The Karnataka government is considering relaxing laws governing minimum wages, increasing current overtime working hours to 100 hours per quarter from 72 hours, and easing compliance with key labour legislations to help resurrect industries.
In an hour-long video conference call on Saturday with members of the state chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), labour secretary P. Manivannan said Karnataka can do better than Uttar Pradesh with its own “brand of reforms" to help industries resume operations after the covid-19 related lockdown is further relaxed.
The statement come at a time when state governments like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have decided to exempt businesses from complying with labour laws to bring back investments and help businesses start operations to make up for lost time and revenues.
The move by the three states had attracted sharp criticism by workers and trade union activists among others who said it would only add to exploitation of labour at the hands of the employers.
“We have been asked by the CM’s office to have a relook on minimum wages," Manivannan told over 140 attendees. The labour secretary later said minimum wages was not changed, "but the change we made in the minimum wages this year will come into effect from April. That will be reexamined."
Manivannan added that there will be no downward revision of wages and the chief minister was particular about this. He said the B.S.Yediyurappa-led state government is already deliberating on increasing over time work hours and the state cabinet may take a decision on this next week.
Trade union activists who also attended the call said Karnataka first “bowed to the builders lobby and now before the industrialists".
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."
Manivannan said that no inspector will visit factories for the next six months.
If the department does receive any complaints on non-payment of salaries, the former will check whether the company is in a position to do so, then it will approach the industry body to probe further and get involved only if the issue has not been resolved.
Some of the businessmen on call also sought to waive off the one-hour break between shifts to help make up for lost time on production lines.
To a request on if 100% staff can be brought back, he said that he can recommend to the health department to permit this if the organisation is confident of ensuring norms like social distancing.
Industrialists who attended
the video conference sought to know if the government would relax ESI benefits, provident fund contributions and go easy if companies hold back salaries amid a fund crunch.