Plea in SC against labour law dilution
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday to challenge the decisions of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to freeze major labour laws, a move the state governments deemed necessary to revive the economy amid the challenges presented by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
The changes give industries more flexibility in hiring and firing employees, determining their wages, and reduce their liabilities in terms of providing employee benefits.
The petitioner, Jharkhand-based journalist Pankaj Kumar Yadav, submitted that diluting labour laws will lead to exploitation of labourers, many of whom have already lost their livelihood due to the national lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 outbreak.
“A welfare state cannot be expected to force its least fortunate and most oppressed citizens into further miseries on the pretext of facilitating economic activities/development by taking away their existing rights,” the petition said.
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat recently froze major labour laws by exempting industrial units from the purview of the laws. While UP suspended key labour laws for three years through an ordinance, MP said it was taking a similar course to put most labour laws on hold for 1,000 days. Similar decisions were taken by the MP and Gujarat governments.
Yadav pointed out that the labour laws in India are legislations intended to protect the “oppressed class”. He said that freezing the labour laws will lead to an increase in daily and weekly working hours and deprivation of basic human facilities at the workplace, the right to approach courts of law and routine inspection of industrial units by the factory inspectors, etc.
The petition highlighted the exemption granted from the Factories Act. The same was granted under Section 5 of the Factories Act, which allows government to exempt industrial units from the purview of the Act during “public emergency”. The Act defines “public emergency” as a grave emergency threatening the security of India caused by a war, external aggression or internal disturbance.
The petitioner argued that the Covid-19 pandemic does not fall under the category of “public emergency”. Yadav said that many of the labour laws were enacted after 1947 but before the Constitution of India came into force in 1950, which highlights the significance which the founding fathers of the country attached to those laws.
The plea said that the states, through the measures, were depriving labourers from welfare in order to facilitate the “oppressor class” at a time when the workmen have been worst affected by the global pandemic. “It is (a) well known fact today that lakhs of workers have lost their livelihood during the lockdown imposed for controlling the pandemic situation and they are forced to lead a life of misery. Under such circumstances, the withdrawal of welfare measures from the labourers/workmen as a whole would lead to their further miseries and exploitation at the hands of their employers, who are being exempted from the statutory liabilities to look after the welfare of their employees,” the petition said.
While some economists have welcomed the states’ move for clearing structural bottlenecks, possibly leading to greater investment, the Opposition, particularly Left parties, said the measures would undermine worker rights.