Suspension of Indian Labor Legal guidelines to Damage Low-Earnings Staff – The Diplomat


They are poor slum dwellers and the only breadwinners in their families, most of them migrants from northern Indian states. The desperation of putting food on the table has forced them to take the risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus. They start the day on a high note and as the day progresses their excitement wears off because of the scorching heat; You are exhausted at the end of the day. You leave in despair but return the next day with a new dose of energy and purpose.

These workers at a Wear Well clothing factory in Noida lost their jobs when factories were laid off after a nationwide lockdown and workers were given leave to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now they are demanding their May and April salaries and jobs back. However, they don’t know how long it will take them to force management to speak to them. To add to their suffering, the state government passed an ordinance suspending most of the country’s labor laws in order to stimulate investment.

To offset economic losses during the coronavirus pandemic, several Indian states have suspended labor laws through ordinances. Laws related to safety conditions, union recognition and statutory working hours have stalled. The repeal of laws regulating the relationship between employers and employees takes 1,000 days (3 years).

Ram Chandra, a protester who lives in a slum in Bhangel, is concerned about how he will feed his family during the COVID-19 lockdown. He lives in a small shanty house with his wife and two children. Six years ago he emigrated from the small village of Ganga Nagar in Rajasthan and started working as a tailor for the clothing company Wear Well.

Now the company has left him along with ten of his colleagues.

“Nobody has been paid and we haven’t bought rations since the lockdown,” Chandra said.

“My company suddenly disowned me and its workers. Security personnel do not allow us to enter the gate. They tell us we don’t recognize you and start yelling at us when we approach them, ”he said.

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Ram is also concerned about the changes that the Uttar Pradesh government has made to labor laws. He said the company hired new employees based on the government-passed new ordinance law and fired their old employees because they know they can’t ask them to work 12 hours.


In addition, several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, have increased working hours to 72 hours per week. The first state to implement this was India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by a nationalist Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath. On May 6, the state government decided, referring to the severe impact on economic activity since the introduction of a lockdown on March 25, “to exempt all companies, factories and companies from the application of labor law”, with the exception of child labor.

The provisions of the new ordinance provide for an increase in working hours from 8 to 12 hours per day. The regulations also prohibit the formation of associations or trade unions. Although wages have been set in relation to working hours, experts say the move will affect workers ‘minimum wages and farmers’ minimum selling price.

The move is expected to affect a large part of the population who are directly or indirectly employed in manufacturing and other primary sectors.

“We haven’t received a salary in the past two months. The landowner is asking for the rent and the ration guy will stop giving us rations. How will we feed ourselves and our families? We would like an answer from them, ”says Rekha Devi, who works in a production unit in Dadri.

“It is impossible for us to work under new labor laws, even for 12 hours. If the company gets a worker willing to work overtime and is forbidden to speak against anything, then they would prefer to get rid of old workers, ”she adds.

However, manufacturers and small industrialists admire the move and say it will benefit them to cope with the fall in demand and market consumption.

“The government is trying to be for industry. They are trying to remove labor laws and weaken them for us. The industry urgently needs these reforms, ”says Aseem Jaggia, an entrepreneur in Noida who makes electrical appliances.

However, these new labor laws violate international labor standards, but for industrialists like Aseem, these international labor laws are not enforceable in the current environment.

“These international labor laws are a feast for the eyes for India and don’t work here. Practical India is how much work you can do and that is how much money you will get, ”adds Jaggia.

Labor experts in India were shocked by the new laws and criticize the move that the change will adversely affect workers’ lives.


“These new labor laws take us back to the 19th century, or the pre-industrial revolution in Britain, where only the employer and the government decide how to treat workers. This is clearly a condition comparable to slavery and bondage, ”says Ravi Srivastava, director of employment studies at the Institute for Human Development in Delhi.

The regulation will only be implemented after it has been approved by the President. The Uttar Pradesh Worker Front has petitioned the issue to relax certain provisions of the change. State farmers and unions have also organized protests against the proposed change.

Ten central unions called the changes to the labor laws of states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh “draconian” and held nationwide protests on Friday against the suspension and amendment of labor laws by states. Hunger strikes, demonstrations and processions have been watched by workers in multiple locations to push for the withdrawal of “draconian changes” in labor law, a joint union statement said.

In New Delhi, the national leadership of the central unions took part in the hunger strike in Gandhi Samadhi, Rajghat. Some of the protesting leaders were arrested and taken to Rajendra Nagar Police Station.

“This new labor reform leads to slavery. The government has given the industrialists a free hand. She is using the pandemic to adopt such changes, ”says Mukut Singh, a member of All India Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ union in the state.

The government said the labor reforms will give entrepreneurs and industrialists a boost to revitalize the economy. The government says the focus of these reforms is to ensure that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises benefit from these reforms. However, an official from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, who oversees the growth and development of these sectors, refused to say whether the reform will boost the sector. The official added that they had not yet received any information from the Uttar Pradesh government about the labor reforms.

Ram leaves his place every morning to work at the company, but they don’t allow him to enter the gate. He sits on the protest all day and goes home with no money.

“We are not afraid of the coronavirus, but we fear that we may die of starvation. We can save ourselves from the coronavirus, but we cannot save ourselves from hunger, ”adds Ram with a concerned look.

Adil Bhat is a New Delhi-based journalist and was a former Reuters News correspondent.

Majid Alam is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. He also contributed to this report from Uttar Pradesh.

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