The labour policy in India has time and again catered to the situational needs
of the country and there has been a bunch of efforts, made by the respective
governments, to balance the wheels of strategically planned economic
development and the so called social justice. Our country is reeling under
some critical global pandemic named Covid 19 where we, as citizens, after
three versions of national lockdowns, have literally started realizing the
essence of survival, necessities and of course, subsistence.
In times like
these, where on one hand we can see pan-India crisis, with lakhs of migrant
labourers finding themselves at crossroads, where they are forced to choose
between survival and employment, on the other hand, some recent slew of
governmental decisions are directed towards recuperating the economical
Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar held a webinar with employers'
bodies such as CII, FICCI and Assocham to discuss issues like restarting
economic activities, job creation and measures to improve the situation of MSMEs
to enable them to discharge their liabilities under labour laws.
As of now, multiple State Governments have raised distinct proposals seeking
some effective relaxation/exemption in the enforcement and action of the
existing Labour Laws and a lot of States have even issued notifications under
the provisions of The Factories Act,1948 envisaging increase in the working
hours per day' from 8 hours (present) to 12 hours. The Central Government is yet
to follow the queue but whispers of change have already started to haunt
the real stakeholder in all of this i.e. Labourers.
It started with Gujarat and Rajasthan followed by Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
It is noteworthy to mention that Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh tried to
balance the cycle of economic development-cum-social justice by providing that
for every overtime, it has to be paid at double the rate of pay as prescribed in
law, but Gujarat paid minimum heed to such balance theory and it expressly
provided for extra payment at the normal rate. Later, Haryana followed the
footprints of Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh passed the ordinance on May 8 2020 to
suspend various labour laws in the state for a period of three years.
The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet, under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Yogi
Adityanath, passed the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour
Laws Ordinance, 2020' relaxing all labour laws in the state, except three
related to abolishment of bonded labour, ex gratia to workers in case of
work-related diseases and disabilities, and timely wage payments.
apply to all the existing industries and manufacturing units, as well as new
ventures coming up. As per the Ordinance, all the labour legislations will
remain suspended for three years. This ordinance will become law only once it
receives Presidential assent.
The ordinance has excluded the following legislations:
- The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996
- Workmen Compensation Act, 1923
- Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; and
- Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (the right to receive timely
- The provisions related to children and women in the labour legislations
shall be in force.
But the real twist is in realizing the fact that such a blatant suspension of labour laws will tantamount to hampering the crucial humanitarian principles of labour laws like:
- Laws related to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety,
health and working conditions of workers.
- Laws related to trade unions, contract workers, and migrant labourers.
Comparative Analysis of the impugned reforms
Before analyzing the feasibility and vires of the said Ordinance, we must
reflect on our Country's International stand and the commitments we hold. The
International Labour Organization, after its formation, came up with guidelines
so as to enable the labour force to work in a secured environment with humane
working condition and effective remuneration. India has been holding a
non-elective seat in the General Body as one of the 10 countries of chief
India has ratified the following conventions and in terms of Article 253 of the
Constitution, the Central Legislature can make laws and exercise sovereign power
with respect to legislating in compliance of International treaty, convention
and agreements on subjects contained in both List 1 and 2 of the VIIth Schedule
of the Constitution. Instead of enumerating all the ratified conventions, we are
going with just the ones relevant in current perspective.
Now in the light of such International commitments, the impugned Ordinance
impliedly violates the essence of said commitments to a great extent.
Before delving into a set of legitimate suspicions raised by various Labour Law
experts, it would be wise to test all of this upon the Constitutional
touchstone. The much celebrated fundamental rights enshrined under articles 14,
16, 19, 21, 23 and 24 of the Indian Constitution, when read in tandem with the
directive principles mentioned under articles 39, 41, 42, 43, 43A, and 45, they
envision some core outlook assuring social justice and the most feasible
mechanism of becoming a welfare state.
Terms like occupational safety, just
and humane conditions at work, right to health, collective bargaining, etc
are on the verge of being compromised, if at all such a blatant suspension is
brought into effect.
