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Govt may increase working hours beyond 8 hours in factories via executive order

'Increasing working hours is a possibility and is on the table,' a government official said without divulging further details (Photo: Mint)Premium
'Increasing working hours is a possibility and is on the table,' a government official said without divulging further details (Photo: Mint)

The need for working hours enhancement was discussed by a group of secretaries post the covid-19 lockdown and has gathered steam in last few days after it became clear that the 21 day lockdown is set to be extended, at least two government officials said requesting anonymity

New Delhi: The union government may increase the working hours – from the current 8 hours a day – to allow factories on standstill to start production smoothly at least for the next three to five months. The decision to increase working hours is likely to be effected through an executive order or ordinance in coming days.

The need for working hours enhancement was discussed by a group of secretaries post the covid-19 lockdown and has gathered steam in last few days after it became clear that the 21 day lockdown is set to be extended, at least two government officials said requesting anonymity. In fact, half a dozen states including Odisha, Maharashtra and Punjab have already extended lockdown by two more weeks.

“Increasing working hours is a possibility and is on the table," a government official said without divulging further details. The official, however, said that a concrete decision will be taken by the “higher-ups" in an appropriate time.

A second official said, since the government is for allowing companies involved in making essential services including medicine and fertilizer, factories that need 24-hour operations including coal, plantation work, such a change is necessity.

However, both the officials could not answer some questions on how government t will justify the loss of income of millions of workers who will lose out if the working hours are enhanced. Will the factories pay the workers who are not at the work site due to reverse migration post nationwide lockdown? Will the enhanced working hours be applicable to all who will join work for six days a week?

“You have to maintain social distancing and with full workforce, social distancing is not possible. Hence a reduced workforce with longer work hours may be the need of the hour," the second official said without answering whether it means millions losing their jobs or it’s a leave without pay system that the government may introduce. “Minutes, details are yet to be decided."

When contacted over phone, labour secretary of the union government declined to comment.

The first official said, it’s still not clear whether authorities will use an executive order or through a more appropriate ordinance. Whatever may be the situation, if the plan goes through, then the Factories Act will need an amendment and in the present situation an ordinance is a way out? But even for this, there is an operational challenge. The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Condition Code on labour is already in the parliament and have put in motion a process to merge 13 labour laws including the crucial factories act and contract labour act. Amendment to one law from a larger code will be seen with skepticism and allow trade unions to take on the government as anti-worker.

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