Draft labour rules have dangerous implications, will lead to further exploitation of the working class

Central trade unions are up in arms against new labour codes, even resorting to an all India general strike last month, but the govt only seems to care about interests of industries and businesses

Representative Image (Photo courtesy: social media)
Representative Image (Photo courtesy: social media)

Gyan Pathak

The new draft labour rules prepared by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment are one of the most dangerous ones for India in general and working class in particular. These are being framed in the name of much ‘desired labour reforms’, as the Modi government claims these to be. The real intentions are being camouflaged with certain proposals of great temptations as a snare to fall in, which any wise person would like to avoid for ones safety if not enforced otherwise.

In their ‘sweetness of sin’ and ‘refinement of cruelty’, the government is providing some ‘optional’ backdoor entry points for the greedy industries and businesses, totally ignoring the well-being of the working class.

The draft rules have been prepared to do away with 44 central labour laws of the country in favour of four new labour codes – the Code on Wages, 2019; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020; and the Code on Social Security, 2020 – that were passed by Parliament and subsequently notified. The central trade unions are up in arms against these new labour codes, calling them to be ‘anti-workers’, and had also resorted to an all India general strike last month.

The protests fell on deaf ears of the government, which had brazenly got the codes passed in the Parliament and notified at a time when the working class, bereft of jobs after the lockdown, were in need of protection and support, but were exposed to the greed of industries and business instead.

No impartial mind can judge it to be ethical on the part of the government, though the Modi government defended its action in the name of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ and the so called ‘national interest’ which was most appropriately nothing but in the ‘interest of the gratification of greed of industries and business’.

Since the governments are the primary source of wealth and power, the industries and business love to support the government to have both. The kind of political lobbies and leaderships that we have in the government give rise to strong suspicions of nexus between the two, and therefore our Prime Minister Narendra Modi owes them clarifications and explanations.

The ‘draft rules’ drafted by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment certainly are contrary to the spirit of the clarifications it gave in the Parliament on the four labour codes. The Minister of Labour had categorically said that India had deep respect for ILO’s principles and objectives and has always upheld the basic tenets of tripartism that the trade unions vehemently contradict, and which is also reflected in their stance.

Though the codes would come into force only after notification of the new rules, the draft gives a clear indication as to where the country is leading to.

Shrewdness of the new proposed rules can be easily discerned in the statement of the Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment mentioning provisions of free medical checkup and 4-day working week, i.e. 12 hours daily for four days at a stretch with three days off. It would provide companies the required flexibility even as the working hours’ limit of 48 hours for a week will remain ‘sacrosanct’, he asserted.

What the ministry has ignored is the more human principle of not enforcing anyone more than eight hours of work a day, and six days a week with weekly off on the seventh day. The principle had emerged about 200 years ago after a great struggle of the working class against inhuman working conditions and long hours of work even stretching to 18 hours in many cases. Enforcing more than eight hours of work is returning to inhuman labour practices of the former days that were creating numerous health and social hazards.

Increasing the hours of work is increasing the hazards, and if health and wellbeing of the family of the worker is gone, what is the use of providing the facility of three days off in a week, free health checkups and any other social security? The rules are clearly not only self defeating but also are detrimental to other well intentioned provisions of the working class.

What was claimed ‘sacrosanct’ was in reality brought forward to hoodwink the people. A human being cannot be treated as merely machines for work, since one has life, spouse, and children whose developments depends on sharing more time with. The proposal may seem good to some, but it would increase health and social cost of the nation to such an extent that we could not afford and might trigger remorse and penitence in the long run.

Several states are also on the way to amend the labour rules for providing ‘companies with flexibility’ that has already been admitted by our leadership. The BJP-ruled states are at the forefront and Uttar Pradesh is the first among them. It removes all doubts as to whom the Modi government is working for, though it is claimed as being done for revival of the businesses and industries which were completely shut down during the lockdowns. “All stakeholders are also consulted in framing rules,” was claimed, that trade unions refute.

The government asserts that the rules would simplify the old and complex labour regulations which would improve the business environment and spur employment. Such a claim targets two birds with one stone. Politically speaking, it has the potential to tempt the jobseekers and the business and industry, without whose support, the ruling establishment cannot survive. In reality, the rule favours the employers by allowing them hire and fire workers more easily, since there are little or no safeguards, it is generally agreed.

Such a situation would lead to suffocating and exploitative work environment in the country, leading to loss of productivity of the country. The new rules would make harder for workers to negotiate better terms and wages with employers, and make protest strikes even more difficult.

The Industrial Relations Code has a potential to push the country back to the British era in which trade union leaders were made vulnerable to punishment by the establishments where they were working. The new rules would considerably remove protections to the workforce hitherto available under various laws. Quality jobs and job security could then not even be dreamed of and the path of growth of a worker solely on merit would be obstructed by the whimsical sycophancy loving employer.

The rules relating to wages are also being framed in such a manner as to give an advantage to the employer. We have seen how the employers have been using loopholes in the former labour laws to give minimum wages to the workers. It created a demand crisis, since they lacked cash in hand.

The crisis brought the country to unprecedented downturn even before the pandemic. After the pandemic, the supply crisis added to it. Now we know the result. Not assuring sufficient wages to the workforce is therefore in nobody’s interest in the long run. The Modi government must think twice before going ahead with the proposed ‘reforms’.

(IPA Service)

(Views are personal)

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