A move too far
The current financial crisis created by the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to suspend labour rights and exploit migrant labourers in a legalised form of slavery
SARs Cov-2, the virus that has caused the lockdown of 1.3 billion human beings in India has also caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis across the country. The International Labour Organisation estimated in April that around 400 million workers were at risk of slipping into poverty due to sudden and unplanned stringent nationwide lockdown. With that, it has also unfolded the bitter truth of the ineptitude of the Central government in administrating the situation.
Not a single major mitigation measure is being taken by the Central government for those who have been serving this country with their sweat and blood for years and years, and today, are left with no work, no food and no shelter or transportation for an uncertain period. The lockdown has also proved how hollow and merciless our cities can be.
In such a situation, the privileged among us are engaged in criticising the migrant workers rather than questioning the negligence of the Centre government in terms of protecting the lives of migrant workers.
It has not ended there. Amidst the persistent misery of migrant workers into the third spell of the nationwide lockdown, the accordance of approving ordinance by Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and now Karnataka government for suspending all labour laws barring three for next three years remains a show of utter apathy that borders on contempt. At a time when the migrants are fighting a tough battle of life and death, the Centre has taken the strategy of letting its pliant state governments use this pandemic crisis as a shield for secluding labourers from their rights to a secure and dignified life by implementing such anti-people and anti-worker autocratic measures. Naturally, the burning question is: how could the erosion of labour rights be possible without parliamentary debate? And, is the Supreme Court in a position to uphold such action as an unlawful invasion of civilian rights?
The fundamental rights of the workers such as Article 14, Article 19, Article 21, and Article 23 are going to be violated. Similarly, the Directive Principles of State Policy that uphold certain specific rights under Part IV of the Constitution such as Article 39 (a), Article (39-A), Article 41, Article 42, and Article 43 are under fire. Further, this move will not only violate the various Home Ministry directives and State ordinances in India's own Constitution but also its international commitment.
Thus, the exemption of labour laws to stimulus economic and industrial development is just an attempt made to extend the exploitation of daily wage workers. This will drive Indian companies to avoid hiring permanent employees and will create an open platform to enslave the labours.
In addition to this, many state governments on the request of the ruthless businessman have extended daily working hours from 8 to 12 without amending the 'Factories Act' in order to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19.
In this scenario when the country is an unprecedented state of emergency, the Central Government along with the State Government must release an adequate relief package on an urgent basis to prevent further deaths and inhume-suffering of millions of migrant workers. Indeed, the PM has failed to anticipate the severe consequences of sudden and unplanned nationwide lockdown. Further, it is also a fact that he has not taken any comprehensive mitigation measures for workers and left them in dismal circumstances. Some initiatives which have been taken are also facing challenges in implementing at the ground levels. It is also evident that there is a huge mismatch between the Centre and the state governments in terms of administrating the situation. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to establish a strong coordination and governance system at multi-stage levels to deal with this pandemic crisis escalated across the country.
Besides these, the exemption and dilution of labour laws cannot be the remedy to revitalising the industry and the economy of the country. It is a violation and breakdown of the Fundamental Rights of the labourers ensured by the Constitution. The pandemic crisis cannot be used as an excuse to dehumanise and enslave the labours. The migrant labours are the most important element of our society and hence, without their safety and well-being, the country cannot progress.
The writer is a Research Scholar at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad