Changes in Labour Laws across India during the 2020 Lockdown

Considering that every introduction is supposed to be given birth with a definition as a peep into the topic, in this situation, that theory fails, massively. Under the Constitution of India, labor falls within the ambit of the concurrent list giving legislating power to both the Central and the respective state government.

But while exceeding the mark of 250 state and central legislations, the basic recognition of labour laws persists to be nebulous in India. India remains, what economists refer to as, a labour-surplus country.

Owing to the worldwide pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown, the people have been facing an unprecedented health crisis which has unbridled a human vicissitude. The faction that is the most anguished by this is that of the labourers especially, the migrant labourers.

The protracted lockdown has incapacitated the entire economy of the country with business activity and consumption being given a rain check, leading it to what could be the first full-year contraction in more than four decades.[1]

The Centre for Monitoring of the Indian Economy statistically stated that well-nigh a quarter of India’s workforce[2] is at the moment, out of remunerative work which is a vertiginous change in the extent of unemployment.[3]

To minimize the repercussions of the pandemic on the sharp plummeting of the economy for corroborating least interruption on consumption, the state executives have taken it upon them and institutionalized multifarious amendments and announcements to at least, prevail during this patch with an open-ended thread extending out for the future.

Uttar Pradesh

The state of Uttar Pradesh on May 6th chose the recourse of abating 35 of the existing 38 labour laws and took a dramatic lead by proffering and eventually, passing the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, absolving all factories, businesses and establishments from all but three labour laws for a period extending to three years.[4] Besides the exceptions of the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, all other labour laws have been suspended by this ordinance. The aforementioned three laws that have been spared by this ordinance are concerning themes of bonded labour, deployment of women & children and the timely payment of salary.

Under the provisions of this ordinance, primarily, laws concerning industrial disputes, wages of workers, occupational safety, workers’ health and working conditions, working hours, trade unions, and contractual and migrant labourers have been suspended. There is also a distinct stipulation stating that workers cannot approach courts in case of any dispute relating to their wages, working hours, and conditions.[5]

Madhya Pradesh

Following the trail of UP, the state of Madhya Pradesh on May 7th introduced transitions in the Factories Act, the Contract Act and the Industrial Dispute Act. Relaxations in the conditions relating to contract labour have been observed except in the clauses relating to approval, registration, licensing, safety precautions, hazardous processes, overtime wages, earned leave and obligation of the employer to notify the authorities about accidents that result in death or serious bodily injury.  There have been numerable changes that empower the employer to have autonomy over various situations namely, to hire and fire labour. It is not obligatory anymore for the contractors to obtain or license anymore for supplying labour up to 49 persons and will no more have the hindrances of regulations to keep them at bay. [6] The state also has withdrawn the clauses of inspection and surprise inspections from firms of less than 50 workers and has given assent to an 18-hour workday which is dehumanizing.
Haryana

Haryana stepped forward among other states and provided an exemption from some of the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948. The state increased working hours from 9 hours to 12 hours, overruling Section 54 of the act for the coming two months. The exemption also extends to the non-regulation of the labourer’s rest and weekly hours (Section 55 and 51 respectively). This creates an exploitation prone situation for the labourers giving the government the option of making them work in continuity for 12 hours completely going against section 56 (spread over) and well, consider[7]

Uttarakhand

The state of Uttarakhand has too exempted factories from provisions revolving around the concepts of weekly hours, daily hours, spread over an interval of rest. In agreement with other states, it also took the initiative to increase daily hours from 9 hours to 11 hours with a one-hour break between two shifts. The executive has stated this to be followed until mid-July.

Himachal Pradesh

Travelling further north, Himachal Pradesh jumped on the bandwagon and exempted its factories from adhering to the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 specifically, weekly hours, daily hours, spread over an interval of rest. This has prompted the daily working hours to extend to 12 hours from the pre-existing 9 hours and, weekly hours to become 72 hours from the previous 48, with an interval of rest of half an hour between the 6 hours shifts. The state like Haryana also has adopted this until mid-July completing three months.[8]

Gujarat

Being deeply inspired by the state of UP, Gujarat introduced legal provisions wherein the newly established industries will be granted clearance under 15 days and they would not have to comply to any labour laws aside from the Minimum Wages Act 1948, Industrial Safety Rules and The Employee Compensation Act, 1923. The government of the state has also increased the working hours from 8 to 12 hours and has shown an inclination towards following UP government into adopting all this for almost three years. This paints a puzzling picture as to the involvement of government in the new industries and will result in the increasing of exploitation of workers without the intervention of government in new industries and no regulation on working hours.[9]

Punjab

Punjab without much haste too has extended its daily working hours to 12 hours and spread over to 13 hours a day which was increased from 10.5 hours in accordance with the Factories Act, 1948. In addition to this, the workers are now supposed to be provided with wages at twice the ordinary rate of wages provided for overtime under Section 59 of the Factories Act.

