Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Act, 2020:

Rules are biased against workers

On 19th November 2020, the government notified the Rules for the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Act, 2020 for implementing the law. The Rules have ignored the provisions of the labour codes that were even a little favourable to the workers; at the same time, it has introduced anti-worker provisions that will further deny workers their hard won rights.

The Rules, for instance, increase the spread of hours at workplace from 10 hours 30 minutes to 12 hours. The spread of hours refers to the period between the time workers report to work and the time when workers finally leave the workplace for the day. While the maximum number of working hours in a week has been retained at 48 hours, the increased spread will force most workers, who do not live in the vicinity, to stay in the workplace premises longer.

If the spread were only eight hours then, the workers will be required to work for less than eight hours a day since there will be two short breaks and a longer break during these eight hours. With spread being increased to 12 hours, there will be longer breaks or “off time”. Since the Rules do not require the owners to provide rest and recreational facilities for workers, workers will have to hang around the workplace and there will be pressure on the workers to participate in informal, regular or supplementary work. The capitalist owners know that there are many workers who are unemployed and that most workers are coming through labour contractors whose contracts can be easily terminated. They will use these facts to force the workers to work even during the off time also. If any worker does not comply with the wishes of the owners, they could be terminated and replaced by others who will comply. Thus, most workers will have to work during these extra hours for fear of losing their means of livelihood. Not only will workers not get the higher rate for overtime work, they may not even be paid for these hours.

Moreover, more time at the workplace for workers will necessarily mean lesser time for themselves and their families. This is going to further diminish the quality of life of workers.

Another point worth noting about the Rules is that the Rules are silent about registration of migrant labourers. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Act, 2020 mandates the Central and state governments to maintain a database of migrant workers but the Rules do not refer to this part of the law at all. If the rules do not refer to the database, then it is obvious that the database will not be built.

The plight of the workers during Covid lockdown during April and May of this year is well known. Deprived of their livelihood and with no means to sustain themselves in the cities where workers had migrated to, they had no choice but to return to their villages. But there were no means of transport available at that time and many had to pile up in trucks or even undertake their journeys on foot. The State machinery did not help the workers on the excuse that they did not have any information about these workers. Lakhs of workers were in desperate condition and hundreds lost their lives on the roads or on railway tracks while trying to go back to their homes.

Subsequently, the government received many suggestions regarding registration of migrant workers to create a database so that government help can reach such workers during disasters. Government was forced to add in Section 21 of the law that workers must be able to register themselves as migrant workers in government database. The fact that this part of the law is not referred to in the Rules shows that the government was not sincere about adding this provision and does not intend to do anything to facilitate the implementation of migrant workers registration. The reason is obvious. Government defends the interest of the capitalist class and does not want to have statistics available that will show the extent of exploitation of these workers. It is also convenient for the government to keep the numbers of registered workers low because they can deny the non-registered workers their rights by law.

In September 2020 the central government passed three labour code bills dealing with occupational safety, industrial relations and social security. A code on wages was already enacted in 2019. These four laws which are an outright attack on workers across the board have been opposed by all workers’ organisations. They have pointed out how the labour code makes 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. These are clearly in favour of the capitalist owners and against the interest of workers.

The labour codes along with the rules for implementing these laws are thoroughly anti-worker and are designed to increase the capitalist exploitation of workers. Workers across all sectors, and irrespective of how the capitalist governments have divided them, must unite to fight against such anti-worker rules and two-timing by the government.


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