It is absolutely shocking. This move of the Uttar Pradesh government turns the
clock back by more than 100 years. It will lead to slave-like conditions for
workers and it's unacceptable, in violation of all human and fundamental rights.
This move should be legally challenged, Labour Law Advocate Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan said.
The reported labour law reforms by the UP government of exempting industries
from all labour laws save three, all of them otherwise poorly implemented by any
government is beyond the scope of imagination and will make even the most vocal
labour flexibility advocates to shame and even industries would not have
imagined getting these holidays from labour laws', XLRI Jamshedpur professor
and labour economist K.R. Shyam Sundar said.He said that the move may prove
counter-productive as good capital chases high labor standards.
times are witnessing fall of labour standards like a pack of cards. The argument
of occupying the market space vacated by China is taken far too seriously by
this state, he added.
Radhika Kapoor of Indian Council for Research on International Economic
Relations characterised this as creating an enabling environment for
exploitation for the sole reason that such a blatant and blanket suspension of labour laws in states like UP and MP (which are best known as hubs of manual
labour) will cause a two-fold effect: firstly, it will strip the labour of its
basic human rights and secondly it will lower down the margin of wages.
it may lead to enterprises cleverly firing its existing employees and
re-hiring them on reduced wages. In that sense, from the perspective of the
workers, the government has completely turned its stand from asking firms not to
fire workers and pay full salaries at the start of the lockdown, to stripping
workers of their bargaining power now. Moreover, far from pushing for a greater
formalisation of the workforce, this move will in one go turn the existing
formal workers into informal workers as they would not get any social
Under the Constitution of India, Labour is a subject in the concurrent list
where both the Central and State Governments are competent to enact
legislations. The question at hand is Can a State Government effectively suspend
Yes, there lies a constitutional machinery to
carry it out because herein the entry lies in the concurrent list. Proviso (c)
appended to Article 213 of the Constitution reads as:
An Act of the Legislature of the State containing the same provisions would
under this Constitution have been invalid unless, having been reserved for the
consideration of the President, it had received the assent of the President.
And Article 254(2) further clears the legislative road for the State Government
as it reads any Bill relating to a subject in the concurrent list, which may be
repugnant to a Union law, needs the approval of the President for its
That is, it needs to be approval by the Centre, which would advise
the President to give his assent. This also applies to an ordinance due to
Article 213 (1). This shows that, if we examine externally, we'd observe that
somewhat the larger impediments in the way have been cleared but to explain it
further we need to understand that most of the Central legislations carry
provisions that allow delegation of powers upon the respective state
executives for the sake of proper execution and enforcement of the laws but if,
by any chance, the respective state government is willing to act contrary to any
of those centrally laid laws then it may grant exemptions/relaxations, but that
too only with respect to those set of rules that have been bestowed upon in the
form of delegation.
But in the case of UP Government, it has deliberately tried
to suspend the entire laws instead of bringing out
amendments/alterations/exemptions amongst the so called delegated provisions
which clearly warrants a claim of repugnancy.
Where on one hand we are witnessing a slew of legislative
initiatives on the part of Central Government seeking Universalization and
Collective Codification of various Central Labour Legislations, this federal
move on the part of State Governments would surely run counter to all those
For example, recently the Code of Wages, 2019 that constructively clubs
four important legislation relating to wages, namely:
The Equal Remuneration
Act; The Payment of Wages Act; The Payment of Bonus Act; and the Minimum Wages
Act, received Presidential assent but due to procedural laxity on the part of
Centre, it hasn't notified the rules thereunder, as of now, and this
recklessness provided the required leverage to the UP Government to bypass the
Code and seek suspension of even legislations that form part of the Code of
It is more than obvious that this pandemic is still in its evolutionary stage
and the entire world is still clueless as to the turns it will take and the
sufferings it entails. Most of the economists have proposed that such critical
times call for gradual growth since there lies no magic wand theory when it
comes to economy and socialism. Both of these evolve with time, and time and
again it has been proved via illustrations that instant steps have yielded
either no result or mere immediate relief with no prolonged effect.
Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have stipulated a short-term
deviation from the labour policies, like for roughly two to three months, which
is still a bit constitutional on the grounds of exigency and expediency but then
we have UP and MP Government, ready to launch 3 years and 1000 days time
window which in itself warrants a proper constitutional scrutiny because
blanket moves have always proved fatal to any and every growing economy.
example, if we take the implementation of Aadhar project, we'd observe how
messy it was and how it was forced to wade through multiple legal impedimentsdiluting almost a good chunk of its original draft. Bringing
ancillary changes in certain areas, like working hours is not ultra vires per
se but instead of violating various International commitments and domestic
labour policies, it would be a bit sensible move if we tactically carve out some
feasible mode of recovery. For example, instead of increasing the working hours
arbitrarily, we can go for division of shifts 8 hours each. It would be
legally tenable and logically neutral towards both employer and employees.
At times, especially now, when the entire country is under a global pandemic, it
doesn't matter how far a governmental move is legally sustainable but what
really matters is that it must be optimum, expedient, just, fair and reasonable.
We, as a country, have travelled a long road from enslaving the labourers to
providing them with a place of dignity and worth and we are still in the
process of achieving the milestone named economically social justice.
Almost every historical reference with respect to labour reforms portrays the
resultant effect of resentment exhibited by the labour forces, be it the First
World War wherein the 1918 strike of the workers engaged in textile mills of
Bombay, or the 1921 of the workers engaged in the Assam Tea Plantation. Similar
were the situations during the Second World War and thereafter wherein the
bolstering incidents of depravity and working standards created economic
Moreover in the recent past in the year 2014 the Legislative Assembly of
Rajasthan amended four important labour laws wherein the move was entirely
pro-employer aimed at achieving economic prosperity. Amendments were made to the
central legislations with the assent of the president so as to be given
precedence over the Central laws. Certain amendments were with reference to
increasing the number of retrenched workers up to 300 from 100 so as to make it
convenient for the employer.
Another amendment was with reference to Trade
Unions with minimum 30% of the workers from 15% that is res integra and
quintessential for the representative rights of the labourer. Moreover, the
contract labour was only sought to be applicable to the companies having more
than 50 employees from 20, with the effect of making the labour force in the
concerned places vulnerable.
Now when we look at the resultant effect of the aforesaid legislative move, we
find that Rajasthan is showing second lowest growth rate of 3.49 per cent, just
ahead of MP (2.06 per cent) and not to forget, MP Government is busy preparing a
1000 day suspension plan in terms of labour laws. Long story short, nothing
was achieved by rolling out such impractical ventures. Post World War I, a
catena of countries passed legislation stringently limiting the working hours
and in India, the existing Factories Act was amended in 1948 to limit the
working day and mandate workers' safety.
This curtailment of the working hoursis not merely a matter of labour rights, it
is also a matter of workers' physical and mental health, after all, if we lift
the industrial veil, we'd find that labourers are not merely a tool of production and profit, rather they are, in
essence, human beings so forcing workers to push themselves in shifts that are
one and a half times the existing ones, is unlikely to promote efficiency. But
yes, in the light of prevalent travel restrictions and the need for social
distancing, this sounds reasonable, only as long as these measures are for
limited durations – for instance, three months.
It would have made more sense to grant immunities for shorter periods and extend
them as necessary. It could be, and has been, argued that rigidities in labour
regimes needed to be removed anyway. That is a matter to be established, on
merits, by public discussions involving those involved or interested. The
current crisis should not be treated as an opportunity for circumventing
- See https://thewire.in/labour/adityanath-govt-in-up-to-suspend-key-labour-laws-workers-rights-for-three-years
(visited on 11th May, 2020)
- See https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-labour-law-changes-mean-coronavirus-6403611/
(visited on 11th May,2020)
- ShivangTripathi, Advocate
- Shrish Chandra, Advocate
Email: id:[email protected], Ph no: 8429925778