labour laws


With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing industries and working life to a staggering halt, the economy worldwide has plummeted. To combat the economic crisis, India has turned its labour laws to a worker’s worst nightmare.

With the entire world shut indoors in lockdown, the economy of not just India, but the entire world, has plummeted. The economic crisis that 2020 faces has been described to be even worse than the recession faced in 2007-2009. This global financial crisis is comparable to 1930s Great Depression, a period that saw devastating economic despair from 1929-1939, and led to mass unemployment, industry closures and human trauma worldwide.

The Indian unemployment rate in the week that ended on 3rd May 2020 rose to 27.1%, the highest that the country had ever seen. It is estimated that over 9 crore people lost their jobs due to the lockdown. In this calculated estimation, the ones hit the hardest were the daily wage labourers and small traders. In an attempt to battle this destructive economic decline, the Indian government has “suspended” major labour laws in various states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. UP government has suspended these laws for three years, under the ruse of “safeguarding the welfare of the workers and ensuring industrial safety”. 

In Uttar Pradesh, 35 of the 38 labour laws applicable have been suspended. The only three laws that have been exempted are the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, along with the Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, which relates to the timely payment of wages.

But does it really help India? For long, India’s labour laws have been criticized. They have been characterized as “too inflexible” and too many in numbers, making them hard to follow. Thus, reformed laws are needed in- lesser laws that are easier to follow would ensure that firms can contract and expand according to the market requirement, thus converting the largely informal sector that currently employees a large majority of Indian workers to a formal one that would provide with better salaries and social security benefits. 

However, the laws introduced do little to aid that. In fact, they have been largely characterized as slave laws, paving the way for exploitation in the 21st century. The provisions that have currently been terminated encompass basic rights like minimum wage, occupational safety, as well as minimum standards for working conditions. The Indian industries, many of which already lacked basic hygiene and safety equipment for their workers such as ventilation, toilets, daycare or even basic potable water, are now under no government obligation to provide these basic necessities. Keeping in mind that basic hygiene is probably more important in a post-pandemic world than any other, the introduction of these laws is not just ignorant, but downright inhumane. The basic minimum wage, that already was scant, to begin with, is now under no obligation to be met. Another heavily criticized decision was the increasing of working hours from 8 to 12. Not only would the increased hours prove to be exhaustive upon the workers, but the decision also does not aid towards utilizing more of the unemployed taskforce- it would do the exact opposite. Further, the laws risk the employment wages’ reduction as well, with nothing stopping the employer from firing his entire workforce and rehiring them on lower wages. 

Thus the reforms, which should be pushing towards formalization, can risk doing the exact opposite.

It is undeniable that the need for some sort of labour law exemption wasn’t necessary, or that it isn’t important to consider any opportunity that arises for marking an industrial revival in India and making its niche in the world. However, the justification that touts basic worker rights as the reason for the hindrance to some Indian manufacturing revolution is an inhumane and baseless one. The decision to scrap these laws was a poorly thought-out and untimely one. For now, the only purposes these reforms fulfil are stripping the workers of their basic rights and bargaining power, and making this the survival of the richest and the most privileged.

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Shreya Juyal

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The Law ministry has rejected amendments in the labour laws that were in direct benefit for transgenders, citing reasons from an act of 1897. Is the discrimination against them far deeper than we accept?

Heading towards sad regression, the Law ministry has reportedly derecognised transgenders from the country’s labour laws framework. This comes three years after the landmark judgement of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs The Union of India was passed by the Supreme Court of India, that recognised transgenders as the third gender for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under the Indian constitution, and urging the Centre and the State to provide for equitable opportunities for their education and skill enhancement.

