Subsequent to the Prime Minister’s promise to repeal the farm laws, the trade unions’ protests against the Labour Codes appear to capitalise on the Centre’s vulnerability in the face of determined agitation, writes SHWETA VELAYUDHAN.
The over-hyped but yet to be implemented Labour Codes – namely, the Code on Wages, 2019; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020; the Code on Social Security, 2020; and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 – have now been passed for over a year. Yet, the Union Ministry for Labour and Employment (MoLE) is still in the process of notifying the rules under the respective Labour Codes. So far, there has not been a notified date for their implementation.
While protests by labour unions against the roll-out of the Labour Codes have been ongoing since they were passed by Parliament, the demonstrations have now received an impetus, thanks to the Central Government’s succumbing to the farmers’ protests against the three controversial farm laws. In February this year, a joint platform of ten central unions called for a nationwide protest against “privatisation” and the “anti-people policies” of the Government, proposed in the 2021-22 Budget, and for scrapping of the newly introduced Labour Codes.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is one of the members of the joint platform. The remaining union-members include the Congress-affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the Communist Party of India-affiliated All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and others.
While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is not a part of the committee of the ten unions, there have been protests against the Labour Codes, called by the BMS, in October 2020.
While protests by labour unions against the roll-out of the Labour Codes have been ongoing since they were passed by Parliament, the demonstrations have received new impetus, thanks to the Central Government’s succumbing to the farmers’ protests against the three controversial farm laws.
Thereafter, the central unions announced that they would gather to burn or tear up copies of the Labour Codes on April 1 this year, which was the originally intended date of implementation. Now, in the light of the Prime Minister’s announcement promising to repeal the farm laws, the labour unions intend to intensify their protests against the Labour Codes.
In July this year, the newly appointed Minister of Labour and Employment, Bhupender Yadav, was reported to have begun an exercise to examine if any changes to the proposed rules under the Labour Codes was required.
Thereafter, in August this year, a senior official of the MoLE stated that the Minister held a “courtesy” meeting with a dozen central trade unions. This was said to be an attempt at resuming negotiations with the trade unions to ensure the smooth roll-out of the Labour Codes.
At the time, it was also reported that the MoLE was open to revising the Indian Labour Conference (ILC) for the purpose of discussions. The ILC is an annual apex tripartite meet which consists of stakeholders from the Government, employer representatives and employee representatives, gathered together on key issues governing labour policies. The 46th Annual ILC was conducted in July 2015, after which the annual conferences have been in suspension till date.
Intensified efforts by the trade unions
In the beginning of November, the central trade unions had called for a nationwide protest on November 26, to mark the one-year anniversary of the farmers’ movement. Putting forward a charter of ten demands, the trade unions had also issued a declaration condemning the Union Government for “squeezing the human survival entitlement of the people”. Scrapping of the Labour Codes formed a key point of these demands.
Subsequent to the Prime Minister’s announcement on repealing the farm laws, the central trade unions are now aiming to build momentum behind their protests with renewed enthusiasm. Farmers outfits, under the banner of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), held protests in Odisha on 26 November, to mark the one-year anniversary of the farmers’ movement, and in support of the trade unions’ strike against the new Labour Codes.
Whereas, in Puducherry, trade union representatives held a demonstration in front of the head post office, to press for their charter of demands. Similar protests were also reported in various parts of the country, including Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal.
Starting Thursday, protests led by 12 central trade unions in the industrial areas of Delhi saw the striking workers flay both the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi state Government as well as the Union Government for their policy decisions favouring the employers.
The trade unions had put forward a charter of ten demands and issued a declaration condemning the Union Government for “squeezing the human survival entitlement of the people.”
As reported by The Hindu, Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the AITUC said that, “We will intensify our protests to demand the repeal of the labour codes. The Government is only looking at elections. For the labour codes, they have failed to get the support of States and have the compulsion of the upcoming Assembly polls so they keep postponing the roll-out.”
This week, a senior functionary of the MoLE was reported to have said that the notification of rules was “in process”, and that the Minister is likely to make a statement in Parliament on the subject.
(Shweta Velayudhan is a corporate lawyer who is a consultant, primarily in the field of labour and employment law, and a part of the outreach team at The Leaflet.)