Changes in Labour Laws threaten the very existence of Motor Workers

by Polari (IFTU NCM)

World over and in India, the working class won several welfare and job security enactments through its struggles. Since 1991, after introduction of new economic industrial policies, attack on rights and enactments of working class steadily increased. In 2014, after BJP coming into power, the use of sword on working class rights increased several fold. After assumption of power for a 2nd time with big majority at Centre by BJP, it immediately started to quash the rights of the workers. It was not able to do the same though it was in power for five years in its previous regime. But the 2nd time, within 3 months it started to amend the labour laws. It quashed 17 labour laws and  passed 2 new labour Codes in parliament. One of them is Wage Code. By this all legislations such as Wages Act, Bonus Act, Minimum wages Act, Equal remuneration Act for equal work disappeared. The 2nd one is the Occupational safety, health and working conditions Code. By this Factories Act 1948, Mining Act 1952, The Dock and Workers Act, Building Construction Workers Act 1996, The Plantation workers Act 1951, The Contract Workers Regularization Act 1970, Interstate Migration Workers Act 1979,The Working Journalists and News papers  Employees Act 1955, Journalists’ Wages Act 1960, Motor Transport Workers Act 1961, Sales and Promotions Employees Act 1976, Beedi and Cigars workers Act 1961,  The Cine workers and Cine theatre workers Act 1981, total all these 13 Acts were abolished and the above code came into existence.

In the name of amendments,  44 labour enactments will be abolished to serve the interest of corporate companies. In place of them Central govt. intends to introduce 4 codes. Among them 2 codes were already passed in the parliament.  Those enactments, which were newly brought, do not contain even 0.01 % of workers’ interests, and this is not an exaggeration.  As against the old enactments, the new Codes do not contain any new provision for benefit of workers. Moreover 622 parts of 17 enactments were reduced to 134 parts and they were made as two Codes.  All those old enactments were said to be aimed to give job security, health, wages and better working conditions.  That means 488 parts out of 622 which were protective in nature to workers, were removed in the name of amendments.  Managements were supposed to maintain many register as per old Acts.  After amendments corporate companies can maintain all those with only one register.  Those provisions which, even though poorly implemented, were in favour of workers, those 488 parts were removed.  Government has announced that it has rationalized the earlier provisions and made them as simple. Actually, in the name of rationalizing and codifying, very cunningly it has reduced  the burden  on managements.

With the Safety Code, it has also abolished the Motor Transport Workers Act 1961. By that all the rights of transport workers extended by the earlier Act, will go away. Let us see what those were.

All the abolished enactments were specific for this special sector. Those enactments were made by keeping in mind the working conditions, health problems and wages etc of these specific workers. By abolishing all those legislations, their specialties and existences were cancelled. The working conditions of the transports workers are very different from Industrial and unorganized sector workers.  By denying that difference they are merged with all other types of workers who actually have their own characteristics.

Moreover the Motor Transport Workers Act 1961 was applicable to the workers where their number was 5 in any establishment.  But as per the new Code it is applicable only when the workers’ strength is more than 10.  That means that from now on, in any establishment if the transport workers’ number is less than 9, the Act shall not be applicable.  The establishments which are having nine drivers without cleaners do not come under purview of the new Code. If two workers are working on one vehicle and the vehicles are four they also do not come in purview of the new Act. All these provisions will give opportunity to the managements to escape from the liabilities.  By projecting one establishment   as 2 or 3 establishments and by reducing the number of workers they can escape easily from liability. Here workers would lose their rights. Actually to save the workers from the cunning tactics’ of the managements, in 2009, V. V. Giri National Organization recommended amendments to the Motor Transport Act, 1961.  That committee recommended enhancing working conditions without any exemptions.  Under any management if only one worker is working, he should also be eligible for benefits along with PF and ESI etc. facilities. But those recommendations were not implemented by the then Governments and neither by present Government. Moreover when the required number of workers for applicability of the Act is increased from 5 to 10, 60% of Transport work force would be thrown out from the purview of the Act.

Some inspecting system was there in The Motor Transport Act, 1961. The authorities such as First Class magistrate rank chief inspectors, inspectors can conduct inspections to verify whether the transport companies and managements were following the Act or not. If any discrepancy is found they can initiate actions accordingly.  As per new code this system would disappear.  In total in the old legislation, from out of 12 sections, 6 parts explains about these supervising committees meant to save the interest of workers and employees. Now by abolishing all those this new code is bringing all the workers into single system and has created new inspectors cum facilitators. These can be formed at state and central level. It is the bitter experience of the past, though having separate inspectors for separate sectors the labour enactments were not implemented properly. But by creating only one committee for all sectors, implementation becomes a dream.

Moreover as per Motor Transport Act, 1961, certified doctors must be there to look after the health and medical problems of the workers.  If the numbers of workers are beyond 100, the management should maintain canteen.  They should also provide rest rooms. Apart from giving uniforms to the drivers, they should also supply sweaters and rain coats. But in the new code these are all under ambiguity.  It is said that once in a year medical test will be conducted. By keeping these types of rules the health of the Motor transport workers would be in danger.

