The attack on the labour laws was initiated in Uttar Pradesh where the government has cleared an ordinance suspending 35 of the 38 laws
India is witnessing a strange phenomenon on the labour front in the backdrop of the efforts of some state governments to attract industries which they expect to leave the Chinese shores in the near future in the name of coronavirus. They have decided to water down or suspend labour laws that protect the basic rights of the workmen while their ideological godfathers remain opposed such moves. The attack on the labour laws was initiated in Uttar Pradesh where the Yogi Adityanath government has cleared an ordinance suspending 35 of the 38 laws — enacted by both the state and central governments — including those on minimum wages and industrial disputes for three years. It was followed by governments in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, both ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Not to be left behind, the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Punjab announced that they will ease rules on working hours. As the competition intensifies, more states are likely to come up with more such measures.
The irony of it all lies in the fact that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the mentor of the BJP, is strongly committed to labour rights, which it has expressed through Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, its affiliate and one of the central trade unions. The BMS has even announced agitational programmes to protect labour rights. The Congress leadership, including its former president Rahul Gandhi, has already come out against the anti-labour move, calling it an attempt to crush human rights. This charade must end. If the think-tanks of the leading political formations in the country believe in the basic rights of the working class, then they should instruct their state governments not to trample on them but make it easy for investments in terms of policies and procedures to flow in. If the states want to make their platters more attractive, then they can add tax and fiscal incentives but not tinker with laws that deliver to the people their basic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.