Under the pressure of widespread protests of workers, at least three states – Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have withdrawn their order to extend daily working hours in industrial units from 8 hours to 12 hours and the working week from 48 hours to 72 hours.
This has come in the wake of protests across the country against this and other attacks on the rights of workers. Ten central trade unions, including INTUC, AITUC, CITU, LPF and SEWA, alongside of various industry wise federations organised an all India protest action on May 22 to protest against attacks on workers’ rights by the Central and state governments. The Central Trade Unions had also filed a complaint with the ILO, and there were several public interest litigations against the attacks on the workers.
Earlier on May 20, the BMS together with other trade unions also organised all India protest actions against attacks on workers’ rights.
It is to be recalled that earlier in May, seven states - Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab - enhanced the daily working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours through executive orders. They justified this on the basis of clause 5 in the Factories Act. This clause allows the government to overrule all the provisions of the Factories Act in the name of an ‘emergency’ for a period of three months. Earlier, the UP and MP governments had also extended the work-hour day to 12 hours. The UP government brought in a draconian ordinance titled “Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption for certain labour laws ordinance 2020” making about 38 laws defunct for 3 years. The Madhya Pradesh Government proposed drastic changes in the Factories Act, Contract Labour Act and Industrial Dispute Act.
The withdrawal by three state governments of the notification for a 12 hour day is a partial victory for workers. The struggle must be carried forward to ensure that all the states that have passed such orders are forced to withdraw them.
The ordinances passed by the governments of UP, MP and Gujarat, which are nothing but sweeping anti-worker amendments to existing labour laws with the intent of taking away workers’ rights, are awaiting the approval of the Central government. The united protests of the working class is the only way to forestall these changes.