Kabeer Katlat

Kabeer Katlat

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From Kashmir to Punjab and Gujarat, reports of workers not being paid their dues are emerging.

After tension arose in the industrial area of Malerkotla, Punjab, town late last night as some migrants working at Arihant Spinning Mill held a protest to demand full wages for the lockdown period outside the premises and allegedly threw stones at the civil and police officers, over 300 were booked on 12th May.

Workers said they got injured in police lathicharge, including some women. Over 300 workers protested outside the mill on 11th May night when they protested that they were not paid full wages, they were kept inside the unit during the entire lockdown period. They weren’t allowed to move out of the unit and were even forced to buy essential commodities from the factory’s canteen at high rates.

One of them said, “If someone would fall sick, they used to give medicine without any medical examination. Many of us have been given less salary. We have not been given any reason for deducting our salary.”

On 12th May morning, though, a meeting was arranged between the workers and government official no settlement was there, and then the police attacked the workers to terrorize them.

 

Similar Anguish Across the Country 

On May 9, a protest by Chenab Textile Mills (CTM) workers turned violent in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district. A large number of people were protesting at the site, demanding payment of their full salaries, NDTV reported. The workers protesting claimed that the police resorted to lathi-charge, hitting everyone including children following which the people here had to pelt stones. Last month, after a paper mill allegedly refused to remit wages to several daily wagers from various parts of the union territory and other states, the disgruntled employees staged a protest outside the mill in Kathua district, the Hindustan Times reported. The daily wagers alleged that the mill management threw them out of the premises and refused to pay them their pending wages of two to three months.

In Gujarat, around 400 workers, most of them migrants, gathered outside the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) refinery in Vadodara, on May 12, to protest a delay in their wages. The workers were employed by Bridge and Roof (B and R), a semi-government firm for the construction of a new unit at Koyali for the IOCL.

The plight of workers all over the country is deteriorating. At first, they were dependent on the states and had to fend for money and food from civil society and human rights organizations and find a way to reach the safety of their homes in villages. They walked on foot and some died during the journey. When trains and buses were started to ferry them home, they themselves had to manage the sky high ticket fare. And now, when the states realized their need, they were forced into staying back so that the powerful industry owners could earn profits off their labour. Stories of the delays in their wages and non-payment of dues just go to show the level of apathy that still prevails in the society towards those who shoulder our economy. The migrant workers are treated like bonded labour everywhere. n

 

The Uttar Pradesh government has approved an ordinance exempting all establishments, factories, and businesses from the purview of most labour laws for over three years. Laws that would no longer apply include the Minimum Wages Act, Trade Unions Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Factories Act, Contract Labour Act, Payment of Bonus Act, Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, Working Journalists Act, Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act. This ordinance is now pending approval of the central government. In Madhya Pradesh, all provisions, except Section 25 of the Industrial Disputes Act, have been relaxed, working hour has been extended to 12 hours a day, establishments employing less than 50 workers have been excluded from inspection under various labour laws, In industries with less than 100 labourers, exemptions have been given from provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment (Permanent Order) Act, fixed term employment has been approved, a provision has been made to maintain a single register instead of various registers under labour laws and to file a single return instead of 13 now, under the Factory Act, exemption has been given to factories from inspection for a period of three months. Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani has declared that Gujarat is planning to exempt new projects from provisions of labour laws if the unit will work for at least 1,200 days.

Maharashtra has made exemption of section 51, 52, 54, 56 of Factories Act and has allowed extension of working hour upto12 hours a day. Assam government has allowed introduction of fixed term employment in industries, increase in minimum number of workers for implementation of the Factories Act from 10 to 20 (factories run with power) and 20 to 40 (without power). It also has approved increase in minimum number of workers for implementation of Contract Labour Act from 20 to 50 and increase in shift hours from 8 to 12 hours.

Other states like Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh has also amended the Factories Act since last month and raised the working hours from 8 to 12 hours per day. These changes are nothing but a ploy to transfer the cost and crisis of the pandemic to the working class, preserving the interests and profits of the capitalists and exploiting the corona crisis for fast track implementation of anti-worker labour law reforms, even bypassing the parliament. This will increase job loss, abolish job security, dilute industrial safety and increase industrial accidents and throw a huge majority of workforce out of any legal safety net, and effectively bring back the practice of bonded labour in production. This will push back the gains of working-class struggle for basic rights and dignified job by a hundred years.

