The new draft labour rules prepared by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment are one of the most dangerous ones for India in general and working class in particular. These are being framed in the name of much ‘desired labour reforms’, as the Modi government claims these to be. The real intentions are being camouflaged with certain proposals of great temptations as a snare to fall in, which any wise person would like to avoid for one’s safety if not enforced otherwise. In their ‘sweetness of sin’ and ‘refinement of cruelty’ the government is providing some ‘optional’ backdoor entry points for the greedy industries and businesses totally ignoring the well-being of the working class. The draft rules have been prepared to do away with 44 central labour laws of the country in favour of four new labour codes – the Code on Wages, 2019; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 and the Code on Social Security, 2020 – that were passed by parliament and subsequently notified. The central trade unions are all against these new labour codes calling them to be ‘anti-workers’, up in arms against the codes, and had also resorted to an all India general strike last month. The protests fell into deaf ears of the government, which had brazenly got the codes passed in the parliament and notified at a time when the working class, bereft of jobs after the lockdown, were in need of protection and support, but were exposed to the greed of industries and business instead.
The ‘draft rules’ drafted by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment certainly is contrary to the spirit of the clarifications it gave in the parliament on the four labour codes. The minister of Labour had categorically said that India had deep respect for ILO’s principles and objectives and has always upheld the basic tenets of tripartism that the trade unions vehemently contradict, and which is also reflected in their stance. Though the codes would come into force only after notification of the new rules, the draft gives a clear indication as to where the country is leading to. The Industrial Relations Code has a potential to push the country back to the British era in which trade union leaders were made vulnerable to punishment by the establishments where they were working. The new rules would considerably remove protections to the workforce hitherto available under various laws. Quality jobs and job security could then not even be dreamed of and the path of growth of a worker solely on merit would be obstructed by the whimsical sycophancy loving employer.
The rules relating to wages are also being framed in such a manner as to give advantage to the employer. We have seen how the employers have been using loopholes in the former labour laws to give wages to the minimum to the workers. It created a demand crisis, since they lacked cash in hand. The crisis brought the country to unprecedented downturn even before the pandemic. After the pandemic, the supply crisis added to it. Now we know the result. Not ensuring sufficient wages to the workforce is therefore in nobody’s interest in the long run. The Modi government must think twice before going ahead with the proposed reforms.