The Government of Madhya Pradesh has brought out a circular saying that in the interest of promoting employment for workers and also business for owners it is taking an “important” step for labour “reforms”. Under cover of fighting the epidemic it has affected changes for a period of 1000 days; nearly three years and in this way has attacked 4 central labour laws and 3 state labour Acts. The word ‘reforms’, in the language of govts, usually mean an assault on the rights of workers. If we read this circular of the MP Govt, we will realize it is a wholesale attack on the labour laws that allowed at least formal legal cover to workers. These laws were all achieved through struggles. They are being taken away in a period of lockdown, taking advantage of workers not being in workplaces and governments feel that they will not be able to muster the courage to protest collectively.
It is true that in the current economic slowdown, owners of small industries and establishments also need help. They need electricity bill waivers, easy loans, help with payment of wages etc. but no concrete measure has been given to them by the state or central govt both of BJP. Rather, in the name of helping them, they are being offered right to loot workers who will be deprived of all rights! The government had this intention for long.
New industries are being assured freedom from all inspections regarding implementation of labour laws. This specifically includes the right to refashion shifts and through this goes workers rights to ensure 48 hr week and overtime rates thereafter. The sop of ‘ third party inspection’ after muzzling the factory inspector means workers exploitation can be covered up totally. A third party inspection means the owner can call a third party for inspection and that inspection will be valid. Obviously, if the owner calls someone, it will not be impartial, but it will be done to show that we have got a third party investigation done and everything went well in the investigation.
All these are in the name of finishing inspector raj! In the name of abolishing Inspector Raj, the possibility of the Labor Department taking any action on the workers’ complaint is gone.
The changes made in the factory act has given a lot of leeway to new industrialists. If we look at it the majority of the law has been made ineffective, only a few parts are left out. Excluded sections such as 6 and 7 only pertain to factory registration etc. Section 8 is about appointing the inspectors by government, which will anyway becomes unnecessary now. Similarly, Section 21 deals with running machines and running dangerous machines, etc., which will be in very few establishments and will not make sense in the absence of factory inspectors anyway. Section 59 overtime is about which is again being made ineffective otherwise and 67 is about child labor. Section 79 is about annual holidays, and 88 about accidents. Similarly, section 112 is in relation to government’s right to make rules. There is no meaning of exemption in these. These are mostly the sections which have no special effect or cannot be removed.
But the clauses which have been abolished will have disastrous consequences. Section 9 and 10 is about the authority of the inspectors which have been abolished. Sections 11 to 20 of Chapter 3 have been made ineffective are concerning the health of workers, cleanliness, drinking water, toilet, spittoons, proper working space, fans, overcrowding etc. Sections 42 to 48 are covered in Chapter 5, which is about the general facilities like place to sit, wash, canteens, storing space, crèches etc. It has also finished. Sections 51 to 58 of Chapter 6 deal with working hours, holidays, weekly holidays, night shifts etc. Section 62 is about maintaining the register and section 66 is about preventing women in night shifts. Section 80, 81 regarding wages and holidays; Section 103 states that if workers are found in the premises during the inspection, it is presumed that work is being done there, and section 110 is in relation to filing the returns of the owners. All these sections have been abolished.
The Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment (Standing Order) Act 1961 is like an independent law that makes it mandatory for establishments employing more than 20 workers to comply with Standing Order. It was amended in 2015 to increase this number to 50 workers and now it has been increased to 100 workers. The Madhya Pradesh Labor Welfare Fund Act 1982 is a state law that is also being scrapped for new industries. The Lok Seva Praday Guarantee Act 1982 was about registration of Factories in 30 days. Now it has been reduced to 1 day i.e. no inquiry for registration and no questions will be asked.
The MP industrial relations bill 1960 is being completely done away with, with the results that bargaining right of unions and their democratic right to reach agreements will be over. As it is labour laws remain unimplemented. Through struggles workers are able to make owners sign agreements for increments, for ESI, PF, Bonus implementation, for regularization, or any other lawful rights. Now not only will that be over, old agreements are also nullified. All new establishments will be free for 1000 days from the ID Act, which gives right to strike, protection on layoffs, retrenchments and lockouts, right to raise industrial disputes before competent government authority. Owners are blatantly and openly being given right to hire and fire in so many words. o interference will be allowed by labour dept. or even matter cannot be filed in labor courts. That means workers are to be virtual slaves. It is in keeping with the current drive of BJP govts to finish all labour rights. The central government is speaking of replacing labour laws by codes thro ordinances. MP govt is going for simply finishing the laws, no pretence of alternatives. Karnataka govt of BJP has decided to force workers to work by stopping all transport which can take them home-slaves is what it has declared them. And even non BJP govts like Kejriwal govt in Delhi has not taken any steps like requisitioning trains despite making lists of workers who wish to go to their native places.
Amendments are also being made to the Shop and Establishment Act. Institutions with less than 50 laborers cannot be inspected without the permission of the Labor Commissioner. Most shops will be outside inspection. Not only there will be no inspection in factories with less than 40 workers, but their registration will also no longer be necessary.
Owners are also being offered freedom from social security deposits for workers and all rights of workers in establishments with under 100 employees stand suspended.
Owners are being offered services from a single window under 18 acts in record periods. Small shops can open from 6 am to 12 midnight i.e. 18 hours; in shops with under 50 workers labour law implementation machinery is stopped from inspection. Thus no min wage and a 18 hr workday is on the cards.
The contract labour act is proposed to be amended so that only contractors employing over 50 workers need to register in place of current 20. We already see how badly exploited are contract workers; it can be imagined what their state will be under these new dispensations. As a parting shot, the definition of factory itself is sought to be changed so that there is no coverage under factory act. This will give great relief to the industry of big corporate houses and MNCs in cement and other industries.
When registration is being made easy, it will not be a difficult task to create a new establishment and all the old industries can be shown as a new industry with new registration. Similarly, where more workers work, by registering different types of work under different names, the owners will get rid of labor laws.
Corona pandemic is being misused to attack workers. In lockdown, workers were not offered protection. The Prime Minister gave false assurances. In reality, most workers have not received any salary for 2 months. Those who work away from home could not pay rentals; they have not been getting food to eat as rations are over, hardly anyone has got promised rations and workers are not being helped to return home. Now under lockdown rights are being attacked and the stage is set to reduce us to slaves.
MP govt has taken off from where it had left earlier and is continuing attack on workers’ rights.
Friends, let us resist. Let us reject these changes. Let us forge the widest possible unity, organize and fight back these attacks on our rights. Even workers in large industries will not be spared.
Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)
May 7, 2020