 Already the Indian working class is suffering from the corona crisis – job loss, salary cut, crisis of ration, shelter and other facilities, despite the evident fact that they build the wealth of nation. Particularly the crisis of migrant workers and unorganized workers has been severe. In this context, these measures will increase the precarious condition of workers by manifold. MASA demands immediate withdrawal of all ordinances/orders by different state governments that allow anti-workers measures in pretext of COVID-19 crisis.

 MASA demands from the central government and all state governments immediate measure for the protection of workers’ rights and interests in this hour of crisis – secure jobs and full salary for all, universal health and social security, legislation for migrant workers’ rights and facilitation of their going back home free of cost, strong measures for industrial safety etc. We vow to fight for these rights of the workers and call upon all workers, all toiling masses and all democratic sections of society to rise up and fight for these rights. At present we will fight through the courts and virtually by all means possible. As soon as it is responsibly possible, we will move this struggle to the streets.

(Statement issued by MASA, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan) n

 

Today saw an industrial tragedy in Vizhakhapatnam with over 12 dead and thousands injured. This happened following a gas leak in the LG polymers plant in Vizag. Reports are that the plant was sought to be opened with only 30% strength as per the Kovid-3 guidelines. The personnel proved insufficient to run the plant safely and this resulted in a gas leak which led to the deaths and the disease. Coming, as this does, in the middle of the third Covid lockdown, it is putting pressure on the already fragile medical system especially in AP.

Nor was this the only tragedy today. As there is a rush to reopen after the lockdown, there was another gas leak reported in Chhatisgarh in Raigarh and a boiler blast in Neyveli in Tamil Nadu. This clearly shows that safety for workers and for society as a whole is being thrown to the winds in trying to regain the profits lost by industry due to the lockdown.

TUCI commiserates with the families of the dead and the injured. We promise to fight to see that justice is done for those dead and injured. The State Government has announced some compensation. At the same time, the dead and the injured are also entitled to compensation from the company. There have been reports that the company, in Vizag, has been trying to fob off the workers with insurance payments of Rs. 25000 per death and 1000 per month for loss of earnings for the persons injured. TUCI vows to fight any such attempt by the LG company to avoid its liability.

At the same time it is obvious from the three accidents today that industrial establishments are being opened in a hasty manner without adequate care being taken for safety and for health. At the same time, instead of increasing the measures for the health and safety of the workers and of society at large, the Central and various state governments are bent upon removing every vestige of rights for the workers, under the mistaken understanding that any increase in the rights of workers will mean a contraction of industrial growth.

One of the main, if not the sole, protections of the rights of workers to safety, is the Factories Act. This was already under attack even before the lockdown. Now many state governments like Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra are amending the act to allow 12 hours duty as a norm in place of 8 hours duty. The Gujarat notification also reads that the wages are to be paid at single rate for the whole 12 hours and not at overtime rates. All of these notifications are clearly illegal. They offend the sections of the act, the powers given to states under the act as well as being against various conventions of the ILO which India has signed and endorsed and also some which it has not.

Today the UP Cabinet has taken a decision to suspend all rights of workers under under all labour laws (except the Bonded Labour Act, the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the Building and other Construction Workers Act and laws regarding women and children) for 1000 days. The reasons given for such decision is that industry has slowed down in the lockdown (as it was bound to) and it needs to be helped for some time to be able to recuperate. This is foolish and no reason at all. Firstly, it is tautology to say that industry has slowed down when it was ordered to be locked down by the Government. Secondly, there is nothing to show that curbing workers rights will allow industry to recuperate. History shows otherwise. Workers rights and growth of industry have gone hand in hand. There is no precedent to show that curbing workers rights will allow for a sustained growth of industry. It is clear that the UP cabinet have no constitutional or legal right to pass such an ordinance and certainly not without the assent of the President. Further, it is the workers who have been the worst sufferers in the lockdown. It makes no sense to remove rights like double wages for overtime, PF, ESI, etc and justify it as a measure to encourage industrialisation. Even morally, such a move could never be justified.

