Ideologies take the back seat as states drive labour law revision2 min read . Updated: 11 May 2020, 12:58 AM IST
- Economic crisis is making BJP, Congress, regional parties prioritize reform in states governed by them
- Odisha has increased working hours of labourers and amended related laws
NEW DELHI : Economic compulsions have started to trump ideological divides among political parties and state governments amid the lockdown with states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress, and regional parties rushing to amend labour laws to spur economic activity.
BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Goa, and Karnataka led the trend, with Congress-ruled states such as Punjab and Rajasthan and Maha Vikas Aghadi-led Maharashtra also considering changes. Some states governed by parties opposed to both the BJP and the Congress, such as Odisha, which is ruled by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), have also increased working hours of labourers and amended related laws. “It is the need of the hour to make these changes as economic activity has to be revived. This kind of economic situation cannot be sustained for long. The idea behind increasing the number of working hours of labourers is to improve productivity. As social distancing has to be implemented, the number of workers in a factory needs to be limited. So it has been decided to increase working hours to boost productivity," said a senior leader of the BJD.
At least 10 states are are either already implementing or are considering the changes in the labour laws including Industrial Disputes Act and Factories Act. Chief ministers of several states have also discussed the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the four meetings held with him. Another meeting is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
“The changes are under consideration. We have meetings lined up. We are also considering what amendments other states have made but our focus will be on balancing the rights of labourers as well as incentivizing industries to operate. Both sides are equally important," said a senior cabinet minister from Punjab, requesting anonymity.
State governments, including that of UP, believe that the changes in labour laws would help them attract investment from companies planning to leave China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“As a result of reforms in labour laws in Uttar Pradesh, new employment opportunities as well as investment from foreign companies will come to the state. Uttar Pradesh is emerging as the preferred state for investment," tweeted Sidharth Nath Singh, the Uttar Pradesh minister in charge of investments and exports.
The biggest opposition to the changes has come from trade unions, including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the country’s largest labour union and an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling BJP.
“The government should desist from any anti-worker amendments in labour laws to facilitate shifting of companies from China or other countries. China is notorious for not having democracy, any respect for human rights, labour law protection, or active trade unions. Hence India cannot be a good substitute for such undemocratic characteristics in the mad run to provide cheap labour," BMS had said on 6 May.
BMS wants the labour ministry to write to state governments to order an immediate stop to salary cuts and changes in laws. “States have raised the working hours. It should be immediately reversed as it is against International Labour Organisation conventions and the existing labour laws," it said.
Key changes states brought in include Uttar Pradesh exempting businesses from complying with all labour laws except three for three years and Gujarat allowing new industrial units to not comply with labour laws, except for three basic acts, for 1,200 days.