Indian states are in a hurry to kickstart their state economies. So, the states are ready to defy any norms that look like a hurdle. The latest one to join the bandwagon is the populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The state has approved the ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of almost all the labour laws with some exceptions for the next three years.
While Uttar Pradesh is the latest entrant, other states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan have also tweaked the labour rules to fit their interest. But no one has reached Uttar Pradesh's level.
Talking to The Free Press Journal, Vivek Monteiro, secretary, CITU said, “The move, especially by the states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is illegal and usndemocratic in nature. The backward mentality is reflected by such moves. This decision is going to do more harm than good to these states.”
As states resort to different means to attract investment, the central government seems to be mum on the whole affair. A source said, “The centre is against such moves but it is keeping quiet around this issue.”
Will suspending labour law attract investments?
Commenting on this development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, Professor, Archana Prasad, said, “Such changes in law does not encourage investments but discourage them. No one wants to be in a state that does not encourage law and order especially foreign companies. By annulling the labour law, we have gone backwards. This is a complete undemocratic move.”
The BJP-led government has been actively looking at measures to attract foreign companies that are mulling over moving out of China. One such measure has been an attempt by the state to show India can provide labour at low cost which was the selling point of the Chinese government to foreign companies. “Stop characterising Indian labour as ‘cheap labour’, this is not the right way to address the working class,” stated RSS-affiliated trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) in their 19-point suggestion to the Indian government. He feels such terms does not help anyone.
New labour rules miss out social distancing
While suspending some law, the government has missed some important points that the pandemic has raised -- the need to follow social distancing.
Prasad added instead of promoting occupational safety so that social distancing is taken care of, the state governments are suspending occupational safety measures. She added that it is an anti-worker move.
Defying ILO convention
Indian states are going against the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. Narayanan said, “Instead of suspending the labour laws, the states should ideally look at getting the labourers back by incentivising them. Many associations have pitched for anti-workers laws. This is against the ILO conventions and we should refrain from such a move.”
In this scenario, the role of trade unions may become insignificant in Uttar Pradesh after it suspended labour laws. “Not allowing trade unions to negotiate sounds more like an authoritarian decision.” Prasad reiterated any opposition by the union and workers will be termed anti-national in this case. “Even if these means the labourers are fighting for their right to dignity.”
Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia & India:
Labour Laws protect well-being of both employers and workers. They are an important means to advance social justice and promote decent work for all. Consequently, formulation of labour laws and revisions, are most effective when it emanates through a strong dialogue. It should seek participation from the government, workers and employers, who are the key stakeholders. The impact of relaxing the labour laws in some Indian States should be reviewed jointly by these stakeholders against the International Labour Standards, especially the ILO Declaration on Fundamental and Principal Rights of Work which India had adopted in 1998. They demand absence of forced labour and child labour, the absence of discrimination at work, and a culture that upholds Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining, along with the necessity to ensure the Occupational Health and Safety of all workers for safe return to work. A climate of trust among the stakeholders, built through social dialogue and tripartism, will be essential to recover from the COVID-19 impact on world of work ILO reaffirms its commitment to support Government, Workers’ and Employers’ Organisations in their endeavour to emerge out of the COVID-19 crisis.