This is not even good economics. If workers don’t get proper wages, etc. This will have an effect on the home market. The workers employed by institutions like the PF office and the ESI office will starve. We will go back to the rule of hire and fire which has never been shown to help the growth of industry. It is clear that such a mentality does not even come from a developed capitalist thinking but from a primitive feudal or slave mentality. This is only the result of the UP Government pimping itself to the interests of the big corporates to squeeze the workers.

Similar decisions have been reported to have been taken by the MP Government. The same reasoning applies here also. Similarly for the decisions of several governments like the Karnataka government which was disallowing migrant workers from going back after talking with the builders lobby.

It is clear that the BJP Government at the centre entered into the tactic of lockdown for this pandemic merely as a statement, without any preparation whatsoever. There was no preparation for the workers and the poorer sections of society. Similarly for the lifting of the lockdown. There has been no thought and no plan but only press conferences and statements. The figures of the affected and the deceased keep rising but all that follows is more conferences and further statements. There is no integrated plan to deal with lockdown and with its aftermath like one finds in almost all other countries.

The economy was in no great shape even before the lockdown. The figures for the third quarter (Sept to Dec 2019) already showed the economy was ailing. The government was to attempt to push the burden of this ailment upon the workers and other toilers by means like GST, amendments to labour laws etc. These amendments, ostensibly to consolidate the labour laws, were clearly designed to remove even the meagre protections given to workers and make them into contract and casual workers and push down their wages and living standards. While these attempts were under way, came covid-19. Now the attempt is to push the whole burden of covid-19 upon the backs of the workers by all the means outlined above.

TUCI vows to fight against this attempt by the ruling classes in aid of the big corporates. We will fight such attempts in the courts and in the streets when it is safe and responsible to do so. Till then we will fight then virtually by all means at our disposal. We call upon the working class, the toiling masses and all democratic sections of society to join us in this struggle. n

 

The Workers, toilers, migrant workers, professionals, farmers etc were all facing problems due to the lockdown caused by the Covid pandemic. The Central and State Governments have not done anything to help them. Even though there was an order recognising that workers were entitled to wages during the lockdown and that there should not be any reduction in the workforce during this time, the majority of the establishments did not give wages to the permanent or to the contract and casual workers. Even when there was a huge accumulation of grains in the governments godowns the poor, the toilers, the needy and the migrant workers were not given sufficient provisions in time. Due to this the poor are facing starvation. Especially the migrant workers who have faced tremendous privations and have been forced to go on foot in the hot sun to their states or their districts. During this migration, many have died in accidents.

The 20 lakh crore package announced by the Prime Minister is a farce and there is not direct aid to the workers, toilers, farmers and unorganised workers. Out of this package only 3 lakhs 20 thousand 900 crores are to be spent by the centre. The remaining 16 lakh 60 thousand crores are in the nature of loans and providing liquidity. The UP Cabinet has decided to suspend 38 labour laws leaving only 4. The MP Government has suspended nearly all labour laws for new establishments. The Gujarat and Karnataka Governments have also stated their aim to follow suit. Of course, the UP Government was forced to take back the decision to increase the working hours to 12 hours before the court. The effect of all these changes is that the “hire and fire” system is being introduced and workers are being pushed into slavery. The attack is on the workers wages, the health, their social security and even their dignity. In this manner, the Indian working class is being pushed into colonial British times. Against all these attacks on the working class, considering all these facts, the trade unions all over the country have decided to observe 22nd May 2020 as a day of protest.

The CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, BKS, Shramik Ekta Mahasangh, TUCI, AIUTUC, SEWA, LPF, AICCTU and UTUC are all taking part in this protest. If the anti-worker changes in the labour laws are not taken back we will be forced to further intensify the movement. We request you to accept the demands below to the extent they are applicable to you.

  • Full wages to all workers for the whole period of the lockout
  • Scrap all the anti-worker changes in labour laws including extension of working day to 12 hours
  • Help the migrant workers not only to reach back to their villages but also for rehabilitation and for getting reemployment
  • Give relief of Rs. 10000 to each unorganised sector worker or self employed worker who has got no wages for each month of the lockdown
  • Condemn the “package” of the Central Government which only gives aid to the big corporates and steals from the workers and other toilers.
  • We demand that 5% of the GDP be spent on public health. n

 

Labour Day is typically meant to highlight the protection of worker rights. This year, it came at a time when labourers are struggling to survive and their rights need protection more than ever. The heart-rending death of 16 workers who were sleeping on rail tracks, exhausted during their 700 km walk to home highlights the plight of workers today. In the US, more than 33 million people have lost their jobs in the past 7 weeks. This is already more than the loss in employment seen in the two years of the global financial crisis.

