Who Loves a Labour Law Ordinance?

State governments’ labour law ordinances tend to barter labour rights for business interests.

The past few days have seen several Indian states—namely, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh (MP), Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh—declaring exemptions to most of their existing labour laws by promulgating ordinances or drafting new rules for a stipulated period of time. Using the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 contagion as an opportunity, these state governments have claimed that the exemptions will help business and factory establishments recuperate from the losses caused by the sudden stoppage of economic activities. India currently has as many as 100 state laws and nearly 40 central laws governing various aspects of labour, ranging from resolution of industrial disputes, working conditions, social security, wages, etc, and compliance could, thus, be a deterrent for businesses/industries, goes their argument. But what is not clear at this point is why workers’ fundamental rights, such as work hours and compensation, conditions of work, social security, collective bargaining, etc, must be brokered for the ease of compliance of the establishments, and their ease of doing business. And how can such a bargain give a fillip to investment for the old establishments to rebound or for new ones to come into being?

Recall that the ease of compliance rules, introduced by the labour ministry in 2017, focused exclusively on the functional aspects of rationalising and simplifying the procedures for maintaining registers under various labour legislations. The rules envisage that the reduction in the number of registers from 56 to merely five, with the new registers having 144 data fields as against the 933 filed under the previous set of registers, can potentially reduce the cost and the burden of compliance faced by the businesses. While, technically, these rules may not interfere with the legal provisions for the workers, these cannot be disentangled from the government’s rationale for codifying the various labour laws under the four labour codes; the assumption being that the ease of compliance will follow from the uniformity in the central labour laws, notwithstanding that one of the major hurdles of the Indian labour laws is their non-implementation, more than their numerosity. Alternatively, it has not been uncommon amongst the business and factory establishments to dodge these laws whenever possible.

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Updated On : 19th May, 2020

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