What does the current and proposed labour reforms mean for future working class?
India is one of the youngest countries in the world. Most Indians are below the age of 25. As per the 2011 Census, we will be adding over 2.5 crore people to our workforce every year for the next 10 years. This is referred to as the ‘Demographic Dividend’, an opportunity for India to become an economic super power because of the large working population. Yet if the government continues to dilute our labour laws in the name of economic growth, who will reap the gains? Who will suffer the cost?
States are mandated to set up minimum wage to ensure a decent standard of living for a family. In 2014, minimum monthly wage for a semi skilled worker in the electronics industry was Rs 6650 in Tamil Nadu. A worker with the same skill in Rajasthan in the same industry would only earn Rs 5174. The only way to ensure that all states have a decent minimum wage is by having a national minimum wage as implemented in the US. But through the Labour Code on Wages Bill 2015, the Central Government will absolve itself of making any minimum wage provision. Only state governments will set up the minimum wage. State governments will keep the minimum wage low in order to compete with one another in attracting industries. (Source: TN GOs and paycheck.in)
We expect the regular work day to be eight hours long with occasional overtime and extra payment for overtime. But, the current reality is that a worker has to work more then 8 hours to earn a living wage. Further, things will get worse by the time you get employed thanks to the proposed amendments. These amendments reduce the rates of overtime payments. In addition, the proposed amendment to the Factory Act of 1948, increases the maximum overtime to 125 hours per quarter, which is 2 hours per day. Currently workers already spend more than 8 hours a day, because they are expected to study production details before they step onto the factory floor. The proposed change will allow the factories to further exploit workers.
Under the amended Factory Act, inspection and certification of factories is no longer mandatory. Instead, the factory owner can self-certify his factory, and factories will be inspected based on a randomized computer scheme. Furthermore, even if workers complain, the new law does not provide for any action to be taken! Under new laws, the Factories Act is not even applicable to factories with less than 40 workers.
Finally, under the Labour Code on Wages Bill 2015, there are no monitoring mechanisms to make sure factories implement minimum wages. In fact, factory inspectors are no more than ‘facilitators’ who will provide “guidance” to factories on how to comply with laws.
In these circumstances, the most obvious course of action would be for workers to come together, form unions, strike work and defend their just wages and rights. Alas, the new laws prevent any of these actions. It restricts union formation by demanding a mandatory percentage of workers in the company to be members. This percentage is as high as 30% in Rajasthan. According to the new laws, striking without prior notice is illegal. Also illegal is any form of agitation, such as delaying work or mass leave, when talks with the labour department are in process. But it does not have any mechanism to make the company adhere to the talks or to even participate in them.
Taken together, these new laws make any act of collective bargaining illegal on the part of the workers. Workers will find themselves severely disempowered, with no viable means to pressure owners to follow rules, pay fair wages, or provide decent working conditions.
Most of you have dreams of finishing your education and getting secure well-paying jobs–jobs where the working environment is healthy, the working day is eight hours long, and where you have job security. But as the above story shows, the working environment you are about to enter offers minimal rights to workers, and no ability to fight for those rights. If these amendments to labour laws go through, then workers, and hence society, face a dark future. Your working day will be at least 10 hours long, with no assurance of overtime payments. No matter how the management treats you, there will be no avenues by which to complain!
No right to unionize, no right to strike, and as companies like Nokia have shown, no job security either. If the company where you have worked for many years decides to move its production elsewhere, they can do so without any legal consequences. You will remain unemployed and inspite of your age and experience, it will be hard for you to find a new job. It is time for you to act before it’s too late.
Remember that all these amendments are designed to legalize precisely those illegal practices which have been going on in industries like Maruti, Nokia, Hyundai and many others. Industrialists will not be satisfied until all remaining legal channels for workers are completely dismantled.
The group most affected by these developments is you, the worker of tomorrow. Is this the way our economy will grow? Does this route lead to prosperity, or to slavery? Will the working class reap any benefits from the demographic dividend? Or will every rupee flow to Indian and foreign capitalists? Should we remain silent as our elected government betrays us and abandons its responsibility to protect our rights?
Join the workers and oppose these amendments and make sure they are not passed! By joining workers and students from all across the country, we can stop these amendments from going through, and we can ensure the days of slavery and bondage do not return. Join the movement against labour law dilution by participating in our activities. Show solidarity with the working class by joining the National Strike on September 2nd.
Download a PDF version of the story from – Labour Reforms Pamphlet English.