Labour laws need to be reformed for more employment

The Government of Rajasthan has taken a bold decision to amend the labour laws. The state government has initiated steps to change three central labour laws- Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Act and the Factories Act -to unshackle them from the stringent requirement of their compliance. If at all, the Industrial Disputes Act is reformed then the companies will be allowed to retrench up to 300 hundred employees without seeking government permission, which is next to impossible to get. At present, it is restricted to 100 employees. The Contract Labour Act, which once passed, will be applicable to companies with more then 50 workers instead of the current 20 workers at present. Similarly the changed in the Factories Act will be applicable to factory premises with workforce of up to 40, which is currently 20, and without power supply to premises with 20 workers, which is at present 10. Lot of criticism is coming from almost all trade unions including the Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh, which is an outfit of the Bhartiya Janata Party. The opposition from the CPI’s, All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and CPI (M)’s, Central Industrial Trade Union (CITU) is on the expected lines. The labour wing of the Congress i.e. the Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC) has also opposed the purposed amendment being mooted by the Vasundhara Raje Government.

As a matter of fact, the need to change most of the labour laws are long overdue many of the laws were enacted in the beginning years after independence and they have, undoubtedly, become outdated. There are 45 central laws on labour and nearly 200 hundred state laws. The procedures to be adopted for the compliance of these laws are nothing less than nightmares for the industrialists. Six lacs labour disputes of more than ten years old are pending in the labour courts. The long-standing disputes in the courts have only harmed the interests of the employees because it is very difficult for them to sustain inordinately long periods of unemployment or under employment.

There has hardly been any significant job creation in the last two decades. This is a fact, which has been accepted by everybody including the government. Why there have not been many jobs in the last two decades. Young boys and girls, even if they are well qualified and skilled, find it very difficult to find the remunerative jobs with satisfactory working conditions. Most of our boys and girls are working in highly dissatisfactory working conditions where the exploitation is the rule of the day. There is no doubt that whatever jobs we have today, most of them are contract based.Contractors often cross the limit of exploitation of the employees. We all know the reality, politicians know the reality, and employees know the reality because only the bearer knows where the shoe pinches. Employers gleefully indulge into the large-scale exploitation in connivance with the labour department officials. Then why do we not come face to face with the reality? Why do we look at other way and avoid looking at the problems as they are? Exploitation is going on in the most devious and sinister manner and our governments hardly taken any steps to control it.

In this backdrop, the initiatives taken by the Rajasthan Government are welcome. Rajasthan will show the way to other states and the BJP Government in the Centre will do well by not creating any obstacles in the way. It may be noted here that it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Government, which had setup the Second Labour Commission under the chairmanship of  former Labour Minister of India, Ravindra Verma and after extensive study in India and abroad he had submitted the report in two bulky volumes to the then Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, in 2004, his government was voted out of power and in the last ten years there was a complete silence on the issue the reforms of the labour laws. Since labour laws fall under concurrent list of Constitution of India, the Rajasthan Government is within its constitutional rights to take this lead. Once the assembly passes it, it will have to be sent to the President of India through the Governor of the State for his assent.

Needless to say, most of the industrialists from India and abroad have been feeling discouraged to make in large-scale investment in India because of archaic labour laws. It may be recalled here that long back when Ram Bilas Paswan was the Communication Minister he had given the telephone facility to all linemen at their residences. Most of the people raised objection to it on the ground that it would put extra burden on the government. However, Shri Paswan gave an apt reply to his critics, which is still relevant. He said that in any case linemen never make telephone calls to anybody on payment. They use government telephones during office hours. Consequently, the work suffers and no monetary profit comes to the kitty of the government. Then why should there be the hypocrisy of not providing telephone facility to linemen at there residences? Similarly, in the labour sector we find that, the employees are appointed on the contract basis and, that too, on very low payment. Then why should not the Contract Labour Act should be made flexible to safeguard the interests of employees. Industrial Disputes Act in the present form has killed many industries and has rendered huge number of employees to unemployment. So, why can’t it be amended to make it employment friendly? Likewise, we find that in small factories Labour Inspectors make money by accepting bribes from the employers and allow the exploitation of the employees go unabated. Therefore, it does not appeal to reason why the Factories Act should not be reformed to stop the corruption of the Inspectors. This will provide freedom to the employees and employers to bargain for higher wages and facilities. According to a report published in some of the newspapers the Raje Government has promised to generate employment for millions of young and able boys and girls in the next five years, if this aim is achieved it will be laudable.

The need of hour is to create employment with dignity to youngsters and reasonable freedom to employers. This initiative will certainly go long way in solving the problems of unemployment. It is expected that other state government will also follow suit and will not be swayed by the statements of trade unions and opposition parties.