Massive Labour Strike On May 22 Against Labour Laws; UP Govt Says 8 Hours Shift Is Enough
The Uttar Pradesh government on May 15 withdrew an order which had increased the daily working hour limit in manufacturing units from 8 to 12 hours. The development came a day after the Allahabad High Court issued a notice to the State on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the order.
In regard with this, the central trade unions -barring the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)- calling the changes in labour laws made by states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as “draconian” have decided to hold a nationwide protest on May 22. The trade unions leaders in New Delhi will also observe a day-long fast at Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.
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Labour Working Hours That Have Been Increased to 72 Hours Against the Law?
The state governments of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, MP, Uttarakhand, Assam, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh have increased the working hours in India from 8 to 12 hours.
Like these state governments, the UP government had also issued an order on May 8 increasing the maximum working hours in a day from 8 to 12 hours or from 48 hours to 72 hours in a week under the Factories Act of 1948.
The UP government had exercised powers under Section 5 of the Factories Act which can be only used in case of a national emergency, war or internal disturbances. It had also said that the wages for clocking extra hours would be paid in proportion to the hours of work, instead of doubling wages as was done by some States such as Rajasthan and Punjab.
Uttar Pradesh principal secretary (labour) Suresh Chandra in communication with Allahabad High Court said the order increasing the working hours in the state has been withdrawn. The matter was listed for hearing on May 18 in the high court.
However, the UP government’s withdrawal of its order was separate from the proposed Ordinance, which will abolish all 38 labour laws in the state. The exceptions though will be safety-related provisions, timely payment of wages, minimum wages and provisions related to women and children.
However, the UP government’s Ordinance has proposed increasing the daily working hour limit from 8 to 10 hours.
A senior state government official maintaining anonymity said, “The Ordinance has proposed that if the working hour has to go up from 10 hours in a day then the consent of the workers is also required.”
India is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention of 1919 on working hours. Though all countries which signed it had to reduce working hours to 48 hours a week, India was given an exemption to keep it at 60 hours. Hence, the move by the State governments, increasing the working hours to 72 hours in India is a breach of the ILO convention as well.
A Nation-wide Protest!
Alongwith the nation-wide protest by central trade unions on May 22, the unions will also send a joint representation to ILO drawing its attention to ‘violations’ by the Indian Government ‘with regard to all the international commitments on labour standards and human rights’.
The trade unions – Congress-backed INTUC, Left’s CITU and AITUC and others like HMS, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC – have accused the central government of taking decisions that are against the working class which is already in deep distress owing to the COVID-19 lockdown.
The trade unions in a joint statement said, “The trade unions, independently and unitedly, have made several representations to the Prime Minister and the Labour Minister in this regard as well as about the rampant violations of the government’s own directives/advisories in regard to payment of full wages to workers during lock down and non-termination of employment but in vain. Similarly, all the announcements made by the government in regard to ration distribution, even meager cash transfer to women and senior citizens, etc have failed at the ground level and did not reach the majority of the beneficiaries.”
In reference to the changes made by the UP and MP governments, the unions further said the “retrograde anti-worker moves came in the second stage after eight state governments — Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab — enhanced the daily working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours through executive orders in violation of the Factories Act, taking advantage of the lockdown situation.”
They also said, “These draconian measures are not only to facilitate more brutal and cruel exploitation of workers without their rights for collective bargaining, dispute over proper wages, safety at work place and guarantee of social security etc, but also to throw them in to conditions of slavery, in the interests of more profiteering despite continuing economic slowdown. Women and vulnerable sections will be more exploited in terms of forced labour.”