Back home, where workers have little social security, CMIE data suggests that more than a hundred million workers have lost employment, a vast majority from the unorganised sector. The figure is likely to be even larger given that it would be difficult to capture the employment status of the migrating workers. Workers are desperate. Not only have they lost their meagre income, but now their only options are to risk contracting COVID-19 or facing starvation. So, many of them set out to walk hundreds if not thousands of kilometres to return to their villages, carrying their few belongings, children on their shoulders and no food in their bellies. Some have already perished on the way. In Karnataka, they were not even being allowed to go back home, in a controversy that sparked allegations of bonded labour, forcing the government to quickly take a U-turn.

The pandemic has highlighted the real working and living conditions of most workers. The unfolding crisis does make one stop and wonder – how can this be the situation of most Indian workers, 70 years after independence? True, conditions are not what they were in 1947. There is more education and better health facilities. Child mortality has dropped and longevity has increased. Many of the poor own mobile phones and wear chappals. Electricity and tapped water have reached many villages. But this is expected in an economy where GDP has grown by 32.2 times and per capita income by 8.2 times since 1950, as some fruits of development trickle down to some of the marginalised.

Workers Suffer Indignity

What is missing though is a dignified life which should be the right of every citizen in a democratic country. The ruling class often ignores this and argues that the marginal improvement in the material conditions of many workers is enough. They even imply that the workers ought to be grateful for this slight betterment and portray it as the success of the prevailing unequal economic system. In the present ruling economic ideology, equity is not high on the agenda. The ruling elites thrive on the poor working and living condition of labour for their lifestyle and profits. Consequently, neither the state nor the businesses grant the workers their rights. For instance, large numbers do not get a minimum wage or social security or protective gear at worksites. They do not have security of employment, often wages are not paid in time, muster rolls are fudged, there is no 

entitlement to leave, etc. Given their low wages, they are forced to live in squalid conditions with many sharing a small room in a slum. Water is scarce and drinking water more so. Access to clean toilets is limited and disease spreads. There is lack of civic amenities like sewage. Their children are often deprived of schools and playgrounds.

With COVID-19 as an excuse, state after state is reducing what little security was available to workers by eliminating or diluting various laws so as to favour businesses. In Uttar Pradesh, at least 14 labour laws like the Minimum Wages Act and Industrial Disputes Act are being suspended for three years in an effort to attract capital. Similar is the case with MP and Gujarat. The plea is that this is needed to revive economic activity. The chief minister of MP has said that this would lead to new investment in the state. Whether or not new investment will come at this time when businesses are unable to start or they face a situation of low capacity utilisation, what this would ensure is competition among states to relax and eliminate labour laws. Thus, the poor working conditions of labour will deteriorate further.

In India, workers are characterised as either organised or unorganised. Those in the former category work in larger businesses and have some formal rights (which are being diluted further) but often they find it difficult to enforce them. Increasingly the big and medium businesses are employing contract labour provided by contractors from the unorganised sector, rather than permanent workers. Businesses pay the contractors who then pay workers a part of the payment they receive. So, businesses claim that they are paying the minimum wage but the workers don’t get it. When even the minimum wage is inadequate for a dignified life, what the workers receive cannot ensure a civilised existence.

Most workers in the cities, where land prices and rents are high, are forced to live in slums mushrooming on vacant land or in urbanised villages with rudimentary facilities and massive overcrowding. Dharavi is an example of this. The organised sector workers have greater social security and receive a higher wage but even that is inadequate for a civilised life. The unorganised sector acts as a reserve army of labour keeping wages low in the organised sector also. Consequently, large numbers of the organised sector workers also live in slums like their comrades from the unorganised sector.

