The Tamil Nadu Assembly, on Friday, April 21, passed a bill amending the Factories Act, 1948, which extends the daily working hours from 8 to 12 hours for factory workers. The Factories (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Bill, 2023 was tabled on April 12, and faced severe criticism from many quarters. It was passed despite heavy opposition from various political parties, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) allies Congress, Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)).
The bill tabled by Minister for Labour Welfare and Skill Development CV Ganesan, stated that the decision to amend the Act was taken after representations from multiple industries and associations “to bring out working hour reforms, by making a statutory provision for flexible working hours, citing the number of benefits it could bring to workers, especially women employees, the industry and the economy as a whole.”
By way of the amendment made to the Factories Act, 1948, section 65A is inserted into the Act, which enables the state government to exempt any factory or group of factories from sections 51 (weekly hours), 52 (weekly holidays), 54 (daily hours), 55 (intervals for rest), 56 (spread over), and 59 (prohibition of overlapping shifts) of the Factories Act. While this amendment also implements a four-day work week if 12-hour shifts are followed, if certain factories are exempted, it might enable employers to not follow these legal provisions.
Political parties, including the Congress, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) and CPI(M) opposed the bill as it was tabled and staged a walkout from the Assembly.
CPI(M) state secretary K Balakrishnan had also written a letter to the state government demanding to drop the amendment. In the letter on April 18, Balakrishnan said, “I would like to bring to your notice that the amendment of the welfare laws of the workers by acceding to the demands of the industrialists will have dire consequences to deprive them of their rights. We would like to point out that Tamil Nadu is the only non-BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] state that has proposed such an amendment among the investment-intensive states in India. It is absolutely unfair for a state like Tamil Nadu to pass this law which was passed completely dictatorially without any debate or vote when the opposition parliamentarians were fighting outside the parliament along with the people against the Union Government's anti-farmers bill,” he said.
Addressing mediapersons, Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu provided assurance that the bill would be implemented in a way that would not affect the workers. “This will not be applied to all the sectors. Only the industries that fit the bill will adopt the 12-hour work shift. Currently, employees have to work only 48 hours a week, and there will be no change to that. Only workers who volunteer can take up a 12-hour shift. Nobody can be forced to do a 12-hour shift. This is to increase flexibility in work and encourage women to join the workforce,” he said. Meanwhile, CPI(M) has suggested that the bill should be reconsidered and inspected by a committee.
It is to be noted that DMK president MK Stalin, in 2020, wrote a letter to the Union government stating that the working hours should not be increased from 8 to 12 hours.