IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 15th May 2020
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.– Alice Walker
EDITORIAL HUNT 81:“Stop the return to laissez-faire | Labour Laws Timeline“
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL | Labour Laws Timeline
R. Vaigai advocate practising at the Madras High Court
Stop the return to laissez-faire ( the policy of leaving things to take their own course)
Labour laws are civilisational goals and cannot be trumped on the excuse of a pandemic
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2: DPSP: Minimum wages
In the unequal bargaining power between capital and labour, regulatory laws provide a countervailing balance and ensure the dignity of labour.Discuss -(GS 2)
This is one of the best article of this month ! It gives a perfect idea of workers rights and status.
- Colonial exploitaion of labour class and relevant timeline of Acts
- What are exceptions in this Acts .
LABOUR LAWS TIMELINE
- Through the public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witness to another massive tragedy — of workers being abandoned by their employers and, above all, by the state.
- No provisions were made for their food, shelter, or medical relief.
- Wage payments were not ensured, and the state’s cash and food relief did not cover most workers.
- Staring at starvation, lakhs of workers started walking back home.Many died on the way.
- Immediately employer organisations lobbied to prevent the workers from leaving.
- Employers now want labour laws to be relaxed.
- The Confederation of Indian Industry has suggested 12-hour work shifts and that governments issue directions to make workers join duty failing which the workers would face penal actions.
- Thus, after an organised abandonment of the unorganised workforce, the employers want the state to reintroduce laissez-faire and a system of indenture for the organised workforce too.
- This will take away the protection conferred on organised labour by Parliament.
BENGAL REGULATION VII 1819 :
- The move is reminiscent of the barbaric system of indentured labour introduced through the Bengal Regulations VII, 1819 for the British planters in Assam tea estates.
- Workers had to work under a five-year contract and desertion was made punishable.
LABOURER’s ACT 1863 :
- Later, the Transport of Native Labourers’ Act, 1863 was passed in Bengal which strengthened control of the employers and even enabled them to detain labourers in the district of employment and imprison them for six months.
BENGAL ACT 1865
- Bengal Act VI of 1865 was later passed to deploy Special Emigration Police to prevent labourers from leaving, and return them to the plantation after detention.
- What we are witnessing today bears a horrifying resemblance to what happened over 150 years ago in British India.
- Factory workers too faced severe exploitation and were made to work 16-hour days for a pittance.
FACTORY ACT 1911
- Their protests led to the Factories Act of 1911 which introduced 12-hour work shifts.
- Yet, the low wages, arbitrary wage cuts and other harsh conditions forced workers into ‘debt slavery’.
- The labour laws in India have emerged out of workers’ struggles, which were very much part of the freedom movement against oppressive colonial industrialists.
- Since the 1920s there were a series of strikes and agitations for better working conditions.
DEFENCE OF INDIA RULES
- Several trade unionists were arrested under the Defence of India Rules.
- The workers’ demands were supported by our political leaders.
ROYAL COMMISSION ON LABOUR 1935
- Britain was forced to appoint the Royal Commission on Labour, which gave a report in 1935.
- The Government of India Act, 1935 enabled greater representation of Indians in law-making.
- This resulted in reforms, which are forerunners to the present labour enactments.
PLANTATION LABOUR ACT 1951
- The indentured plantation labour saw relief in the form of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.
DIGNITY THROUGH DEMOCRACY
By a democratic legislative process, Parliament stepped in to protect labour.
- FACTORIES ACT : The Factories Act lays down eight-hour work shifts, with overtime wages, weekly offs, leave with wages and measures for health, hygiene and safety.
- INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE ACT : The Industrial Disputes Act provides for workers participation to resolve wage and other disputes through negotiations so that strikes/lockouts, unjust retrenchments and dismissals are avoided.
- MINIMUM WAGES ACT : The Minimum Wages Act ensures wages below which it is not possible to subsist.
- DPSP : These enactments further the Directive Principles of State Policy and protect the right to life and the right against exploitation under Articles 21 and 23.
- TRADE UNIONS : Trade unions have played critical roles in transforming the life of a worker from that of servitude to one of dignity.
THERE IS NO EXCEPTIONS IN THE ACTS !
- Section 5 of the Factories Act empowers the State governments to exempt only in case of a “public emergency”, which is explained as a “grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance”.
- There is no such threat to the security of India now.
- Hours of work or holidays cannot be exempted even for public institutions.
- Section 36B of the Industrial Disputes Act enables exemption for a government industry only if provisions exist for investigations and settlements.
NO STATUTORY SUPPORT :
- STATUTORY SUPPORT : The orders of the State governments therefore lack statutory support.
- COMBINED EFFECT : Labour is a concurrent subject in the Constitution and most pieces of labour legislation are Central enactments.
The resurgence of such a colonial mindset is a danger to the society and the well-being of millions and puts at risk the health and safety of not only the workforce but their families too.
- State have a constitutional duty to ensure just, humane conditions of work and maternity benefits.
- The health and strength of the workers cannot be abused by force of economic necessity.
- Labour laws are thus civilisational goals and cannot be trumped on the excuse of a pandemic.