Since the coming to power of Narendra Modi-led BJP at the Centre, the working class is under constant attack in the guise of changing labour laws. The changes in the Factories Act 1948 have already been proposed as per the demands of the corporates. Besides this, the Modi Government with the ready help of the Congress party and the indifferent attitude of the other parties, has managed to get severely anti-worker amendments in the Apprentices Act, 1961 and Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988 passed in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha with great ease. Along with this, the The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 too has been passed with treacherous amendments in the Rajya Sabha.
Factories Act, 1948
The amendments proposed in the Factories Act, 1948, by the central government changes the definition of the factories altogether. In the original Act, a power-driven enterprise employing 10 workers and an enterprise that was manually-driven employing 20 workers was recognized as a factory. After the amendments, only those electricity-driven enterprises that employ 20 workers and manually-driven enterprise that employ 40 workers will be considered a factory. Enterprises employing less than these number of workers are now classified as small-scale industry and it will cease to be subject to the Factories Act. In a time when even enterprises employing over 50 workers show only 10 workers in their records, the situation that will ensue after the implementation of the new changes in the Act can be gauged easily.
Under the Factories Act, enterprises cannot make women work between 10 pm to 6 am. They are also protected from working in extremely dangerous conditions. The new amendments now, however, lets corporates make women work at all hours and in hazardous conditions like prime mover. The shameless government is doing all this while mouthing platitudes in the name of women empowerment.
Another proposed change under the Factories Act is to increase the work day or spread overtime from 10 and half hours to 12 hours. Previously, the owner could hold a worker in the factory for 12 hours only in exceptional circumstances with the permission of the chief factory inspector. But now he can retain the workers for 12 hours at will and only needs the permission of the inspector to keep the worker in the factory for 16 hours. There is also a proposal to increase the quarterly overtime from 50 hours to 100 hours. Moreover, it is proposed that the owner will have the right to fix the weekly off of the workers depending on the availability of electricity in a particular belt. These proposed changes are crooked attempts in a legal framework to increase the quantity of the time that a worker will have to work and to stop them from forming unions.
Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act
The Manmohan Singh government at the Centre proposed amendments in the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, in 2012. It remained hanging in the standing committee formed by the Rajya Sabha.
It was finally handed over to the ministerial group after Modi formed government at the center in May 2014 and it was passed in the Rajya Sabha. These amendments give unchecked opportunity to the capitalist to exploit children as cheap labour. For example, while amending the Act, the government has proposed that children employed in home-based and small-scale enterprises functioning as a family unit will not fall under the purview of the act and the children below the age of 14 may also be employed in such enterprises. Similarly, the new Act also provides that adolescents between the ages of 14-18 may not be employed in industries like mining, or those using flammable and explosives, and other hazardous procedures. This in turns means that other enterprises besides the ones mentioned above may employ adolescents between 14 and 18 years of age. It is prudent to note here that the Government has shrunk the previous classification of 83 hazardous enterprises in the three broad categories mentioned above.
Apprentices Act, 1961
The amendments to the Apprentices Act, 1961, have provisions to deliver skilled workers in the guise of unskilled workers to the capitalist. Whereas the amendments to the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988, expands the definition of small-small enterprises to 19 workers in the case of electricity-operated and 39 workers in manually-operated units, the same accords the capitalist leeways in filing returns and maintaining records.
Dismantling Labour Law Mechanisms
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Modi government plans to push the workers towards complete disenfranchisement by dismantling the labour law mechanisms. For this the government has ready scheme to amalgamate 44 central labour laws into 4 codes. Just how deadly these four codes pertaining to industrial relations, wage, social security and welfare, and, safety and working conditions are for the workers may be understood from the provisions for strike in the code for the industrial relations. The manual makes it mandatory for the workers to give notice for a strike not 14 days in advance as it stands now, but 42 days in advance or the strike will be deemed illegal. To further terrorize the workers, the manual says that the workers who participate in these “illegal” strikes will be fined Rs 50,000 with imprisonment for a month and even those who support such “illegal” strikes will be meted out the same punishment.
The other trade union rights of workers have also been sharply attacked in this. Up till now, seven workers could legally apply to form a union. But the industrial relations manual proposes to increase this to 10 per cent of the workforce or 100 numbers. It also restricts the membership for the outsiders.
The above provisions of the manual are a clear conspiracy to make the formation of a union as difficult as possible, and to deprive the workers of their ideological-political leadership and legal advisors.
Moreover, the manual proposes measures ranging from a fine to cancellation of the union registration at the slightest instance of any delay, inaccuracy or error in the election process, filing returns, and its records and accounting.
Today, in the age of liberalization, the capitalist class wants unbridled exploitation of labour to keep its profits soaring high; and, because, a union is a hurdle in this, the capitalist class wants to dismantle it or to keep it domesticated. The provisions in the manual are a reflection of such desires of the capitalist class.
The stipulations concerning lay-offs in this so-called industrial relations code are grossly anti-labour. The manual proposes that lay-offs in the event of a strike, lay-offs in factories with less than 50 workers and lay-offs of workers who have been in service for less than a year does not require the employer to pay any compensation to the workers. Till now, the law is that in case of lay-offs in any of the above situation, the employer has to pay the worker 50 per cent of the basic salary and dearness allowance.
Additionally, in accordance to the long pending demand of the bourgeois class, the proposed amendment to Industrial Disputes Act will allow companies employing up to 300 workers to fire or hire employees, and lockout the factory without seeking any government permission. This was limited to factories with less than 100 workers earlier.
The code manual, progressively recommending anti-labour policies, finally reaches a stage where it provides to end any possibility of negotiations and labour courts, and constitute such tribunals at various stages whose decisions in certain cases cannot be challenged in any higher court in the country.
