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Move To End Labour Rights Regime Worries ILO

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The Union labour ministry may suggest several modifications to a set of radical changes made by Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to their labour laws, a senior official in the ministry said.

The official, on condition of anonymity, told Easternlink that the ministry is worried over moves by these three BJP-run governments to altogether freeze the labour laws, on grounds that such changes could be against “acceptable norms”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states have passed ordinances to implement these suggested  changes, a few of which effectively suspend labour laws. 

None of the ordinances has so far received approval from President Ram Nath Kovid, according to sources in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Madhya Pradesh sent its ordinance for the president’s approval on May 18. The UP government sent its ordinance soon after the state’s governor Anandiben Patel approved it on May 14. Gujarat too sent its ordinance soon after the state’s governor Acharya Devvrat gave his nod.

Labour falls under the concurrent list of Indian Constitution ,  meaning the Union government and states have joint jurisdiction. So, any change by state(s)  needs ratification by the Centre.

“The main concern pertains to violation of accepted universal norms. Industrial dispute resolution mechanisms and compensation top the list of considerations. Can you simply suspend all labour laws? “, the labour ministry official said.

Uttar Pradesh suspended key labour laws for all units for three years on May 6 through an ordinance. Madhya Pradesh announced on May 7 it was taking a similar course to put all labour laws on hold for new units, barring some provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, for the next 1,000 days.

This changes signalled the start of an experiment to remove rigidities in the country’s labour markets and stringent rules on hiring and firing, as global companies start shifting their supply chains away from China and reduce their dependencies on factories in the neighbour. 

Five other states — Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Odisha — have increased working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours a day for three months. Rajasthan too extended work hours, but rescinded it .

However, the moves drew criticism from labour experts, who say suspending the laws not just eased regulation but infringed on workers’ rights. The labour ministry is examining whether the changes impact conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Ten central trade unions wrote to the Geneva-based ILO, stating that changes in labour laws by these states violate workers’ rights and ILO convention No 144, to which, India is a signatory. ILO convention 144 enjoins signatories for tripartite consultations among government, employers and workers.

“The moves to simply suspend labour laws effectively brings the North American hire-and-fire model to the Indian hinterland economy. However, they will also lead to a basic violation of universal workers’ rights,” said economist KR Shyam Sundar of the Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur.

The ILO has said it was deeply anguished by the move and issued an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 25. 

“Please allow me to assure you that the ILO director general has immediately intervened, expressing his deep concern at these recent events and appealing to the prime minister to send a clear message to central and state governments to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue,” an ILO letter addressed to the trade unions stated.

(With additional inputs taken from Hindustan Times)

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