The Central Government has prepared a draft law called Code of Industrial Relation to replace several existing laws — the Industrial Disputes Act, the Trade Unions Act and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act.
The proposed new Code will allow capitalists employing less than 300 regular workers to hire and fire their employees at will, without seeking government permission. Under the present Industrial Disputes Act, this is allowed only in units with less than 100 workers. The new Code will make it even more difficult for workers to form trade unions. It virtually bans strikes, imposing heavy penalty for joining and organizing a strike. It allows employers the power to unilaterally change the service conditions of workers.
At the present time, only a minority of workers are covered by laws that protect some of their rights. Even in those factories and workplaces where labour laws are applicable, those on temporary contracts are not covered. In public sector units, over half the workers are on contract, while in private sector nearly 70 per cent are on contract. The capitalist class has been carrying on incessant propaganda that a small section of workers who “benefit from labour laws” are privileged. This is being used to attack the most organized section, and thereby the entire working class.
The Apprentices Act has been amended so that young workers can be made to work for years on end without minimum wages, leave, or any social security benefits. The National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) has been launched to enable the capitalists to replace regular workers with trainees and apprentices. It allows capitalists to pay extremely low wages and deny all statutory benefits for three years of “training”.
The Labour Law (Amendments) Act has been passed, according to which those employing less than 40 workers will be treated as “small establishments”. They will be exempted from maintaining registers or filing returns on 16 labour laws that directly affect the wellbeing of workers. These include laws on minimum wages, leave and working conditions. A proposed Bill to amend the Factories Act, when it is passed, will ensure that factories employing less than 40 workers will no more be covered by labour laws. Over 70 per cent of factory workers of the country will then be working in places which are not required to implement labour laws.
The Government has amended the Central Rules under the Industrial Employment Standing Order Act to allow “fixed term employment” in all establishments. Such workers can be retrenched at the end of their term without notice or compensation. Through this amendment, the capitalists aim to not only intensify the exploitation of workers, but also get rid of the very concept of permanent jobs.
Attacks on workers’ rights are being carried out both by the Central government and state governments, in the name of improving the “ease of doing business”. The governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh have already amended labour laws in favour of the capitalists. Other state governments are following suit.