Charishma Sekhar(Jnr. Associate Editor)
Due to this global pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, several governments decided to suspend the labour laws by passing an ordinance. In order to boost the country's economy, to improve the investment by creating a positive atmosphere for industries, to provide labour flexibility, to provide employment to the workers who migrated to their native state. It has brought in with caution, keeping in mind the interest of both employer and the employee. The centre which monitors the Indian economy has released the statistics which indicates 24% of India's workforce reduction and the unemployment rate to the level of 8%. In order to minimize the impact of this global crisis, the government has taken such action for general public welfare.
SUSPENSION OF LABOUR LAWS
Over the past few weeks, several states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat have announced a slew of suspensions on labour laws. Other states such as Rajasthan, Kerala, and Punjab also made some alterations, having a narrow space. Coming to the changes made by the states on 8th May 2020, the UP government has formulated and cleared that suspends most of the existing labour law for the next 3 years including guarantee minimum wage, equal remuneration for women and men, workers' safety, and sanitation. The law that remains is Section 5 of The Payment of Wages Act 1936, The Workmen's Compensation Act 1923, The Bonded Labour System Act 1976, and The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996.
Similarly, Madhya Pradesh provided for the suspension of The Industrial Dispute Act and amended the following acts such as Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment Act 1961, Madhya Pradesh Shram Kalay Nidhi Adhiniyam, 1982. Other states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh have exempted the provisions of working hours under The Factories Act,1948. The acts which are suspended causes fear to the employers which are, The Industrial Dispute Act,1947 which left the helpless workers without gripe of redressal mechanism, The Minimum Wages Act 1948 ensuring the wages to both skilled and unskilled labourers in the country, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 which prescribes the employment for the women at the time of her maternity, The Payment of Wages Act,1936 which ensures prompt and regular payment of wages and to prevent arbitrary fine from the wages, it also regulates the rate of payment for overtime work. Bidi and cigar workers act in 1966 which ensures the protection of labourers working in tobacco industries. Payment of bonus act,1965 and Payment of gratuity act, 1972 which promises the payment of bonus and compensation to workers working in industries. The government also said that workers will be continued to protect their basic rights as there are 3 laws still in place for them.
WHETHER A STATE CAN BE SUSPEND CENTRAL LAW BY ORDINANCE
It should be noted that States only suspended the laws and have not endeavoured to repeal by making any new law. Thereby complexing the situation in legal realms. For instance, In the case, Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. the State of Punjab, AIR 1955 SC 549, that by virtue of Article 162, the legislature is coextensive of that executive and executive has the power to decide in respect of the subjects List II and List III. If the state legislature has the power to suspend central laws, so the state does have executive.
And also, Entry no. 22 and Entry no. 24 of List III of the seventh schedule provided that labour laws are a concurrent subject. However, Article 254(2) saves such repugnancy, the state will stand over central law if the former is assented to by the president of India.
CONSTITUTION AND LABOUR LAW
The constitution of India provides numerous rights for protecting the interests of labour law under part III as well as part IV relating to fundamental rights and Directive principles of state policy (DPSP). It also provides the right to life and the right against exploitation under Article 21 and Article 23, but besides protection, it still violates Article 23 which prohibits forced labour of any form. In Sanjit Roy vs. the State of Rajasthan on January 20, 1983, it has been held that payment of wages lower than the minimum wage to a person employed on famine relief violates Article 23.
The freedom of individuals to form trade unions and associations under Article 19(1)(c) has been cut off by aforesaid action. Trade unions also played critical roles in transforming the life of labour from servitude to dignity. When all the labour laws are suspended even this Trade union act, 1926 is affected which is valid under Article 19(4) which says that restrictions could be put on the grounds of public order and integrity of India.
The structure of Indian labour's law framework has been a product of obligations under the International labour organization's (ILO) conventions, constitutional obligation, jurisprudence, and hard struggle for the working class. Now withstanding with the economy, the Labour law framework emerges from the power asymmetry between labour and capital. Labour law is meant to countervail the inequality of bargaining by preventing the unilateral setting of terms of services by owners of capital. It is originally conceptualized as a derivative of both individual rights of workers as well as rights of recognition and bargaining accorded to trade workers unions, but over time work embraces the rights accorded to the trade union. Now coming to the labour and constitution, it’s required to secure citizens an adequate means of livelihood and the right to work according to article 39(a) and Article 41.
Article 16 provides equal opportunity in all matters of public employment. Actually, it means there must not be any discrimination during employment and also pass laws for reservation of appointment for the backward class of citizens. Article 24 prohibits the employment of children in industries or factories.
Article 39 requires the state to direct it's the policy towards securing livelihood, equal pay for men and women, the health and strength of workers.
Article 41 which gives rights to work, to education, and to public assistance in certain classes. Article 42 says provision for just and human conditions work and maternity relief. Article 43 and 43A provide that the state shall take steps to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertaking and endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation, to all workers, agriculture, industries, and all other labourers.
The current COVID l9 has brought to fore the utter disregard for the unorganized sector in India. Even this global pandemic does not justify the deliberate neglect of the labour force. Particularly in these times, the states must take certain steps and cautions in order to protect their interests. The objective of this is to increase investment and employment by relaxing the labour laws and is optimistic about the government. The central government agrees that major reforms in the field of labour law are required due to the presence of multifarious legislation dealing with different aspects of labour laws. The labour legislature confers rights not only to employees but also to employers. It does not provide obligations on employers but also on employees and trade unions. The relief of labour laws gives negotiation powers to the labourers. The main objective of the government is to balance the economic growth, business along with maintaining a workers safety net.