Resist the Move to Turn Workers to Slaves

Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC) leaflet on proposed and implemented changes in Labour Laws

 

RESIST THE PROPOSED CHANGES IN THE LABOUR LAWS!

RESIST THE MOVE TO TURN WORKERS INTO SLAVES!

TUSC leaflet 1

The Modi government came to power on the promise of “Acche Din Aane Wale Hain”, backed by an unprecedented media campaign funded by the corporates.  The enormous funds extended by the corporates to the BJP’s electoral campaign were an investment made with clear expectations that the new government will more effectively carry through measures which the Congress government had resorted to earlier – measures that would ensure the continued mounting of profits for the corporates and foreign capital at the cost of the lives and livelihood of the working people of our country. So, within a month of assuming power, Modi warned of “tough decisions” and “strong measures” : several PSUs are to be sold off expeditiously, coal mining is to be privatized, projects are being cleared without a care for the disastrous effects they will have on the environment, the height of the Narmada dam is to be raised further resulting in more lakhs of people to be displaced, prices of food and essential commodities are spiraling, the land acquisition act is now to be amended to permit the government to grab private land without taking the consent of the people who own it, thousands of more troops are being sent to crush the movement of the tribal people in central India.

In his Independence Day speech, the PM gave an open invitation to corporates, Indian and foreign, to come and make India a centre of manufacturing – “Come and Make in India!” he declared. In preparation for this, nine industrial belts – named “industrial corridors” are scheduled to be set up all over the country, running from north to south, east to west. An estimated 23 crore people will be affected in different ways, farmers and others in the rural areas  will be displaced through land acquisition, with disastrous consequences for food security and the lives and livelihoods of the working people. Lining these industrial corridors the government has planned to set up 100 new cities called “smart cities” which will be “private cities” run by the capitalists where the poor will be excluded. It is with this blueprint in mind that the labour laws are being sought to be amended with the purpose of making cheap Indian labour available to be exploited freely, without even the barest of constraints.

As things stand today, the majority of the labour laws are applicable only to workers in the tiny organized sector, as they are applicable to establishments where at least 20 persons are employed and where the employees earn below a certain amount of wages. Now, the organized sector workers, i.e. the permanent workers, are attempted to be easily retrenched and their work contracted out, while even the fig leaf of protection given to 96% of the total workforce which is in the unorganized sector, is being sought to be done away with, taking lakhs of workers out of the ambit of basic rights like adequate wages, limited working hours, leave, safety at work, health insurance, pension, compensation for workplace injury, etc. These changes are being brought in the name of attracting foreign investment and generating lakhs of new jobs.

Let us see then, what is the vision of this government for creating employment for our country’s people.

Turning workers into slaves

The BJP state government of Rajasthan has taken the lead in proposing changes in the labour law as follows:-

  • Employers can retrench workers and close down their establishments at will

Chapter VB of the Industrial Disputes Act is sought to be amended, which currently requires prior government approval if the employer in an establishment employing over 100 workers wishes to close down the establishment or retrench some of the workers employed. The Rajasthan government is seeking to introduce an easy Exit Policy by raising the upper limit of workers from 100 to 300. Further, the government’s move to exclude contract workers on the rolls of the establishment will make it easier for employers to show their employment numbers below the 299 threshold.

  • In order to qualify as a recognized union for the purposes of collective bargaining, a trade union will have to prove it has 30% of membership of all the workers employed in an establishment (up from the current 15% requirement), thus significantly eroding trade union rights and paving the way for employer sponsored unions.
  • If workers are retrenched, laid-off or have their services terminated for indulging in a “go slow”, they will not be entitled to any compensation under the law. [“Go slow” has been defined to include “work to rule” and the failure to achieve “fixed or average or normal level of production or work oroutput”].
  • Restricting the application of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970

The Contract Labour Act, which currently applies to all establishments where 20 or more

Contract workers are employed will not apply to establishments where 50 or less workers are employed, thus dramatically increasing the number of workers excluded from the minimal benefits(as they are) offered by the Contract Labour Act.

