The letter stated that suspension of labour laws also threatens the fundamental right for the workers to organise themselves into unions.

Labourers working at a brick kiln in AmritsarImage: PTI
Coronavirus Labour Laws Saturday, May 09, 2020 - 14:53

There has been severe criticism over the suspension of labour laws in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat for jeopardising the lives and well-being of working class people in the pretext of battling COVID-19 and its economic fallout.

Following this, leaders of seven political parties wrote to the President of India seeking intervention and raising concerns over the security, welfare, livelihood and future of the Indian working class, calling the nullification of the labour laws anti-constitutional.

“Workers under the Indian Constitution are not slaves. Reducing them to this status is not merely a violation of the Constitution but its nullification,” the letter stated.

These political leaders included Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary, CPI (M); D Raja, General Secretary, CPI, Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML)-L, Debabrata Biswas, General Secretary, AIFB, Manoj Bhattacharya, General Secretary, RSP, Manoj Jha, General Secretary, RJD and Dr. Thol. Thirumavalavan, President, VCK.

Here are some concerns raised by them

> Far from protecting the fundamental right to life and dignity, today’s conditions are barbaric. The easing of restrictions have not been accompanied by the required safety measures and environmental concerns.

> Even as the legislative is in the process of codifying 44 existing labour laws into four codes, existing laws are being violated with impunity, they claim. “Once this code gets the legislative sanction, then the executive i.e. the government can through an executive order change this without the need for any reference to the parliament or state legislatures. This is patently anti-labour and draconian,” the letter states.

> Suspension of labour laws also threatens the fundamental right for the workers to organise themselves into unions.

> Using the pretext of battling the pandemic, the daily working hours have been increased from eight to twelve hours through executive orders in various states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab without amending the Factories Act.

> Diluting labour rights is being done under the pretext of reviving the economy due to the difficulties caused by the national lockdown. “We may add that the Indian economy was already in a tailspin hurtling towards a recession before the outbreak of this pandemic,” the letter states.

> Very little has been done to look after the people who have lost all their livelihood and all capacity to meet their hunger needs. Fourteen crore workers have lost their jobs since the lockdown began.

Also read: Industry bodies demand suspension of labour laws for 2-3 yrs, 12-hour work hours

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