Condemn the Blatant Attacks on the Rights of Workers
Statement of the Central Committee of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, 25 September, 2020
Three laws, called Labour Codes on Industrial Disputes, Occupational Safety and Social Security, were all passed by the Lok Sabha on 22nd and by the Rajya Sabha on 23rd September, the concluding day of the monsoon session. They were passed without any debate and without heeding the voices of crores of workers who were protesting against these proposed laws all over the country. The Labour Code on Wages had been enacted in 2019.
Communist Ghadar Party of India condemns these laws which make it legitimate for capitalists to violate the rights of workers, including the right to security of employment, safety at the workplace, social security, right to form unions and the right to strike.
The Industrial Disputes Act 1946 stipulated that factories or enterprises employing 100 workers or more need prior government permission for closing down or for throwing workers out of their jobs. The new Code on Industrial Relations has fulfilled the long standing demand of capitalists to remove all enterprises employing less than 300 workers from this requirement. About 45% of all factory workers are in units with less than 300 employees. The new law also states that the central and state governments can further raise the threshold of 300 employees at any time, through a notification.
According to the Standing Orders Act 1946, all enterprises employing 100 or more workers must have Standing Orders which are known to the workmen and registered with the labour department. These relate to classification of workers, manner of informing workers about working hours, holidays, pay day, wage rates, termination of employment and grievance redressal mechanisms. Workers in enterprises where such Standing Orders are in place can utilize them to defend themselves against arbitrariness and vindictiveness of their employers. The new Code on Industrial Relations has raised this limit from 100 to 300, depriving crores of workers of access to this mechanism for protecting their rights.
Workers’ strikes have been made much more difficult to organise. Workers have to give 14 day notice for a strike. As soon as a strike notice is given, conciliation proceedings will begin immediately and strikes are prohibited in this period. If the management applies to a tribunal following failure of conciliation proceedings, the strike has to be further postponed. The first strike notice would become invalid after 60 days, and a fresh notice will have to be given. These rules were till now applicable only in the case of “essential services”. They are now applicable to all industries and services.
Both the Code on Industrial Relations and the Code on Occupational Safety allow the government to exempt any new industrial establishment or class of establishments from their provisions in “public interest”. The Code on Occupational Safety states that exemption from its provisions can be made in the interest of “creating more economic activity and employment”. Exemptions can be made regarding the hours of work, safety standards, retrenchment process, trade union rights, use of contract labour, etc.
The new laws have greatly enlarged the scope for contract labour. A labour contractor who hires less than 50 workers is exempt from various provisions of the labour codes. This limit has been raised from 20 to 50. Capitalists can now use a number of contractors, each supplying 50 or less, and thereby violate all the rights of workers.
The working class has been consistently demanding and fighting against the widespread use of contract labour, a practice that denies security of livelihood for those who work. The extremely insecure condition of such workers was brought to the attention of the whole country recently, when crores of them started walking back to their villages following the countrywide lockdown. Far from addressing their problems, the new Code on Occupational Safety legitimizes the use of contract labour even in core activities. It justifies it where: (i) the normal functioning of the establishment is such that the activity is ordinarily done through a contractor, (ii) the activities are such that they do not require full time workers for the major portion of the day, or (iii) there is a sudden increase in the volume of work in the core activity which needs to be completed in a specified time.
The very definition of a factory has been changed. Only those enterprises employing over 20 workers (with power) or 40 workers (without power) would need to register as factories. This removes a large number of workers from the scope of all laws applicable to factory workers.
Women can now be employed in all establishments for all types of work. There is no restriction on night shift work or work regarded as hazardous.
The Code on Social Security was promoted as a worker-friendly law, which would allegedly extend social security to migrant workers, unorganised workers, gig workers, platform workers, etc. However, what exactly will be provided to such workers is not specified. It is left to central and state governments to decide. This Code differentiates between workers on the basis of the level of wages they earn and on the number of employees in an enterprise. It also allows the government to exempt particular industries from its provisions, thereby violating the principle that social security is a universal right and not a benefit that can be given at one time and taken away later.
The replacement of numerous labour laws by four Labour Codes was promoted as a great step towards simplifying the laws and making them understandable to workers. However, the three laws that have just been passed consist of 300 pages of extremely difficult to understand legalistic text. What is stated as a right in one clause is negated by another clause.
Far from guaranteeing any of the rights of workers, these laws, taken together, deprive large numbers of workers of their rights through various means. Employees who are designated as supervisors, administrative staff or managers are excluded from the provisions of these laws. So are those whose salary is above a specified level, which level is itself subject to change by the government.
Leaders of the associations of capitalists have hailed the government for fulfilling their longstanding demands. They are rejoicing that they are now free to hire workers on contract for almost any work, and fire them at any time, as they please. They can more easily prevent workers from forming unions to defend their rights.
The enactment of these laws exposes the fact that the existing system of parliamentary democracy is in fact a form of dictatorship of the capitalist class. It shows that only the interests of capitalists are represented in Parliament, not the interests of the working class or of the peasants, who together make up more than 90% of the population.
Successive governments headed by the Congress Party and BJP have been committed to fulfill the demands of the Indian and foreign capitalists. In the name of improving the “ease of doing business”, they have been launching one attack after another on the hard won rights of the working class. In the face of the united opposition of workers’ unions, Prime Minister Modi declared that the proposed labour law reforms would not only improve the capitalists’ ease of doing business but also the “ease of living” for the working class. In actual fact, the new laws pave the way for intensified exploitation of workers and heightened insecurity of livelihood.
The only way forward for the working class is to strengthen our fighting unity against the capitalist class and all attacks on our rights. We must strengthen worker-peasant unity against the program of globalisation, through liberalisation and privatisation. We need to step up our struggle with the aim of establishing workers’ and peasants’ rule, so as to carry out the transition from capitalism to socialism, reorienting the economy to fulfill human needs instead of fulfilling capitalist greed.
Below, are links to selected articles on the four labour codes published earlier in the CGPI website.