Pandemic Highlights the Workers’ Conditions

SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads rapidly. Since neither a medicine nor a vaccine against it is available, a lockdown of the population is essential to slow its spread. But lockdown requires isolation and sanitation, which are not possible in congested areas in slums. Frequent washing of hands is required but how is that possible without clean water or soap? So, the miserable living conditions of a large number of workers have been sharply highlighted. If 5-10 people live in a room, how is isolation 24×7 feasible? Without physical isolation, the disease is bound to spread, as is the case in Dharavi. Further, they do not have the money to get tested or go to a hospital for treatment, so it festers. They are also poorly nourished so their resistance to the disease is less. They often have co-morbidities which makes them more susceptible to the disease.

A lockdown requires businesses to close and lay off workers or not pay them wages. This again highlights the insecure working conditions of workers. The workers have small incomes and little savings so they cannot stock up on essentials of life to survive weeks of lockdown. They, and if their family is with them, start to starve unless someone provides them with food. So, while a lockdown works for the middle classes and the well-off sections, it is next to impossible for the poor unless the state steps in and makes arrangements. There has to be free testing and hospitalisation, provision of essentials of life and clean water wherever the workers are. Furthermore, slums need to be decongested and made suitable for living with at least minimum facilities.

Not Just the Aurangabad Accident, 383 People Have Died Due to the Punitive Lockdown

From road and rail accidents to starvation, denial of medical care, police brutality, exhaustion and suicides, there have been hundreds of reported non-corona virus deaths. On 8th May, 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train when they were attempting to make their way to Aurangabad railway station with the hope of catching a train to their homes in Madhya Pradesh. They were walking along the railway track to avoid being thrashed by the police on the roads and with the knowledge that trains aren’t running. After walking for several hours, the workers were exhausted. They sat down to rest and fell asleep. An oncoming goods train ran over them at around 5.20 am. The migrants worked at a private steel company in Jalna in Maharashtra and had not been paid since the first lockdown began on March 24. Given the desperate situation and not knowing when they could work again, they wanted to get back home to be with their families and decided to walk in the hope of finding a train

In another incident on Saturday night, at least five migrant labourers were killed and 13 others injured 

when a truck in which they were travelling overturned in Madhya Pradesh’s Narsinghpur district. The incident took place in Patha village in Narsinghpur. Around 18 labourers were travelling in a truck carrying mangoes from Telangana’s Hyderabad city to Agra in Uttar Pradesh. The workers killed in these two accidents are not the only people to have lost their lives during the lockdown due to reasons other than COVID-19.

In fact, according to researchers Thejesh G.N., Kanika Sharma and Aman, till Saturday, 378 people had died since the lockdown was imposed due to reasons other than the disease. Of them, 69 people died in rail or road accidents while walking to their homes – the only mode of travel available as public transport had been suspended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which gave notice of only four hours before the first lockdown came into effect. Compiling information from news reports, the database put together by the group, which describes itself as “freelance scholars and student volunteers interested in action-oriented research, socio-economic rights and related issues”, shows that a large number of people have died due to reasons such as road accidents while walking back to their homes, starvation, denial of medical care, police brutality, exhaustion, suicides – all consequences of the lockdown. The database is updated every day and is available here.

The compilation began as a Twitter thread by Sharma on March 29. “Immediately after the lockdown, we began seeing a lot of reports of deaths. People dying while walking back home, women dying due to denial of health care. These deaths were very distressing,” Sharma, who is studying for a PhD in Sociology at Emory University 

in Atlanta in the United States of America, told The Wire According to their compilation, the death of the 16 migrant workers in Aurangabad was the largest number of people killed in a single incident. On March 28, a few days after the lockdown, eight migrants returning home were killed in a road accident in Karnataka’s Raichur.

The largest number of reported non-coronavirus deaths (83) so far have been due to suicides for reasons such as fear of infection, alcohol withdrawal symptoms and due to loss of job. A large number of people have also died due to starvation, denial of medical care and exhaustion while walking home or queuing for ration or money. To put the information together, the researchers have set up Google alerts in different languages, including Kannada, Marathi, Odia, Telugu, Bengali, Hindi and English. “We do Google searches and people have also been sending reports to us. We verify them and volunteers help us translate them,” Sharma said.

