Opinion | Nine principles that will help unify labour legislation
Employee rights may be best served if we decentralize everything right down to the enterprise level
Who has not read Charles Dickens? Hard Times, for example. During the Industrial Revolution, work conditions were tough in the UK. When Indians complain about our Factories Act (FA,1948) or Chapter V of the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA, 1947), they may not realize that their antecedents lay in India’s 1881 Factories Act, which followed similar legislation in Britain. While there was a powerful labour movement within India, legislation (Trade Unions Act, TU, 1926, is another example) was often implanted from London. Life and legislation has moved on there, and other countries that inherited colonial laws like the IDA. A revamp of all labour legislation is over-due. This doesn’t mean tinkering with Chapter V-B of the IDA alone. Stated simply, there is an organized sector, driven by registration under the FA. Measured in employment terms, that means around 8% of our labour force, including the public sector. So, 92% is informal, and there are informal workers (without contracts) in the organized sector too. While 8% are subject to rigid labour laws (stoking high capital intensity), 92% have no protection worth the name. Reforms are about making the former flexible and also protecting the latter (not only because of International Labour Organization norms), not one without the other.