Actions by BJP-run state governments
The BJP-run state governments are further ahead than the Modi-led central government in its attack on the labour laws. For example, the amendments that are only now being proposed in the Factories Act by the central government have already been passed into law after the Bill was passed by the legislative assemblies in Rajasthan and Haryana. Moreover, the industrial relations code bill introduced by the central government which now integrates the Industrial Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act within itself, and which have been changed correspondingly, too have been implemented after being passed in the legislative assemblies of both Haryana and Rajasthan. It is pertinent to note here that the said bill have been implemented before they have been cleared by the central government.
The mood of the BJP-ruled state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra is no different from Rajasthan and Haryana states. Although, the Congress-ruled state governments are also trying hard to win over the corporates. In the Congress-ruled Tamil Nadu, the automobile industry has also been included under “public utility” and in Uttarakhand, the corporates have been granted total freedom to self-certification in terms of labour laws implementation. Similarly, the amendment in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, that increases the number of contract workers from 20 to 50 for registration requirement, has been implemented in the BJP-ruled states while it is still in discussion at the centre.
These attacks by the Modi-led central government and the governments of the BJP-ruled state governments on labour legislation are being mounted in the guise of the recommendations of the
Second National Commission on Labour Report. The Second National Commission on Labour was constituted in 1988 under the Vajpayee government and it presented its report in 2002. This is the same commission that recommends only three leave per worker in a year –15 August, 26 January and 2 October. Due to electoral concerns, neither the Vajpayee government nor the later Manmohan Singh government dared to implement its recommendations even though small amendments were carried out surreptitiously in their time. Now the right-wing Narendra Modi government is fulfilling this long-standing demand of the corporate class to implement the commission’s recommendations. The corporate class has spent thousands of crores of money to institute Narendra Modi at the helm of the country’s affairs and now Prime Minister Modi is repaying his debt to the corporates by bringing in anti-labour policies. If the corporate class succeeds in its desire to render the labour laws ineffective by completely dismantling it then the working class will be pushed back to its hundred years old state of rightlessness. This very conspiracy of the corporate class against the workers is the Labour alone triumphs project of the Modi government.
At the same time as these attacks on labor laws, there is a continuous attempt by the corporate class to propagate the canard that in 93 per cent of the workforce is in the unorganized sector which is outside the purview of the labour laws. The intention of the corporate class is by this propaganda is to scuttle the protests against the attacks on the labour laws by the workers in the organized sector by showing false concerns for the workers in the unorganized sector. The truth is that if the labour rights for the workers in the organized sector are neutralized, then the workers in the unorganized sector too will have to bear the brunt. The mobilization of workers in the unorganized sector only takes place in order to acquire equal legal rights. If the same rights are taken away from the workers in the organized sector then there will be no recourse left for the workers in the unorganized sector.
‘Make in India’
What the corporate class calls labour reforms is actually a strategy to rob the workers of their existing labour rights. These labor reforms are a part of the process of the pro-capital policies of liberalization-privatization-globalization or economic reforms set in motion since 1991. Today, when the whole world is in the throes of economic depression and the Indian domestic economy is not unscathed by it, the capitalist class wants to ensure its profits by pursuing these anti-people policies at any cost.
The rapidly widening gap between the rich and poor in the country, extant illegal practice of contract labour, and undoing and suicide of farmers… all these are the effects of the pro-capital policies of liberalization. This is what “development” as it exists in the capitalist imagination means for the workers and toiling masses. These “developments” are the central agenda of the federal government in the present time, which it is achieving with great efficiency by keeping the people entangled in communal clashes. Today, whether it is the foreign trips of the flamboyant Prime Minister to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or the opening of doors wide for FDI in banking, insurance, defense, aviation, etc sectors or easing of environmental laws to make the mines and minerals openly accessible to the national and international loot, all this is happening
under the same rhetoric of development. This is the ‘Make in India’ programme of the Modi government for the development of the corporate class.
The legal rights gained by the workers in the 20th century have been the result of immense sacrifice and struggle of the working class on the national and international levels. The establishment of socialism in the Soviet Union socialism post 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution provided an unprecedented momentum to the workers movements and the struggles for national liberation throughout the world. The fear of reverberating revolutions breaking out forced the imperialist-capitalist rulers of the rest of the world to give many legal rights to the workers. In India too, due to the pressure of the international situation and growing momentum of the labour movements on the national front, many labour laws like the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923, the Trade Unions Act, 1926, the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act, 1948, the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 were established. The First National Commission on Labour formed in 1966 retained these rights of the workers because these were established in the backdrop of the growing labour movement in the country.
The reinstatement of capitalism first in the Soviet Union in 1956 and again in 1976 in China changed the power equations in the world. As a result of this change in the balance of power, imperialism found an opportunity to re-launch its attack. The Indian capitalist class in the 1980s started arriving at the conclusion that the Nehruvian model is now hampering its development. This led to the implementation of the policies of globalization, liberalization and privatization in the country. The Second National Commission on Labour set up in 1998 is an inevitable result of the same policies of liberalization and privatization-globalization. The Modi government wants to implement the gross anti-worker recommendations of the Second Commission proactively to seize the gains of the labour movements in the 20th century. The Second National Commission on Labour’s capitalist character is because it has come at a time when the labour movements in the country are weak and scattered. It is without doubt that the labour laws in the country denote the balance of power between the corporate class and working class.
The degenerate, compromise-favouring and aristocratic leadership of the trade union movements that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century is powerless against the attack by the corporate class. In the present scenario, the revolutionary forces must resist the attack on the labour laws through broadening their unity. They must expose the pro-corporate recommendations of the Second National Commission on Labour recommendations among the workers accurately and target the anti-labor policies of liberalization-privatization-globalization in their struggles.