Thursday, May 6, 2021

May Day 2021: Not Labour but Employers to Celebrate

This May Day is not for labour, at least in India. The labour has nothing to celebrate on 1st May 2021, as the deprivation of most of their rights by law is staring at them. While international workers celebrate May day as symbol of their victory in achieving 8-hour work day, India now prescribed 12 hour long day for the workers.

History reminds us that goons entered the mass labour meeting as per the plan to create pandemonium leading to police attack on workers, causing several casualties. The then rulers falsely found 8 leaders responsible for ‘disorder’ and hanged them. This was followed by massive agitation achieving 8-hour-work day. This is being simply removed by Indian Parliament when opposition was absent.

Also read: SC directed to reform Tribunals, Union removed them!

The Government declared that consultation for rules was over only drafting is left out. The New Labour Codes approved by the Parliament when opposition walked out in protest against the Farm Bills, were supposed to be implemented from 1st April, but that was differed. As some sets or Rules were not drafted completely and the States have also not finalised the rules, the codes could not come into operation on April 1, as scheduled earlier. The Union being very busy with second wave of Corona and Elections in several States, did not fix the next date for commencing the new labour laws.

Impossible to be a recognized trade union

A government which came into power with less than 50 per cent votes in a first-past-post election method, wants to raise bar for recognition of labour union to 51 per cent. Any union with less than 51 per cent support will not have any negotiating rights. This is a death blow to the collective bargaining power of workers that was earlier insured and serious violation of fundamental freedom to form associations under Article 19 of Indian Constitution. Technically they can form association but legally they will have no recognition. It is indirect way of killing the constitutional right. The hiring and firing will be very easy, so that ease of doing business is increased. A union without recognition cannot go on strike, If recognized, the union must issue a sixty-day notice for strike. The centre was, however, kind enough as it has reduced the recognition bar from 75 percent fixed earlier to 51 per cent. Interestingly the new Code does not impose any obligation on employer to recognize a union even after fulfilling the requirements. In India, the workers have to resort to strike even for recognition of their new trade union. For instance in 2011 Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant workers had to strike work for 13 days on complaint that the trade union recognized by employer was not representative of them. Workers of MRF Tiruvallur had to fight for a long time for recognition in 2009.

Also read: Rule of law is not Rule of Goons with political support

Centre takes over the powers.

The centre by this Code has robbed the states of their power to prescribe minimum wage and reserved its power to decide it. This is another violation of federal character of our Constitutional Governance and extension of unhealthy centralization. However, the Centre is very benevolent in granting power to states to ease retrenchment norms by executive orders. Power is not to secure the workers from illegal retrenchment, but to reduce the rigour of removing them. There is no need to make laws either at Central or State level. If dozen employees are retrenched by the employer, he has to deposit 15-day-pay of their last drawn salary as ‘Re-skilling” fund, with which they have to help the workers to get re-skilled so that he could be employed again. The Bill has a provision for setting up a “worker re-skilling fund”, which will require the employer of an industrial establishment to contribute an amount equal to 15 days of last drawn wages of a worker to the fund “immediately before” his/her retrenchment. The amount will be credited to the bank account of the worker within 45 days of such retrenchment by the appropriate government – central or state.The amount will be in addition to the compensation for retrenchment – 15 days average pay for every completed year of continuous service –a worker is entitled to.

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But there is nothing to be happy about this. A retrenched worker, who takes cash benefits from the new fund, may have to use it to get himself/herself trained within a deadline, failing which a refund can be claimed along with an interest on the sum transferred to him/her. It is a “cruel farce” on the part of the government to demand a proof of reskilling from the hard-pressed worker, said a labour law teacher.

States also against workers

Not only the Centre, even the states also are not interested in securing labour rights. The industries with workers up to 300 need not Government permission to terminate workers and it will be very easy for them to close their industries. Ease of doing business or closing it is ensured by Centre with the new Code while fourteen states have already raised the number of workers to 300 from 100 for this purpose. Layoffs are relatively made easy, and companies are free to hire contract labour which means even the diluted safeguards will not be available to them.

New classes of workers

The Codes created two new classes of workers which the trade unions were totally unheard of – Gig worker and Platform worker. Gig worker is defined under new law as one who earns out of activities which fall outside of the employer-employee relationship. A person who undertakes work through online platforms for providing services outside employer-employee relationship is called ‘platform’ workers. It is estimated that unemployment in India has touched 40 million plus. There is no duty cast upon the Government to give employment to any of them, but it has to compete in increasing ease of doing business by companies by removing the hurdles of labour rights and labour courts. 

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The Government claimed that the new code has provided social security benefits on health, maternity benefit, old age protection, education or disability cover to unorganized, platform and gig workers also. But experts pointed out that only workers have to pay for their own ‘social security’.

No more labour courts

While the Code on Wages was enacted in 2019 three more Codes were enacted in September 2020 to replace 44 labour legislations with new labour provisions. The critics say the transparency in the process is only an eye wash as the hundreds of objections and oppositions to the dilution of hard-earned labour rights were dust-binned without explaining the reasons for rejection. There was no discussion in Parliament at all.

The four codes are: The Code of Wages, 2019, the Industrial Relations Code 2020, the Code on Social Security, 2020, and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020.

There will be no more labour courts, and only industrial tribunals will be functioning. The factory inspectors are replaced by the ‘inspector-cum-facilitator’, who is industry friendly.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor of Law at Bennett University

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