This comes from the government’s decision to streamline 38 labour acts into four labour codes; namely the Code on Wages, Code on Industrial Relations, Code on Social Security and Code on occupational safety, health and working conditions, as part of its labour reforms. The purpose of implementing this code is to remove multiple definitions and pave way for compliance without undermining the importance of wage security and social security of the workers. When a senior official at the Ministry of Labour and Employment was questioned on the reported derecognisation of transgenders by The Hindu, he responded, “We had proposed inserting clauses for recognizing rights of transgender workers in all four codes. However, the law ministry objected citing the General clauses Act 1897, according to which transgenders fall into the definition of a “person”. It was then decided that there was no need to add a separate clause for them.” Even in the amendments that have been proposed for Factories Act of 1948, the inclusion of transgender rights has been shelved. The amendments could potentially have ensured dignity and respect for transgenders at all workplaces, and upheld constitutional freedom for the marginalised community.

Besides a few draft bills, no action has been taken to align the rights of transgenders with existing laws. Despite the NALSA verdict, most laws of the country which pertain to adoption, succession, and criminal offences have no mention of the third gender. Recently, a court ordered bail for four people who were accused of gang-raping a trans person. The law is still silent about transgenders, as section 376, that criminalises rape has no provisions for them. Similarly, section 377 regarding criminal offence of unnatural sex is also incomplete as it deals with crimes against a woman, man and animal, but doesn’t specify anything for the third gender.

The problem lies with failing to acknowledge ‘transgender’ and using gender neutral terms like “person” that invoke arbitrariness and are open to several interpretations, thus gauging on the vulnerability of transgender community. Using the term ‘eunuch’ in laws is also extremely derogatory, and it repeals them from the protective laws that are available for other genders. If the country’s legal frameworks can’t include separate clauses for the third gender, it means that discrimination against them is far deeper than we supposedly accept.

Feature Image Credits: The Indian Express

Vijeata Balani
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There have been long ongoing debates on whether there should be established laws governing the work conditions during internships. While some argue that anything and everything that an intern does is part of their learning experience and they should be prepared for it. Those against it say that while an intern works for experience, making him/her slog for 10 hours is never justified in the name of “learning”.

The crux of all labour laws is, that if you’re making someone work, then at least pay them for it. However, this is precisely the reason why laws for interns were ignored initially. In an organization, the workers need the company administration as much as the company administration needs them. Therefore, there is greater incentive on the company’s part to look into the needs of the workers. However, in case of internships, the interns need the company for a lot of things, like resume strength, connections and recommendations, while the company is not in as desperate need of interns as it is for workers.

Thereafter, the companies started using interns for the work (often clerical) that they’d otherwise hire a professional for. Mostly this work involves getting coffees, photocopies, etc. Doing these tasks is obviously futile and doesn’t serve the purpose of learning that the interns usually enrolled for.

Saheba, a first year student of Daulat Ram college says, “I interned with a marketing firm this summer. But if I look back, most of my work time was spent in getting photocopies done, buying stationery, etc. While I don’t think that any work is lowly, those tasks were not what I had enrolled for and I’d certainly liked if I could have spent more time studying about my field”

Interns in the UK are entitled to a minimum wage and the only people who are exempt from it are students working on mandatory school projects. In various other countries, similar rules apply because it is widely accepted that an intern is at the end of the day a worker, is contributing in some way, and therefore needs to be paid.

However, not all internship experiences are bad. Sudipta, of Gujarat National Law University did a law internship this summer and according to her, “she learned a lot by working with two senior lawyers and gained valuable experience”.

But the possibility of witnessing both sides of the coin is precisely the reason why there is greater need for such a law. We can’t let things hang in the loom because its sheer luck that a person lands up in a fruitful internship. There need to be mechanisms in place which an intern can turn to incase he/she is unhappy with the way things are going

The need for labour laws for interns is thus two-fold- One that covers the working conditions and second, the quality of work being given. While the first reason is fairly clear, that limits the working hours of an intern, that provides remunerations for the spending and travel cost, the second one remains a major bone of contention.

The working conditions can be clearly defined and implemented and it will make the work experience of the interns much more organized and regularized. The quality of work being given to the intern is the larger problem. It often happens that a student enrolled for a content writing internship and instead just ended up doing photocopies and bringing coffees and walking the boss’s dog. Therefore, stricter monitoring rules need to be established wherein the company is taking undue advantage of the unpaid intern’s condition, he/she can report against it.

Image credit: Free Digital Photos