President Kovind yet to approve labour law changes
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states passed ordinances to give effect to various changes, some of which effectively suspend labour laws.Updated: May 27, 2020 03:05 IST
The Union labour ministry is examining a set of radical changes made by Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to their labour laws, including moves to freeze them altogether, and may suggest several modifications because some changes could be against “acceptable norms”, a government official said, asking not to be identified.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states passed ordinances to give effect to various changes, some of which effectively suspend labour laws. None of the ordinances has received approval from President Ram Nath Kovid, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Madhya Pradesh sent its ordinance for the president’s approval on May 18. The UP government sent its ordinance soon after the state’s governor Anandiben Patel approved it on May 14. Gujarat too sent its soon after the state’s governor Acharya Devvrat gave his nod.
Under the Constitution, labour falls under the concurrent list, which means the Union government and states have joint jurisdiction. Therefore, changes by state need to be ratified by at the federal level.
“The main concern is violation of accepted universal norms. Industrial dispute resolution mechanisms, compensation etc are important considerations. Can you simply suspend all labour laws? Legal views matter in this,” the official cited in the first instance added, without elaborating.
Uttar Pradesh suspended key labour laws for all units for three years on May 6 through an ordinance. Madhya Pradesh announced on May 7 it was taking a similar course to put all labour laws on hold for new units, barring some provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, for the next 1,000 days.
This changes signalled the start of an experiment to remove rigidities in the country’s labour markets and stringent rules on hiring and firing, as global companies start shifting their supply chains away from China and reduce their dependencies on factories in the neighbour. Five other states -- Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Odisha -- have increased working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours a day for three months. Rajasthan too extended work hours, but rescinded it .
However, the moves drew criticism from labour experts, who say suspending the laws not just eased regulation but infringed on workers’ rights. The labour ministry is examining whether the changes impact conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Ten central trade unions wrote to the Geneva-based ILO, stating that changes in labour laws by these states violate workers’ rights and ILO convention No 144, to which, India is a signatory. ILO convention 144 enjoins signatories for tripartite consultations among government, employers and workers.
“The moves to simply suspend labour laws effectively brings the North American hire-and-fire model to the Indian hinterland economy. However, they will also lead to a basic violation of universal workers’ rights,” said economist KR Shyam Sundar of the Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur.
The ILO has said it was deeply anguished by the move and issued an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 25. ““Please allow me to assure you that the ILO director general has immediately intervened, expressing his deep concern at these recent events and appealing to the prime minister to send a clear message to central and state governments to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue,” an ILO letter addressed to the trade unions stated.