Others

Additionally, the states of Rajasthan, Goa and Assam have also tweaked their labour laws up to some level. Rajasthan put out a notification to extend its daily working hours to a maximum of 12 hours. Following suit, Assam and Goa too issued notifications to extend their working hours to 12 hours. They also exempted their respective factories and industries of provisions under the Factory Act, 1948 concerning, an interval of rest, weekly and daily hours and, spread over.

An aggregate of eight states of the Indian subcontinent has jacked up the usual 8 daily working hours to the all-time high of 12, treading on the heels of the pioneering states. These states apart from the above mentioned are Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Bihar. [10]

 It seems like that in the process of rebuilding the sunken economy, the states are ready to defy any norms that might bear a resemblance to an impediment. There is no regard in the haste decision making towards the humanitarian needs and there is absolutely no room to think about if the provisions are in accordance with the national and international norms of labour laws. India has been one of the founding members of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and recently has been slapped with a major warning from it with concerns to adherence to the global norms while implementing changes in labour laws. The ILO is the response to a letter by trade unions wrote that according to their understanding, the actions of the governments in India have contravened the commitments of the declaration of the ILO.[11]

These amendments are carving a way out of the needs of labourers towards creating backdrops to facilitate exploitation. These measures have been taken by assuming that taut labour regulatory provisions are the desired course to take for the reviving of the economy. The ILO in its report on Decent Work and Informal Economy[12]  have mentioned labour regulatory measures only as a determinant of informalization of the workforce. [13]  The empirical data goes against the said assumption. Truth be told, there is very little evidence that the implementation of such laws will hoick job creation, industrialization or foreign investments. Instead, these amendments are in opposition to the UN’s cry to not let the pandemic do more harm than already done and other countries’ reaction to the pandemic of minimizing putting out of labour by providing wage subsidies.[14]

The timing of these decisions has dehazed the insensitivity of the government, placing us in a position to be an eyewitness to the injustice done of swindling the labourers of their last shred of hope. The sitch of COVID-19 does not provide nearly enough rationalization for the government to disregard human rights to deal with the staggering economy.


[1] Bibhudatta Pradhan, ‘Indian States Ease Labor Laws, Letting Companies Fire at Will, Extend Hours’, Bloomberg Quint, May 8 (2020), https://www.bloombergquint.com/economy-finance/indian-states-ease-labor-laws-as-economy-reels-from-lockdown

[2] https://unemploymentinindia.cmie.com/kommon/bin/sr.php?kall=wshowtab&tabno=0001

[3] Aayush Rathi and Sreyan Chatterjee, ‘Indian states’ decision to suspend labour law amid COVID-19 crisis is delirious policy-making not backed by empirical analysis’ Firstpost, May 22, (2020) https://www.firstpost.com/india/indian-states-decision-to-suspend-labour-law-amid-covid-19-crisis-is-delirious-policy-making-not-backed-by-empirical-analysis-8391901.html

[4] Supra, Note 1

[5] Zia Haq, Saubhadra Chatterji and Smriti Kak Ramachandran, ‘Some states put a freeze on labour laws to get business going’ Hindustan Times, May 9 (2020)  https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/some-states-freeze-labour-laws/story-6JMELEPdIugsHt8YjQT5vN.html

[6] Payaswini Upadhyay, ‘The Unprecedented Changes To India’s Labour Laws = Social Chaos?’, Bloomberg Quint, May 13 (2020) https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/the-unprecedented-changes-to-indias-labour-laws-social-chaos

[7]ing. Ashima Obhan, Bambi Bhalla, ‘ India: Suspension Of Labour Laws Amidst Covid-19’ mondaq, May 18 (2020) https://www.mondaq.com/india/employment-and-workforce-wellbeing/935398/suspension-of-labour-laws-amidst-covid-19

[8] Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan, ‘Changes in Labour Laws Will Turn the Clock Back by Over a Century’ The Wire, May 20 (2020) https://thewire.in/labour/labour-laws-changes-turning-clock-back

[9] Ibid.

[10] Supra, Note 7.

[11] ‘ILO ‘expresses concern’ at labour law changes in India, asks PM to intervene’ The Indian Express, May 25 (2020), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/ilo-expresses-concern-at-labour-law-changes-in-india-6426909/

[12] https://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc90/pdf/rep-vi.pdf

[13] Saurabh Bhattacharjee, ‘Reckless waiver of labour laws will be counter-productive for the Indian economy’ Quartz India, May 14 (2020) https://qz.com/india/1855914/waiver-of-labour-laws-wont-revive-covid-19-hit-indian-economy/

[14] Tim Zubizarreta, ‘Impact of the Global Pandemic on Indian Labor Laws’ Jurist, May 20 (2020) https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/daigavane-belmannu-labor-law-suspensions-india/.

Swadha Sharma from University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi

“Elasticity, Equilibrium and Elvis, how about that?”

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