Updated: Mar 14, 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the myriads of business operations to a halt. With the aim of reviving the economic activities, encouraging investments, and establishing new manufacturing and industrial units in their respective states, several state governments have come out with the notifications of the suspension of labour laws for a considerable period. The Uttar Pradesh Government has recently announced the slew of changes in its labour codes. It has suspended the majority of labour laws in the state to boost the feeble economy. The state has promulgated an ordinance  known as the 'Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020' on May 08, 2020 to exempt from the compliance of the majority of the labour laws for three years.
Deciphering the Ordinance
The State of Uttar Pradesh has 38 labour laws to protect and promote the rights of labourers. Out of these, 35 laws are suspended for three years, and three laws are still left intact. The state government has still barred some of the labour laws, for instance, the ordinance will not be applicable to the Bonded Labour Act, section 5 of Payment of Wages Act, and Building and other Construction Workers Act. The existing ordinance will protect the social security of the children and women as the provisions of the labour laws pertaining to their employment will be unaffected. The ordinance has also listed out the several conditions to which the manufacturing factories and establishments must adhere to. Every manufacturing factory or establishment has to enter the name and details of the employed workers electronically in the attendance register (Section 62 of the Factories Act, 1948).; no worker would be paid less than the minimum wage as per the U.P. Government; the wages would be paid within the prescribed time frame as per the Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; the wages would be paid in the bank accounts of the workers; the workers are not allowed to work for more than eleven hours a day, and the spread over of the work should not be of more than twelve hours a day, and the workers would be paid compensation as per the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 if there is any death or disability due to an accident happening in and out of the course of their employment.
The Ramifications of the Ordinance
Although the decision of the suspension of the labour laws has been taken to expedite the engine of the economy, it may have fatal consequences of labour rights infringement. The relaxation on the part of government may invite the unfortunate cases of workers exploitations. The shelving of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 for a period will give free hand to the employers to hire and fire the worker at their own will. Similarly the exemption of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 would nonetheless create the situation of the bonded labour as payment below the minimum wages is recognised as the bondage under the Indian jurisprudence. Workers would be forced to work for any amount to meet their both ends. The workers might be left unpaid for the overtime work in the absence of labour laws. The Factories Act, 1948 suspension has also created a precarious environment where there would not be any guarantee of basic amenities like drinking water facilities, electricity and canteen to the workers in the working area. The women are bereft of any legal protection against the denial of equal remuneration after the suspension of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. The ordinance also violates the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 144 (India is a signatory to this convention), which requires Tripartite Consultation among government, employers and workers. Therefore, the suspension may have unwanted ramifications of the labour exploitation at the time when the mass exodus has already torn them apart financially and mentally.
Although this ordinance has been promulgated with good intention of revival of the economy, its adverse effect on the workers cannot be ignored. The industries can never flourish at the cost of exploitation of the workers. The government must acknowledge that the poor implementation of the labour codes is the primary reason for the ‘babu’ culture and stalled industrial growth. There are many states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which have attracted the foreign investment and local industrialists by improving their infrastructure; skill availability; easy accessibility of cheap land for the factories; availability of power or energy supply; and good connectivity. Therefore, the government should instead go for the sector-oriented restructuring for the industries in which the state dominates, for instance, footwear, leather, sugarcane etc. Thus, the state can expedite the lingering growth of the economy by the alternate means rather than leaving the workers at the whims of the employers without any responsibility and accountability in the absence of labour laws.
Author - Gauransh Gaur
Student at Gujarat National Law University