India is a founder member of the International Labour Organization. So far
India has ratified 41 Conventions of the ILO, and influence of ILO Conventions
as a standard of reference for labour legislation and practices in India, and
not as a legally binding norm, has been significant. Even where India may not be
in a position to ratify a Convention, it has generally voted in favour of the
Conventions reserving its position as far as its future ratification is
However, with the recent dilution or suspension of Labour Laws in several Indian
states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Goa,
Odisha and Rajasthan, in the backdrop of COVID-19 found to be the blatant
violation of International Labour Standards codified by ILO.
The specific International Labour Standards that are violated in the process of
dilution or suspension of Labour Laws by different states are Core Convention of
ILO (Eight hour working day), Right to Freedom of Association (ILO Convention
87), Right to collective bargaining (ILO Convention 98) and Tripartite
Consultation Convention 1976(ILO Convention 144). India have not ratified ILO
Convention 87 and 98 till date.
The labour law reforms currently implemented in many Indian States are thus
justified by the argument that making labour markets more flexible is one of the
best responses to the crisis. In some states it consists only of piecemeal
although significant deregulatory measures, while in others it involves
far-reaching overhauls of the whole labour code.
Furthermore, in several states fundamental changes are being made to industrial
relations structures and processes which might jeopardise social dialogue and
collective bargaining there. In most cases such reforms are presented as
necessary means to get out of the economic and other form of crisis.
Such reforms generally render existing labour law provisions more flexible and
loosen minimum standards, shifting the emphasis to soft law (deregulation).
However, globally it has not been proven that such reforms work in the long-run.
Moreover, there is no empirical evidence to prove that the economic and other
crisis is the result of labour law provisions in the respective country.
On the contrary, evidence suggests that, with the dilution of labour laws and
elimination of collective bargaining process definitely lower the standard of
rights recognised so far and anchored in legislation and collective agreements,
as well as affecting fundamental employment conditions related to working time,
pay, work organisation, working environment and social protection.
It will also have an impact on health and safety at work. Experience suggests
that working long or excessive hours has a serious impact on workers health and
safety. In the long-run, people suffers from Burnout syndrome. Moreover,
after allowing further flexibilisation of working time it might prove difficult
to turn the clock back in future, even though these measures are often intended
to be only temporary.
Labour law reforms tend to adjust labour regulations designed to combat
precarious employment, labour market segmentation and a certain labour law
rigidity, taking it for granted that these have a negative impact on
productivity and employment.
The aim is to flexibilise labour law protections perceived as too complicated,
too expensive and too burdensome for enterprises. Experience from various
countries suggests that labour reforms tend to deregulate already flexibilised
labour law regulations and thus in most cases represent a step backwards in
terms of workers' protection. In addition, the flexibilisation of Labour law
must be regarded critically, in particular because it will create more
(long-term) unemployment and more precariousness on the labour market.
In addition, such reform leads to explosive growth of inequalities and
insecurity in most of the countries. Setting this alongside measures affecting
social security benefits, reduction of job seekers benefits, salary cuts and so
on, calls into question the concept of quality employment and the
international concept of decent work, which labour law reforms no longer
seem to meet. There is a strong belief that quality employment is
perceived as being incompatible with competitiveness. This indirectly affects
labour law protection and emphasises economic freedoms, at the expense of
The meaning of the social model is also undermined. In most cases, the procedure
do not respect democratic traditions thereby jeopardising the reforms'
legitimacy. Furthermore, experience also suggests that steps taken within the
framework of labour law reforms run counter to labour law principles, not least
the principle of trade union autonomy and trade union freedom and even the right
to equality and non-discrimination.
Another striking characteristic of such reform is, in some cases anti-crisis
measures and labour law reforms affect fundamental social rights, directly or
indirectly. As a result, increasingly workers explore alternate source of
livelihood outside industrial hub.
In India, with COVID-19 crisis we are already witnessing this trend where
millions of urban returnee migrant labourers are deciding to opt for low-profile
simple village life as the source of future livelihood. It is because that
offers safety, security and peace of mind instead of much hyped and notoriously
unsafe, unsecured urban industrial life which no longer remains a dream job
or for that matter preferred job.
This is the message echoed very loudly by millions of urban returnee migrant
labour during last few weeks. Such development will lead to serious shortage of
quality talent in urban industrial hub moving forward.
Moreover, the assumption that labour law reforms are needed to exit from the
crisis can be questioned, as it is difficult to distinguish whether labour law
reforms are a response to the ongoing economic and other crisis or merely
accompany the crisis, with no certainty about any causal link between them.
Globally, there is clear evidence of a deconstruction of labour law under
the guise of the economic and other form of crisis. In several instances, these
structural reforms were required or indeed forced upon policy makers by
national/international institutions and organisations, such as the major
financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) etc.
In several occasion, they also organise reviews of the economic programmes of
the country they financially support in order to solidify economic growth while
maintaining macroeconomic and financial stability.
Currently, in several countries the first' anti-crisis measures are under review
and discussions are taking place on the need to make temporary measures
permanent (Germany, Greece and Spain). In some cases, the positive impact of
anti-crisis measures is being questioned. In other cases, labour law reforms
have been adopted with no link – direct or indirect – to the economic and
financial crisis, thus following a deregulatory path.
On September 14, 2011 in his address to the European Parliament, Mr. Juan
Somovia, Director-General International Labour Organization stated:
Respect for fundamental principles and rights at work is non-negotiable: not
even in times of crisis when questions of fairness abound. This is particularly
important in countries having to adopt austerity measures. We cannot use the
crisis as an excuse to disregard internationally agreed labour standards.
On September 26-27,2011 at the G20 meeting of Labour and Employment Ministers in
Paris, promoting the effective application of social and labour rights and
ensuring respect for fundamental principles and rights at work also constituted
one of the key recommendations (G20 2011a) and was endorsed in the Declaration
of the G20 Heads of State adopted at the Summit in Cannes on November 3-4, 2011