States like UP and MP have taken steps to help the economy recover after the COVID pandemic. This recovery comes at the cost of the rights of labourers. Labour laws in both these states, and slowly other states, are being amended to allow benefits to corporates and make it easier for them to hire and fire their employees and deny them benefits. A state that has followed suit is the BJP-led Karnataka Government. The proposed amendments are expected to make life easier for large, medium, and small industries that are struggling with serious cash flow issues following seven weeks of lockdown.
B.S.Yediyurappa’s government is deliberating relaxing minimum wage laws, increasing overtime working hours to 100 hours per quarter from 72 hours, and easing compliance with key labour laws. The government will amend the Factories Act, Industrial Disputes Act, and the Contract Labour Act, among others. The provisions of the amended Factories Act will apply to units employing 40 or more persons while the Industrial Disputes Act will apply to units with 300 or more workers, up from 100 or more workers at present. Following the amendment, the cap of employees under the Contract Labour Act will go up to 50 from 20. During a meeting with members of the Karnataka chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and government officials, P Manivannan reportedly said that CM Yediyurappa had asked for a review of minimum wages being paid in the state.
“We will not do anything that will go against the interests of labourers. These are measures we have proposed for the time being to tide over the challenges thrown at us by Covid-19 pandemic. The government will review them once the crisis is over,” labour and sugar minister Shivaram Hebbar told Economic Times. “Since the new Covid-19 protocol requires industrial units and offices to have only 33% of attendance at a time, we want them to introduce shifts and make up for the loss of productivity.”
Responding to the move by the government, senior labour leader P. Balan from Karnataka says-
“These ordinances are atrocious, retrograde, and barbaric. It will result in the termination of all permanent employee services. The suspension of labour laws is an utter violation of Article 39 a to e of the constitution of India. It is further, a violation of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the constitution of India.”
Karnataka Shramik Shakti member Sathish Aravind says relaxing labour laws for three years is a big blow to workers in Karnataka. By replacing P. Manivannan with Commerce and Industries Department M Maheshwar Rao, the government has shown its intention that it is favouring industries and does not care about the workers.
We are going to submit a memorandum to District Commissioner in the next two days and if this continues, we will do a strike against such atrocious ordinance.
AICCTU also responded to this in a series of tweets
Thread. We all thought that @myogiadityanath move to scrap labour laws for 3 years was bad. In this meeting today with @FollowCII @mani1972ias our labour sec. , said karnataka will do better than UP. What does it mean sir ? @BSYBJP sir are you planning to remove all laws too? 1/n pic.twitter.com/fKcv9tO3vG
— AICCTU Karnataka (@aicctukar) May 9, 2020
“When workers are deprived of food, shelter and wages, the Labour Secretary is assuring industrialists that no action will be taken if labour laws are violated,” Maitreyi Krishnan from the All India Central Council of Trade Unions said. She said these assurances were “blatantly illegal and an abdication of their duty.”
This comes soon after the government amended the Land Reforms Act, 1961, under which industries can now directly buy land from farmers without intervention from the government, albeit with some restrictions.