Suspension of Labour Legislation: The long and short of it
To meet with the exigencies arisen out of Pandemic, State of Uttar Pradesh,
Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have suspended several labour laws, following which
some other State governments also made changes in the application of labour laws. The suspension of these laws in U.P., M.P. and Gujarat are of more
significance as they are to have bolder consequences. The reason behind this is
that nation-wide lockdown has slowed the pace of industrial and economic
activities in the state.
While justifying the suspension of all but three labour
laws, the state government said in its statement:
For encouraging new investments, setting up new industrial infrastructure and
benefit of existing industries and factories, it is imperative that they are
provided temporary exempted from the existing labour laws in the state.
Therefore, it is important that existing labour laws in Uttar Pradesh are
relaxed for a period of three years. To this end 'Uttar Pradesh Temporary
Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020' has been introduced.
Madhya Pradesh government directed that all labour laws barring some sections of
the Factories Act 1948 would be suspended for 1,000 days. Similarly, Gujarat
exempted all new units from labour laws with a condition that such units should
operate for 1,200 days.
What is the rational of the State governments behind the move?This move primarily aims at luring industrialists, also focuses on restarting
horticultural and economic activities in the state that have been severely
affected and slowed down. Attracting foreign companies which are looking to
shift base out of China is also one of the motives behind exempting the labour
The relaxations in work timings brought in by various state governments of
Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab under Factories Act are either in exercise
of their powers in case of a public emergency or to address an exceptional press
of work. It is therefore evident that the governments wanted to remove the
structural hurdles through this decision so that organized workforce could
What would be the effect of Suspension of these Labour Laws on the workers?Migrant workers' exodus reveal that they are among the worst hit by the lockdown
imposed since March 25, as economic activities ceased leaving them with no jobs
and incomes. These workers belong to both the organized and unorganized sector.
The main reason of their plight is the poor implementation of existing labour
laws. This move by the State governments may further their miseries. With this
relaxation of the labor laws, the states would be depriving this oppressed
class from welfare measures at a time when they need it more than ever.
there were so many cases when workers worked overtime but were not given their
dues. But now without the labour laws, all responsibility and accountability
towards the workers will be negated. Out of all these laws, suspension of the
The Industrial Disputes Act may have catastrophic results in the sense that
employers will be at liberty to hire and fire workers at their own will. The
accountability of the the employers can not be done away with to facilitate
business, avoiding the labour welfare aspects.
Moreover, the consequence of
suspending The Minimum Wages Act would be forcing labourers into bonded labour.
Indian jurisprudence acknowledges that payment below minimum wages amounts to a
situation of bondage.
There are numerous Supreme Court judgments on bonded labour-Bandhua Mukti Morcha being the landmark case wherein it was held that
any payment below the nominal wages amounts to a situation of bondage.
The Articles 21, 23, 24, 38, 39, 39-A, 41, 42, 43, 43-A and 47 of the
Constitution, contain the idea of conditions under which labour can be employed
for work and also the responsibility of the Government, both Central and State,
towards the labour to secure for them social order and living wages, keeping
with the economic and political conditions of the country and dignity of the
nation. Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits traffic in human beings and
beggar and other similar forms of forced labour.
In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan, it has been held that the payment of wages
lower than the minimum wages to the person employed on Famine Relief Work is violative of Art. 23. This decision of the State governments would result in low
wage rate, increase in working hours along with adversely impacting their
overall working conditions. The governments' contention that this decision will
enhance the productivity and will meet the economic challenges is not very
V.V. Giri National Labour Institute in 2017 conducted a study
Amendment in Labour Laws and other labour reform initiatives undertaken by
state governments of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh:
analytical impact assessment where it found out that even after two years of
severe reforms in labour laws, states did not succeed in luring investments or
creating more jobs. This was later substantiated by CUTS international where the
labour was held to secondary reason for enhancing productivity.
Whether suspension of these Labour Legislations pass the legal test?
This decision of State government is being opposed by the Labour Unions and
experts on the subject for number of reasons, primary argument being that it is
Unconstitutional and violative of human rights. The centre's approval for the
decision is still awaited.
The move has also been challenged in the Supreme
Court on the ground that it is violative of fundamental rights and Directive
principles of state policy. It is also pertinent to note that since labour is
concurrent list subject under the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution,
both the centre and the states can make laws on it.
Most central labour laws
have provisions that delegate certain powers to the state government, however,
while the states do have the powers to exempt several provisions from
enforcement in their respective states, in matters where the centre holds the
field, the state cannot directly move to make exemptions. Most of these
suspended labour legislations are central enactments. There is no provision
conferring power on state governments to nullify the central legislations in one
go. Section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948 empowers the State governments to
exempt only in case of a public emergency which is explained as
a grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory
thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal
This Pandemic can not be counted as threat to the security of
India now. The state governments have however, equated the ongoing health crisis
with a public emergency to exercise this power. Furthermore, suspension of these
laws is also in violation of International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention
No 144. India has been a committed and founding member of ILO and is therefore
expected to implement the social welfare legislations.
India being the welfare
state cannot allow the suspension of these laws as they are part and parcel of
social security framework. Even if this relaxation of labour laws passes the
legal test and helps in reviving economic activities, it would be at the cost of
exploitation of workers in myriad of ways.
Governments are under constitutional
duty to ensure humane conditions of work promoting welfare of the labourers and
therefore such suspension could result in stripping of human rights of the
labourers, in absence of alternative legal framework for their protection.
Law Article in India
You May Like
Legal Question & Answers