceedings.
  • Most importantly it makes very difficult  to unionize in factories and other establishments.

Industrial Relations Code Concerns

  1. It  robs the rights of workers  in industrial establishments with under 300 workers.
  2. In smaller establishments, employers  hiring below 300 workers are given complete flexibility to hire and fire workers. Previously, companies with more than 100 employees needed government approval to lay off workers, but with the changed threshold of 300 employees, employers can easily layoff workers without permission from government.
  3. The condition to go for legal strikes has been made more stringent  terms of  prior notice of 60 days by workers in place of 14 days  earlier, thus making it  impossible for them to go on strike legally. The new Industrial Relations Code completely undermines the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Strike action, which is an inherent part of freedom of association will be deemed illegal as the conditions for a ‘legal strike’ will be extremely difficult. 
  4. Central Trade Unions  barring BJP affiliated BMS, fought  militant battles, held nationwide all India Bandhs and mobilized wide resistance from  both organized and unorganized workers against the  new labor codes. As a result  could pass only Wage code in Parliament in 2019. After facing serious  resistancefom left paty MPS the government had   Remaining three codes such as Industrial Relations Act and others to Parliamentary Standing Committee for purview and recommendations. However, as Labour laws are in concurrent list Central government has  transferred implementation of new labor codes to State governments.

Immediately, various state governments, especially Gujarat, UP, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh ruled by BJP rushed to implement the new labor codes. For example, Maharastra started implementing new Industrial Relations Code 2020, the same month, thus making it illegal and impossible  for workers to go on strike. The BJP led Uttar Pradesh government has promulgated an ordinance nullifying almost all labour laws in the state for a period of three years. All establishments in the state are now exempted from all the 38 labour laws. And the Madhya Pradesh government  following the example of U.P  nullified the labor laws for 1000 days and  new establishments in the state will be exempt from their obligation under the Factories Act, Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Labour Act and others by ordinances. Making the factory owners easier to ‘Hire and Fire’ workers as per their choice. Above all, all these state governments have given a free hand to  industrial and service establishments to shift from  8 hour  work day to 12  hours.

This is nothing but a blatant move of returning to slavery,  extraction of more surplus value by extension of working hours. This is a clear case of Primitive accumulation as was thecase with 19th century European capitalism.  Eight hour workday had been  won by working class  inspired by Mayday and militant  struggles  waged by our working class during the last century.  Also the above states permit  women to work in night shifts contrary to  womens rights.  Ommission of Tripartideaggrement ( consisting of  employers, workers,  extension of work day to 12 hours by state governments is a clear violation of  International Labour Organization clauses, where India is a signatory.

 The recent  nullification of workers rights is nothing but implementation of neoliberal economic  reforms primarily to facilitate  easy and huge profits by exploitation of  workers. Similar  anti worker reforms are being  implemented  in South Asia, Latin America and Europe and world wide by governments world  over under  pressure from IMF and other imperialist financial bodies to mute the power of Trade unions. Resistance to neoliberal anti-labor laws there is wide spread opposition and resistance by workers all over the world similar to India.  Working class from both organized and unorganized  in our country under the leadership of Central Trade Unions are waging  militant  battles  against the   draconian, undemocratic anti worker reforms  brought by present  BJP government. It is high time  workers and farmers  fight unitedly against their common class enemies domestic corporate bourgiese, imperialism   vote out the present BJP government.

 Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist, Genomics (retd), ICAR, New Delhi. India

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

 Story of Arun Mallik

Arun Mallik, who was over sixty, was a guard in our society, which was a gated community in Delhi. He was often seen pushing the larger vehicles to rearrange them…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News