The BMS, which claims the affiliation of over 6,000 labour unions, said it would urge the Centre to prevail upon the state governments to roll back their ‘labour-unfriendly’ decisions.(Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times)
The BMS, which claims the affiliation of over 6,000 labour unions, said it would urge the Centre to prevail upon the state governments to roll back their ‘labour-unfriendly’ decisions.(Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times)

RSS labour wing criticises move to amend labour laws amid Covid-19 outbreak

In a bid to woo investors to their respective states and make a desperate bid to emerge as an alternative manufacturing hub to China amid the Covid-19 crisis, both MP and UP announced a raft of changes to their labour laws this week.
By Smriti Kak Ramachandran | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 08, 2020 03:33 PM IST

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has criticised the move by the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Uttar Pradesh (UP) governments to amend their labour laws, alleging that the hurriedly made decisions would strip workers of job security amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak across the country.

In a bid to woo investors to their respective states and make a desperate bid to emerge as an alternative manufacturing hub to China amid the Covid-19 crisis, both MP and UP announced a raft of changes to their labour laws this week.

While MP has allowed longer working hours and a 1,000-day labour law holiday for new investors, UP has also brought in Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, exempting companies from complying with several labour norms for the next three years.

The BMS, which claims the affiliation of over 6,000 labour unions, said it would urge the Centre to prevail upon the state governments to roll back their ‘labour-unfriendly’ decisions.

“This is the worst time to make amendments to the labour laws. These changes will make the workers more vulnerable to job losses, especially at a time when the country should be joining hands to rebuild their lives and the economy hit by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said CK Saji Narayana, president, BMS.

He said the heart-wrenching reports of stranded migrant labourers across states, who have been forced to sleep on railway tracks and walk back for hundreds of kilometres to their native places due to the nationwide lockdown restrictions, are growing evidence of “workers being treated badly by both their employers and the government”.

The BMS chief demanded a universal safety law for workers. “There is a need to reinforce safety provisions and more so after the Visakhapatnam gas plant tragedy on Thursday. For instance, MP’s amended law has done away with the need of even installing a fire extinguisher if an industrial unit employs less than 50 people,” he said.

Earlier, HT had reported that various state governments are amending labour laws to attract new investments.

In April, the BJP has submitted a report to the Union government, recommending revisiting the labour and land acquisition laws in a bid to woo investors.

A BJP functionary from UP said the state is in talks with several companies, who are considering moving their production base from China to India. He, however, refused to divulge the names of companies with whom talks have been initiated.

“It’s important to pitch India as an investment destination because it guarantees investment, jobs and allows rebuilding the economy,” the functionary said, adding that the workers’ rights and interests would be safeguarded and not “compromised”.

Narayanan, however, disagreed with such claims. He cited that India couldn’t overnight dispense with its laws amid a rush to emerge as an alternative to China as a manufacturing hub.

“This rush to become an investment destination is akin to a viral outbreak. The rule of law is fundamental to a civilised society. We cannot allow jungle raj, and turn the labour sector into a veritable conflict zone,” he warned.

He debunked the BJP’s report to the Centre pitching for labour law reforms on the grounds that they impede investments and escalate costs. “India cannot do away with labour protection norms just because it wants to compete with China,” Narayan said.

Earlier this week, Prof Biswajit Dhar of the Jawahar Lal Nehru University had told HT that changing labour laws amid the pandemic would not solve the government’s problems.

He suggested that the government must focus on moving forward by adopting an employment policy that creates more jobs and better social security for workers.

On Thursday, MP chief minister Shivaraj Singh Chouhan defended the state government’s decision to amend its labour laws. “Industrial reforms were long-awaited. We plan to increase job opportunities for the people by wooing investors to the state. MP is blessed with ample resources such as water, land, forests and skilled youth power. This is the right time to amend the rules as per new requirements and to simplify them to attract industries that are willing to shift from other places,” he said.

Amended labour laws would facilitate the establishment of new industries, create new job opportunities and workers’ interests would also be safeguarded, he added.

In UP, Siddharth Nath Singh, cabinet minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME), investment and export promotion, khadi and village industries said on Thursday after holding a meeting with Satoshi Suzuki, ambassador of Japan to India, that the state is geared up to attract and receive Japanese investments moving out of China and made a pointed reference to the new labour reforms.

The Japanese representatives have appreciated the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, said a person, who was privy to the discussions in the meeting.

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