New code provided new weapon to the managements to dismiss the workers of Motor transport in the name of penalty and this will be so in the other twelve sectors too. As per old Act, if managements removed workers with vague reasons or if  any accidents occurred during duty  due to the negligence of managements,  punishment  would be given to the managements at the tune of  3 to 6 months jail  or with Rs.500/-  fine or  with both. On workers also some limited punishments were there. But as per new Code, in the name of doing justice to the workers more burden has been imposed on workers. As per new code for above said crimes upto  two years jail punishment can be imposed on managements and a Rs. 5,00,000/- fine may also be  imposed.  From this fine 50 % of that amount may be given to the family of worker by the discretion of the Magistrate. In case if it is not given to the worker’s family, the amount of fine on the management  maybe  reduced  to Rs. 3,00,000/-. That means in practice the fine of the management would be reduced.  In any industry or institution   it is very difficult for workers to prove that for accidents or for any other crimes, managements are responsible.  The managements can easily  throw all the blame on workers. They can create evidences as per it. They can influence the officials also. Govt. can say punishments would be given to the management as per this Code, but is not possible.  But this Code has given very good weapon to the managements.  In this Code one more rule has also been added that, if the accident has happened due to the worker, Rs.10,000/- fine may be imposed on worker. Motor transport workers are also not getting minimum wages as like all sectors workers. Getting minimum wage is a day dream. Paying of penalty of Rs.10,000/- is impossible. .This rule gives the opportunity to the managements to exploit the workers. By keeping these type of weapons in the hands of the management, it can give a method to disrupt the unity and bargaining capacity of the workmen.

In this Code Govt. has given one more axe to the managements to use against the working class. Apart from other workers if Motor Workers gets absent without permission, the Code allows the managements to cut  8 days salary of workers. In old Acts there was such provision if workers go on strike without legal process. The workers’ unions had demanded since long to remove this anti worker provision. But now this has been extended even to absence without permission. It would give one more cruel weapon to the managements to attack on the rights of the workers.  Motor Transport workers act, 1961 aimed to look after the welfare of Motor Transport workers. By removing this Act protection for their employment, health and working conditions are removed.  Now they brought  code. At the same time they also made so many powerful maks  to the rules of Motor Vehicle Act, 1939.  By making rules in such a way they are intended to impose so many restrictions on Motor transport workers. In forwarding this they  introduced  Road Transport safety Bill, 2015. Against this Bill on 30-04-2015 national wide Transport strike was conducted. At that time Central govt. temporarily  took back  it’s step as drama. Now in 09-08.2019 Road safety Bill was brought into implementation through Gazette 51.

The  total burden imposed on the Motor transport workers through the Bill passed by Gazette 51 on 09.08.2019 as road safety bill, without taking into consideration of  the conditions of the roads,  the role of traffic control and the responsibility of the Government.

By making amendment to the motor transport Act in 2018  through G.O No.859, license fees and challans were  increased more than 200%. Now in 2019 through Road safety Bill they put total burden on the workers for road accidents. In the name of  to reduce accidents they increased  fines and punishments at the tune of  500% to 2000 %. If we see the aim of the central Govt. it clearly understood  to  increase the profits of insurance companies  and the income of state Govt. instead  of prevention of  accidents.  In the new bill 63 more rules were added  to the rules of  the old act.  In these except 5 or 6 rules all other rules are aimed to control the workers  and to loot their income  sources .

As per the data given by the Central govt. every year  1.5 Lakhs deaths are happening because of road accidents. Their saying is that,  the Road Safety Bill was brought to reduce the death rate.  Then why govt. is not focusing on industrial accidents? They are not the lives of the workers? As per govt. data 75,000 deaths were taking place in industrial accidents. One lakh more workers deaths are happening because of occupational diseases. To the total deaths of 1.75 lakh workers management’s negligence is the reason. Moreover  the improper implementation of  Labour  Laws also one more reason for these deaths. The Bhopal Gas tragedy accident  which taken away the lives of 5500 workers was witness  to their negligence.  But they are cunningly crying on road accidents and bringing  bills to make attacks on transport workers. But the Central govt. not trying to bring any new special Act to prevent the industrial accidents. By observing this the aim of the Govt is clearly visible it is working for the benefit of corporate companies and their managements.

Here we have to say about  one more issue. When the central Govt. making new code by merging 13 Acts, it kept some options in its hands. To make amendments in  future in favour of management. It did that by adding one more provision to the code. It says basing on the sector wise necessities and on  specific conditions some sub  acts shall be made through these provisions and  rules. In one way they said they simplified the procedure by making only one code in place of 13 Acts. But again to  serve the interests of managements  they had keep opportunity in their hands to make sub Acts against to their basic statement.

Any how this new safety health and working conditions code 2019 is completely made with the guidance of corporate companies.  This bill is very dangerous for the Motor transport workers just as it is to the workers of other 12 sector covered under the new Codes. So working class should wage militant struggles against these Anti-Worker amendments. There is no other way.