Repeal of three farm laws ignites hopes for scraping of four labour codes

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By: Dr. Gyan Pathak

Farmers across the country are rejoicing the victory of their yearlong agitation against the three farm laws, a fruit of their consistent movement not only against these, but also the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP across the country that enforced him to announce their repeal. It has ignited a new hope and energy in the workforce in the country who have been agitating against the four labour codes for almost the same length of time with no success. The reinvigorated Central trade unions are now planning to show their might on November 26 protest and two-day general strike in the country during the Budget Session 2022 of the Parliament of India.

The joint front of 10 Central Trade Unions have termed the four controversial labour codes ‘anti-labour’ and have been demanding scraping of the same ever since they were passed in the Parliament of India in September 2020. The Code on Wages was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 30, 2019, in Rajya Sabha on August 2, 2019 and had received the assent of the President of India on August 8, 2019. The Industrial Relations Code, 2020, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, and the Social Security Code was passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on September 22 and 23 respectively, and got presidential assent on September 30.

Thus the country has been witnessing the two movements – one by farmers and other by workforce – against Modi’s enactments – one on ‘agri-market reforms’ and the other on ‘labour reforms’ originating almost simultaneously, with two different results. Just before completion of one year of agitations on November 26, the alleged ‘anti-farm’ laws are announced to be repealed, but there is no sign of scraping of the alleged ‘anti-labour’ codes. Can the workforce enforce the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw the four contentious labour codes also?

The answer to this question is not easy at this point of time. There is, of course, certain comparability between workers’ agitation and the farmers’ agitation, but there are great differences too. Farmers’ agitation somehow gained sympathy and support from every corner of the globe, from across India, from almost all political parties, from all sections of society, organizations, associations, trade unions, students, business and transport, and even from the opposition ruled state governments who passed resolutions against the three farm laws. Moreover, the farmers remained united despite loss of lives around 700, cases even related to sedition and arrests, suffered being defamed even as having terrorists and anti-national support et al and maintained consistency in their protest in their by and large non-violent satyagraha, which though remained focused and apolitical resorted to political campaign against the BJP and Modi. However, the agitation of the workforce against the four controversial labour codes lacked many of such things.

Workers lacked unity and consistency in their agitation against the four labour codes. It is because their unity and consistency are not sustainable in the first place due to their livelihood issues. The farm sector sustained the farmers’ livelihood even when they were agitating. Even workforce in the farm sector finds sustenance there. However, workforce is more vulnerable and easily fall prey to all sorts of exploitation for a few morsels of food. We have seen it during Covid-19 crisis. Unity among them and consistency in their agitation need much more efforts on the part of trade unions, which are themselves in crisis of existence in the post-Covid-19 world of work which is in rapid transition. Traditional ways of organizing the workforce and their agitation has been already rendered ineffective, and trade unions need to innovate to strengthened themselves and to protect the interest of the workforce which has become even more urgent now.

Modi government wanted to implement all the four labour codes at one go across the country from April1, 2021. However, it required states to be ready with rules according to the codes, which remained incomplete because they were busy in tackling the Covid-19 crisis. Moreover, the private sector too needed to change themselves to fit into the new codes, for with it required more time. Though the Draft rules for Code of Wages were ready in 2019, the Union government held it back, only to implement it along with the whole range of labour reforms with the four codes.

Union Ministry of Labour & Employment has now been exerting enough to get Draft rules ready for all the four codes, and states seem to be working with the union government. As for the Code of Wages, as many as 21 states have completed the rulemaking process and issued their draft rules, which is the highest in respect of all the four codes. However, only 18 states have issued draft rules for the Code of Industrial Relations, 14 for the Code on Social Security, and 10 for Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions. As many as 9 states and UTs have finalized their draft notifications for rules for all the four labour codes which also include non-BJP non-NDA ruled states.

It means that the workforce and trade unions are not getting such support from states and non-BJP non-NDA political parties as the farmers’ agitation happened to get. Workforce are not even getting such sympathy and support from all sections of society from every corner. It is a tough situation for the trade unions who would require much homework to become successful in their agitation. They will need to be focused with more unity and consistency, larger support base for their cause, and stronger non-violent resistance for the rules and the codes that they find anti-labour, exploitative, degrading, and unjustifiable. Trade Unions should rise to the occasion to make themselves relevant and effective in the post-Covid 19 fast changing world of work. Strong trade unions needed now more than ever before to ensure decent work for all. (IPA Service)

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