Under the Constitution of India ‘Labour’ is a subject under the concurrent list. This implies both Central and State Government can enact laws. The laws which regulates the labour and protect the rights of them as well as the organization which they are part of are known as Labour Laws. The labour laws in India were prevalent since the British empire. For example, The Indian Slavery Act,1843, and Societies Registration Act,1860. These acts were intended to protect the interests of British employers. They were not implemented effectively, rather it created a new type of problem. The labourers were further deprived of their rights at their workplaces, paid less. Their health issues were not considered and their powers were also restricted.
After many strikes by their unions, it was in 1950 that the Indian Labour laws found a place in the constitution. It protected their rights and fulfilled all the issues that the protests raised. As suggested by many jurists, law changes with the change in society. New problems came up about child labour and employment of women, which led to laws evolving.
Effect of COVID-19 On Labour laws
The introduction of Covid-19 from the Wuhan market in China happened on 8th December. It entered in India and the government of India imposed a complete lockdown on 24th March. This move was necessary to stop the spread of virus as the cases were increasing. All the business, construction activities were further halted except for essential services. As a result, there was a widespread movement of migrated labourers to their homes. As of now around 23 lakh labourers are being migrated to the state of Uttar Pradesh. Further, 20 Lakh to Gujarat and 3.62 Lakh to Rajasthan. Many States revenue dipped to a record low. Various state governments moved towards changing their labour laws through amendments. (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat). It happened to cut the impact of this pandemic on businesses and for their smooth operations.
The boldest move was by the U.P Government. It suspended the application of all labour laws in the state for the next three years. They also granted certain exceptions in the Industrial Disputes act, 1947. As well as the factories act, 1948. It also extended the working hours for three months. More or less the amendments were same by the other states also. These amendments will create employment opportunity. But companies are not willing to give new jobs. It will take time to generate positive results as the spread of the virus is not coming to a halt.
Challenges in Suspension of Labour Laws
The suspension of labour laws is definitely unconstitutional. It will be further challenged in the Courts. The revenues of all the companies have dipped due to which they are unable to give jobs. Daily increase in cases is also creating a problem in implementation. As saving the lives of the people is the first most priority. Restricting the migrant’s movement is violative of their rights. Not allowing them to go back to their employed state is violative of fundamental rights.
How other countries are responding
Based on the impact of COVID-19 on GDP growth, the ILO estimates state a rise in global unemployment. This is between 5.3 million (“low” scenario) and 24.7 million (“high” scenario) from a base level of 188 million in 2019. Canada has about 60 thousand temporary foreign workers in the fields. They come from across the border and the country is facing a problem of work being incomplete. Thereby, the farmers fear loosing their crops due to unavailability of these labourers. To curb this issue currently, the government is allowing the workers to travel across the border. But there are delays as people are not preferring to leave their respective country. Spain, UK, Vietnam are facing the same problem of immigrant labourers as of Canada.
The problem in India is with interstate migrants so the solution is different. And the management is also not the same. The solution that the other countries have applied consists of million dollar packages. For example, Vietnam is giving 70 dollars per month for three months to the workers who were on unpaid leave. The most promising solution was by U.K, where the state in collaboration with the industries is paying 80% of the employee’s wage.
The virus was unforeseeable. The vaccine will take time as the virus does not have the same structure across the countries. Currently it has 14 different structures confirmed. The lockdown was necessary to stop the spread of the virus. But it brought all the economic activities to a halt forcing the labourers to move to their states. Every country is facing the same problem of managing the labourers to continue the economic activities.
Coming out with packages proportionate of their GDP is a good step. But suspension of labour laws is completely unconstitutional. The Indian Government should collaborate with the industries to provide them work and giving them the wages. As it is already stated by WHO we have to live with the virus. The government should consider the future impact of their decisions. Suspension of labour laws is not a good solution to this as there is a huge amount of them.
One state cannot provide them with everything to free their movement. The other states should accept them otherwise people will die from hunger. In conclusion, all states and the centre should work to nullify the effect of this virus. They should follow the U.K Government’s plan to curb this issue.
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