Trade unions steadfast in demanding repeal of labour codes, trash claim they will improve work conditions
There are allegations that the four labour codes being pushed by the Modi govt are anti-worker and pro-business and can trigger the process of modern day slavery in the country
Implementation process of the Modi government’s four labour codes has reached an advanced stage with 23 states having already notified the rules, and the Centre is preparing to notify its rules soon, after which these will be implemented across the country.
Despite stiff opposition and demand for repeal of the four labour codes by the joint front of 10 central trade unions, the Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bhupender Yadav virtually rejected the demand for repeal of the codes in Rajya Sabha on December 9 while responding to a question from the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Karge regarding the demand of workers’ organizations for repeal of these laws. He told the House that states are already in the process of implementing the labour laws and 23 states have already notified the rules. The central rules too would be notified soon, he said.
Mallikarjun Kharge has suggested to the Centre to reconsider the new labour laws and withdraw them. He had raised the issue during Question Hour and said that all trade unions are of the view that the codes were not in favour of the labour force from the point of view of social security, employment, and assured wages. “Will you reconsider the labour laws and withdraw them?” he had asked.
There are four major grounds of the opposition of the four labour codes. The Codes on Wages, 2019 is being opposed on the ground that it merely provides a threshold floor-level wage; the Code on Industrial relations is being opposed because it allows firms engaging up to 300 employees to retrench workers without seeking state government’s approval; the Code on Occupational Safety is opposed because it exempts from its ambit labour contractors engaging up to 50 workers, and the Code on Social Security is being opposed because it does not clarify the Centre’s financial obligations.
There are numerous others allegations including these being anti-worker and pro-business and industries which can trigger the process of modern day slavery in the country.
On the other hand, the Modi government has been claiming that these codes are the biggest reforms in independent India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that these were long due and much-awaited labour reforms that will 'ensure the well-being of our industrious workers and give a boost to economic growth'.
These reforms will contribute to a better working environment, will ensure “Ease of Doing Business” and will empower the enterprises by reducing compliance, red-tapism and “Inspector Raj”, he has claimed.
Sources in the Union Ministry of Labour have said that almost all the states and Union Territories in the country have already drafted their rules and were finalizing them for their notification. The Centre would complete the process at the “appropriate time”.
The central trade unions have said that they will be intensifying their protest to demand the repeal of the labour codes. AITUC general secretary Amarjeet Kaur had recently said that the Centre had failed to get the support of states on the implementation of the labour codes, and attributed the delay in implementing them to political consideration for the upcoming state assembly polls.
The RSS and BJP supported Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh's (BMS) general secretary Binoy Kumar Sinha had also recently said that the government did not have the “intention” and “political will” to implement the codes right now. He had said that their demand remained as it is since they accepted only two labour codes – the Code on Wages and the Code on Social Security – which can be implemented immediately, and the two other labour codes – the Code on Industrial Relations and the Code on Occupational Safety – be reviewed.
It should also be noted that the rules for the Code on Wages had been finalized long back just after it was passed in Parliament in 2019. However, the Centre has been holding its notification because it is learned that it wanted to implement all the four codes at one go. The other three codes were passed by Parliament over a year ago in 2020.
In this backdrop, it seems that the joint platform of the 10 central trade unions are left with no option but to intensify their agitation against the four labour codes demanding their repeal, for which they are preparing across the country. They are preparing for a two-day general strike in the country during the budget session in February 2021.
Their protests would most likely hit the streets of the country and the country will soon see strained industrial relations and a non-conducive working environment as against the claim of the Prime Minister that the reform would “contribute to a better working environment”.