Workers of The World, Unite!

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Today, we are about to celebrate the international workers day, while standing at a crucial juncture. On one side, the state is trying to push for reforms in the labor market by various means such the proposed amendments to the Employees' Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act (1952), the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, Small Factories (Regulation of Employment and Other Conditions of Service) Act (2014), and the National Workers Vocational Institute Act (2015).

Other than labor law amendments, there are many other proposed anti-labor measures, the most recent being the proposed changes by the finance ministry in EPF withdrawal and reduction of interest rate on EPF deposits. However, these measures have been criticized by labor unions aligned to various political parties alike, ranging from CITU to BMS. During last month, we have seen a historical demonstration by Garment industry workers from Bangalore against the proposed EPF reforms that forced the government to retract the amendments.

However, many of the proposed reforms potentially weaken the labor rights in the name of rationalization and transparency. For example, the proposed amendment to Industrial Disputes Act will allow companies employing up to 300 workers to recruit or dismiss the workers without prior permission from the government. Earlier, such limit was limit was 100 workers.

The union government is projecting these changes as the prerequisites in creating what the industrialists call a favorable investment environment and to attract private investment for the infrastructural development. Further, it is also aimed at creating a more transparent atmosphere in the labor market. Moreover, the entire reforms are linked to the recently launched Make in India campaign in one way or another.

However, many of the proposed reforms potentially weaken the labor rights in the name of rationalization and transparency. For example, the proposed amendment to Industrial Disputes Act will allow companies employing up to 300 workers to recruit or dismiss the workers without prior permission from the government. Earlier, such limit was limit was 100 workers. Similarly, the formation of a labor union will require the consensus of 30 per cent of workers as opposed to the earlier 10 per cent. The amendments to Factories Act propose raising the numbers of workers to 20 from 10 (for firms with power supply) and to 40 from 20 (with no power supply). The proposed changes to Contract Labor Act aims at exempting companies employing less than 50 workers from the domain of the Act from the previous limit of 20. It could be seen that all these measures are aimed at making things easier for the industry to remain outside the purview of various labor laws and thereby helping them to carry out their activities without much regulation.

All across the history, it could be seen that the worker’s rights were never granted due to the benevolence of the capitalists. It was won through relentless struggles.

As we all know, the organized labor sector in India is roughly 10% of the total workforce. That means the majority of the labor force is without any social and legal protections related to their job environment.There are various laws enacted such as The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act (1970), Equal Remuneration Act (1976), The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (1976), National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (2005) and the Social Security for Unorganized Sector Act (2008) aimed at regulating the informal sector. However, little attention has been given related to the implementation and enforcement of these provisions leading to dismal working conditions for the laborers.

The Neoliberal policies aim to weaken labour rights so as to maximize profit. The policy of the state to open up the economy so as to exploit labour available in India is a perfect example of exploitation. One could observe an increasing trend in casualizing and sub-contracting of labour in the name of job creation. In other words, creating an informal/unorganized sector without much regulation is the best way of exploiting labor resources.The proposed labor law amendments will result in the creation of an expanded informal sector in Indian labor market. All across the history, it could be seen that the worker’s rights were never granted due to the benevolence of the capitalists. It was won through relentless struggles. In the name of economic growth and job creation, the capitalist state is doing its best remove even the basic labor rights. Time has to come to reclaim the spirit of international workers’ movement and to secure respectable working conditions for everyone.