 

  • Restricting the applicability of the Factories Act, 1948

The Factories Act is applicable to establishments employing more than ten workers with power and 20 workers without power, and the amendments raise these numbers to 20 and 40 respectively. This means that workers in factories employing below 20 workers will not be able to enforce their basic rights to decent working conditions like safety at work, a weekly off, an 8 hour day, and privilege leave. They will be at the mercy of the law of the jungle.

In the name of minimizing litigation and ensuring the speedy disposal of cases, the amendments mandate that no offence under the Factories Act can be taken cognizance of except on the complaint of a Factory Inspector only after he has obtained the prior permission of the state government in writing. Further, the Inspector is empowered to compound any offence under the Act by asking for imposition of FINE ONLY….this means that the employer need not undergo imprisonment in any circumstances even when a worker has lost his life in the factory! And what is more, if any employer is serving a prison sentence under this Act when the amendments come into force, he shall be set at liberty forthwith!

  • Amendments to the Apprentices Act 1961

Apprentices are trainees who hone their skills on the job and receiving a stipend, but they do not have rights to join a union or participate in collective bargaining.  Today it is the rampant practice among employers in the manufacturing sector to employ apprentices in large numbers – in this way, the employers get the production they want fromthese skilled workers and do not have to pay them the wages they would have to pay regular workers for doing the same job. The Rajasthan government amendments seeks to provide a legal cover to this practice by giving employers  the freedom to terminate the services of apprentices during their period of apprenticeship and include apprentices in the categories of temporary and contract workers.  Further, the proposed amendments require the state to subsidize the private employers by binding the government to “share” the cost of training and compensating the apprentice, in some cases even upto 75%! A stark case of the public exchequer subsidizing the profits of the private sector.

 

  • The amendments proposed by the Rajasthan government are in complete violation of Article 254 of the Constitution of India which clearly lays down that the power of state governments to legislate changes in central laws can only be done to enhance the rights of citizens and not to derogate from them.

Proposed Central amendments to Labour Laws will deprive the workers of rights secured by them over a century of hard and bitter struggle!

In mid June, the Modi Government has announced its intention to follow the trend set by the Rajasthan government and amend crucial provisions of the Factories Act and the Minimum Wages Act – two labour welfare laws which apply to a majority of workmen. Also amended isthe Labour Law (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers) Act.

  • The 8 hour day– in the struggle for which, the working class was sent to the gallows! They hope to make it a thing of the past…

Today, even though the 8 hour working day is a norm, workers have to slog for long hours as a routine. Now the government desires to make this completely legitimate by extending the 8

hour day to 12 hours. In addition, the permissible hours of overtime work that a worker can be required to do has been increased from 50 hours to 100 hours in a quarter, which will have disastrous consequences on the health and well being of the workers. And, in some cases, in the “public interest” the overtime limit can be stretched upto 125 hours in a quarter! The experience under colonial rule when workers worked such long hours that they never saw the sun have come back again!

 

  • Hours of overtime work to be increased, but overtime allowance to be reduced!

Wages for overtime work as they stand today are to be computed at twice “the ordinary rate of wages” which rate includes all allowances except bonus and wages for overtime work. Now the government  wishes to drastically reduce overtime wages by excluding from their computation House Rent Allowance, transport allowance, small family allowance and other allowances “complimentary in nature” (!)

 

  • Night shift for women workers may become the norm

The government seeks to make it easy for establishments to get exemption from the ban on making women workers work on night shifts in the cause of ensuring “gender equality”. Women workers, unlike most male workers, are burdened with what is called doing a “double shift” as they have to do all the household work and look after their children after completing their jobs. It was in this context, to protect their health and well being as well as that of their family, that women workers were made exempt from doing night shift in the days of the welfare state. If this amendment is passed, it will result in disastrous consequences for women’s health and wellbeing.

Apart from this, the other major concern about women on night shift is that of safety: the instances of women doing night shift,in the IT industry for example, who have been physically assaulted, raped and murdered on their way to and from work, sometimes by the very men who are entrusted to escort them, is legion. The amendment tries to sidestep this eventuality by stating that the employer will provide “transportation from the factory premises to the nearest point of their residence…”  The ambiguous wording itself gives the game away: why not say “to the doorstep of their residence” instead? Further, she will requiredto work on dangerous machines and substances.