The researchers only take into account those deaths which have been reported by ‘credible’ sources of news. “There are limitations. We can’t do ground verification. We would also be missing a lot of deaths. Local media reports may not be reaching us. Also, a lot doesn’t get reported,” she said. An 80-year-old man who lived near a bus stop in Tamil Nadu and was dependent on travellers for food died after the lockdown was imposed and there were no travellers. A 12-year-old girl died due to exhaustion after walking 100 kilometres with her parents who had left for home after the lockdown was extended for the first time.

(The Wire)

Since the past week the Central and various state Government have been issuing various notifications curtailing the rights of workers.  As many as 10 states have issued notifications amending the Factories Act, 1948. Most of these (States like Uttarakhand, Gujarat, HP, MP etc) have been issued using the powers under section 5 of the Factories Act. This is clearly misconceived. The powers under section 5 can only be used in a “public emergency” which has been defined to mean “… a grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.” It is clear that this provision for exemption from the provisions of the factories act is only to be used in times of war or civil war or such similar

Some states, like Maharashtra and Goa, have exercised power under section 65 (2) of the Factories Ac. This is closer to the satiation as it exists. This allows relaxations from certain provisions of the act concerning hours of work, weekly off, etc “…to deal with an exceptional press of work”. But here too, the exemption is to be given to the workers, not to the factories. Further, it has to be to deal with an exceptional press of work. This is not the case with the notification of the Government.

Given below is a table showing the changes made in various states

State

Hrs/Day

Total Hrs/ Wk

Overtime

Hrs/ Qtr

Other Changes

Gujrat

12

72

No limit

1. Maximum 6 hrs continuous working and then a break for min 30 mins

2. Female workers not allowed between 7:00 pm to 6:00 am

3. Wages to be paid in proportion of existing wages

Himachal Pradesh

12

72

No limit

Maximum 6 hrs continuous working and then a break for min 30 mins

Valid till 20th July

Punjab

12

60

75

1. Spreadover shall not exceed 13 hrs/day (usual being 10.5 hrs)

2.Wages for additional hours will be twice the ordinary rate paid for 'overtime'

3. Valid for 3 months

Rajasthan

12

72

No Limit

Additional 4 hours per day shall be paid as overtime subject to a 24hr/week limit. Valid for 3 months

Madhya Pradesh

12

72

No limit

Overtime wages paid as per S.59 of the Factories Act.1948. .Valid for 3 months

Haryana

12

    72

No limit

Overtime wages paid as per S.59 of the Factories Act.1948.
Valid till 30th june 2020

Uttarakhand

11

18 (over-time work)

 

1. Two shifts of 11 hrs each in a day with separate set of workers 

2. One hr break between the two shifts

3. Three hours overtime to pe paid as per rules

4.This shall apply only to those factories where permission by administration is given, in view of Covid 19

5.Valid for 3 months

Maharashtra

12

60

115

1. Two shifts of 11 hrs each in a day with separate set of workers

2.Wages for additional hours will be twice the ordinary rate paid for 'overtime'

3. No working shift shall be more than 13hrs including the break

4. No overtime for 7 consecutive days

5. Valid till 30th June

 

Many of the statements in the table above are not mentioned in the notifications themselves but deduced from the law. For example, Punjab has only exempted from the provisions of section 54 (daily duty limit enhanced to 12 hours) and section 56 (daily spreadover extended to 13 hours). From this we can deduce that the weekly limit of overtime of 60 hours remains unchanged. As one can see the notifications are arbitrary and varying. Only the Punjab notification is within the bounds set by section 65 (2). The Maharashtra notification also broadly follows these bounds but is based on the amendments to the Factories Act made by the State in 2016, which are themselves under challenge by various unions.

Besides this, the UP Government has come out with an ordinance granting blanket exemption to all employers for three years from all labour laws barring a few. The few laws which have been kept are section 5 of the payment of wages act (when wages are to be paid), the workmen’s compensation act, the bonded labour act, the building and other construction workers act (because the government collects huge cess from all builders from this act) and laws relating to women and children.

Firstly such a notification is clearly unconstitutional. The constitution says that “labour welfare” is a subject on the concurrent list. However, if both that Centre and the state make laws on the same subject then the central law will prevail unless the state law has got the assent of the President. Only then will the state law prevail over the central law in that state. The ordinance does not show that any assent of the President has been obtained.

Further, it is clear while reading this ordinance that it has been made after downing two quarters. What is meant by saying that all labour laws are suspended for three years? What will happen to the ESI hospitals in the state? Will they close down? Who will pay the wages of the doctors, nurses and other workers in the ESI hospitals? Managements will not have to pay any contribution for three years. Will there be no law to provide for drinking water and urinals? The Factories Act which provides for this has been suspended. What will happen to my PF which is already accumulated? At what rate will interest be paid on that? This can only be fixed under the Act. If the act is suspended, then how can such rates be fixed? Will workers not have to give 14 days notice to go on strike? What will happen to latecomers? The timings and penalties are all fixed under the Standing Orders Act which is also suspended. What will happen to Judges and staff of labour and industrial courts? Will they have a holiday for three years? If they will continue hearing old cases, what will happen with the result. The award of the Industrial Tribunal only becomes enforceable under the Industrial Disputes Act, which is suspended! It is obvious that none of this has been thought of.

The MP Government has come up with another slightly different approach but which is almost equally idiotic.   The MP Government  has issued a notification purportedly under section 36 B of the Industrial Disputes Act, exempting “such industries” of the state from the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act except for the provisions of Chapter V-A and the sections 25 N, 25O, 25P, 25Q and 25R. The condition for such exemption, as per the notification is that “adequate provision are made by such industries for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes of the workmen employed by them.” Firstly, section 36 B only gives the power to exempt establishments or undertakings carried on by a department of that government. Secondly, such exemption is to be given only when the Government is satisfied that adequate provisions exist for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes in such establishment. It cannot be given earlier on condition that such machinery will be set up later. Thirdly, the notification again makes no sense. 25P applies only to establishments closed before 1976. This has been continued. On the other hand, the provision for declaring a strike or lock-out illegal will not remain. The provision that prohibits financial aid to illegal strikes and lock-outs is also suspended. That means that anybody can go on strike or lock-out whenever they feel like it. There will be on conciliation, or reference of any matter to any labour court or IT. No provision has been made for if the management does not set up an adequate machinery. This will only lead to anarchy, open street fighting and murders. The whole machinery to enforce any settlement that may be reached will not exist.

Here too. What will happen to the labour officers, labour commissioners,  labour courts and Industrial Tribunals? Since the very law that creates them is suspended, can they continue to function? Will no notice have to be given before effecting any change in service conditions? What about existing awards and settlements? These are binding under section 18, but the provisions of section no more apply!

Further, the industries which were under the MPIR act (as opposed to being under the ID Act) have been removed from the MPIR act. This means that all industries come under the amended ID Act as mentioned above.

The MP Government has gone further and purporting to act under section 5 of the Factories Act (as we mentioned above section 5 is only for situations of war, civil war or such) it has exempted all factories from all sections of the factories except for sections 6 to 8 (which pertain to registering of factories and appointing inspectors), sections 21 to 41H (about safety) and some other provisions of times of work. This is also without any application of mind. This means that there is no need for any urinals or drinking water to be provided.

During the course of writing this article, a new notification has been brought to our notice that UP also issued a notification like the Gujarat notification for the Factories Act. The main UP ordinance is still awaiting the assent of the President. Many unions including TUCI will be challenging these notifications in the courts. The way that the courts have been responding of late does not leave one with much hope in the courts. However the main question is that this is a clear attempt to put the whole burden upon the working class. This is an attempt to test how strong the working class in India is. It is up to us to show them. We have to use this opportunity to unite the working class of India and come together to fight this menace in any method possible. 

Even before this present covid crisis, the economy was seeing a downturn. Even then the attempt was to put the burden upon the working class. This was to be done through amendments in the labour laws and also through measures like GST, etc. Then came covid. The responses of the Government were clearly without any coherent plan. Now the mess is compounded. Industries have lain closed for months. The crores of workers in this country and their families are starving. Lakhs have walked for hundreds of miles to reach their homes only to find destitution and misery there also. Factories are being restarted with no care for the safety for the workers. See what happened in Vizag, Neyveli and Chhattisgarh? Capitalism has shown that it will not only destroy the workers but also all of humanity. Today is the time for all workers to come together not only to save the lives of workers but to save humanity itself. n


 

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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.