Indian Workers Fight Modi’s New Labor Laws

Lalan Kishor Singh

Summary: This statement was written by and is being distributed as a flyer (in Hindi) by members of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization in Nagpur, India, under the title, “We the workers have to fight our own battle! Let’s march together against the imposition of 4 anti-working-class labor codes by the MODI Government!”

Translated by
Arvind Ghosh

Dear Comrades,

During the 2014 parliamentary election in India, the then prime ministerial candidate, Modi, had promised the owners of industries that the existing labor laws would be modified in their favor, if his party [the BJP] came to power. At the beginning of the second term of the Modi government in 2019, the owners organization, the FICCI, reminded the Modi government of his promise, which had not yet been fulfilled. In order to fulfill his promise, the Prime Minister has now reduced the entire group of 29 labor laws into four labor codes to serve the interests of the employers. Through these four labor codes, the Modi government intends to practically snatch away or curb drastically all the legal rights of the workers which they had earned through decades of struggle.

Let’s pay attention to some of the changes introduced through the four labor codes. The policy of “Hire and Fire” has been introduced, which gives the owners the right to employ workers whenever they need them and throw them out when they no longer need their services. Another similar category introduced is “Fix term employment” which prevents the workers from becoming permanent, thus snatching away a basic right of workers.

Through these codes, definitions of “industry” as well as “workers” have been changed. Defense, Health Care, and Education have been removed from the category of industry, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of workers from the benefits they used to get as workers. Simultaneously, the right to form Trade Unions is under severe attack under these codes.

The right to strike is also under attack. Whereas previously the unions had to give a 14 days’ notice before going on strike, now a 60 days’ notice has been made mandatory. In the case that a strike is declared illegal, imprisonment up to two years and a fine of 100,000 Rupees [$15,000 U.S. dollars] would be imposed on workers through these labor codes. At the same time, a criminal offense by an employer (like unlawfully deducting employer’s contribution from the employee’s wages) would attract only a fine of Rs 50,000 but no imprisonment.

The procedure for Layoff, Lockdown and Retrenchment has been further simplified in the name of providing the owners the facility of doing business at ease without providing the workers any legal rights against them.

Working Hours: It seems there is a deliberate attempt to spread confusion through the new labor codes regarding working hours for a day. Sections 13(1) of the codes imply that actual working hours in a day cannot be more than eight hours. However, it is also stated that the spread over time can extend up to 12 hours in a day. A 12-hour spread over would include rest hours and overtime. The existing spread is a maximum of ten-and-a-half hours, which is now being extended to 12 hours under the new code. This lack of clarity over spread-over time is creating confusion and opening up the possibility for employers to misuse the 12-hour detention option and make the workers work beyond the stipulated eight hours. It is likely that certain owners would take advantage of such an expanded window to reduce the existing three shifts of eight hours into two shifts of 12 hours. Already, in a number of instances, three shifts have been converted into two shifts for all practical purposes.

Right to form Trade Unions: Section 14(2) of the code states that “where only one Trade Union of workers registered under this code is functioning in an industrial establishment, then the employer of such an industrial establishment shall recognize such Trade Union as the sole negotiating union of workers.” However, under 14(3) of the new labor codes, smaller Trade Unions will not get the opportunity to participate in the bargaining process, thus denying them subsequent opportunity for expansion of their base. This implies that only the bigger trade unions (comprising of 51% of workers as specified), being the sole bargaining agent, will monopolize the Trade Union rights and continue to exist even if it is unable to protect workers’ rights. Under the existing laws, relatively small trade unions used to get the opportunity to express their opinions in collective bargaining and influence outcomes. This will no longer be possible once section 14(3) of the new codes becomes applicable.

The Modi government in India, hands in glove with neo-liberal capitalist economy, is bent upon imposing the recently introduced anti-working-class labor codes. The entire focus is on minimizing labor cost in the interest of capital in a constant search for cheap labor power.

Hence a grim battle against these labor codes is ahead of us. We have seen that the working class all over the world have faced similar situations at different points of time and have come out victorious after waging long battles. Let us remember the heroic struggle of the Chicago workers who in 1886 fought for an eight-hour working day. They won this demand not only for themselves but inspired the workers all over the world to wage a long battle for legalizing an eight-hour working day. Today we celebrate May 1st every year as “International Workers Day” in memory of these struggles all over the world for shortening of our working hours.

A recent example of a militant struggle in India is the peasant movement (comprising of a large number of rural proletariat and marginal peasants), which continued for over a year till their major demands were met.

Taking inspiration from all militant struggles of workers against capital, let us get united and wage a militant and steadfast battle until we reach our immediate goal i.e., scrapping of the newly introduced anti-working-class labor codes in India.

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