  • Child workers endangered

Giving the reason that there exist “differing anthropological and physiological conditions in the country”, the amendments seek to remove the state government’s power and responsibility to make rulesrelating to thephysical standards to be attainedby children and adolescents working in factories. This will endanger the health and well being of young workers and stunt their physical and mental growth.

 

Safety of workers to be further compromised

  • Further, amendments are proposed whereby women workers would be required to do dangerous work such as entering manholes, chambers, tanks, pits, pipes and other confined spaces in which dangerous fumes, vapors or dust is likely to be present.
  • The amendments do not recommend any definite safety standards to be followed with regard to places where inflammable and explosive substances are kept, and provide that the state government can in certain circumstances by a written order exempt any factory from compliance with safety provisions even when the conditions prevailing therein may be life-threatening to the workers.
  • On the other hand, the employers are let off the hook even if a worker dies or sustains serious bodily injury due to neglect of safety norms by the employers : the estimated punishment for the employer in such an eventuality is a fine of Rs.75,000/- ! Such is the price of a worker’s life…
  • Till the Competent Authority certifies the factory in respect of safety and other norms, on the issue of license and registration, the owner can self certify himself. This will lead to definite compromise on safety standards.

 

Minimum Wages Act Amendments – taking wages from subsistence level to below subsistence level

The proposed amendments have introduced a new legal concept in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, which is one labour law which has perhaps the widest applicability in the country. This is the National Floor Level Minimum Wage, which the government claims will be the very lowest wage any worker in this country can be paid for any work. The concept of a National Floor Level

Minimum Wage (NFLMW) was mooted on the basis of the recommendations of the National Commission on Rural Labour (NCRL) in 1991 in order to have a uniform wage structure and to reduce the disparity in minimum wages across the country. At present this National Floor Level Minimum Wage is Rs.115/- per day. And there is a very real fear on studying the rest of the amendments to this Act that workers will gradually all gravitate towards being paid this pittance of a wage. Currently, minimum wages are fixed for the different categories of employments given in the Schedule to the Act on consideration of the dual bases of region cum industry, but this is sought to be radically changed by having a low level universal norm.

 

According to the Supreme Court and the 15th National Labour Conference, minimum wage is supposed to be adequate enough to provide a worker and his family of three with food, clothing, housing, fuel, electricity, education , health care and transport expenses, recreation facilities (like TV), provision for old age (like pension), and money for social needs like weddings and festivals. All these factors taken together need to be considered when fixing the minimum wage after taking into account the cost of living index.Now, think about it, can a worker andhis family live in dignity with a daily wage of Rs.115?

 

The Labour Law (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers) Act– making workers invisible – a place where no laws will apply.

This law has been amended, so that small units will not have to maintain any records under the labour laws. The employers will not have to even show compliance with the Minimum Wages Act, let alone maintain health and safety regulations at the workplace. The worker himself being unrecorded as employed in the factory/est. will be unable to prove his presence in the workplace in the event of needing to make a complaint or in the case of accident.

 

Unite to resist these brutal changes in the labour laws !

These proposed amendments are the handiwork of a government which is the shameless lackey of the corporates and multinational corporations, pledged to permit them to extract even more sweat and labour from the workers to keep their profits growing with no concern for the rights of the working people to a dignified human existence. These amendments are a political attack on industrial workers and their right to form or join unions of their own choice to defend their rights to secure employment, decent wages, social security, and safe work places.

Workers and People! It is the labour of the workers, peasants and other working and toiling people which produces all the wealth in the world! It is 67 years since the British left our country and yet, even today, our children and old people are forced to toil to stay alive and the youth have no future to look forward to.Working people of this country demand to have a respectable life as of right! We must unite all workers, unions and other democratic sections of societyto successfully resist these changes in the labour laws and all other assaults on the lives and livelihood of the working people of India.

Come Comrades! Let us take up this task with no further delay!

TUSC leaflet2

TRADE UNION SOLIDARITY COMMITTEE (TUSC) – Mumbai.

Phone No: 022-24150750/09821536676.

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