Critique of the Government of Rajasthan’s proposed Amendments of the Factories Act, 1948, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
The BJP Government of Rajasthan has proposed certain amendments in the Factories Act, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act and Industrial Disputes Act.
At the outset it may be stated that labour laws in our present times have become irrelevant for all practical purposes. The Trade Union Movement has become so weak that it cannot ensure any relief to workers or proper implementation of labour laws. What we are observing therefore is the nexus between capitalist right wing politicians, so called trade unions leaders sponsored by them and officers and inspectors of labour department has made all labour laws only a show piece on paper. The recent judicial pronouncements are also tilted against labour. Therefore even if there were no amendments the position would have remained the same.
These amendments, as we are all aware, is part of the exercise of the present dispensation in the State and the BJP Party to prove its faithfulness to the exploiters, who already had a free hand to loot our resources and exploit labour. For example in capital of Rajasthan, in Jaipur itself, several factories employing more than thousand workers closed their operations without following either section 25 N or section 25 O of I.D Act, 1947, and the workers are still waiting after more than 20 years for benefits legally assured by law. There is no action against the employers for the open violation of provisions of the Sections 25 N or 25 O of I D Act. These industries are Jaipur Metals, Man Industrial Corporation, Indian Fibers and some other medium scale industries.
In Chapter II B of the ID Act, regarding representative Trade Union a requirement of 15% membership of work force has been raised to 30% in the amendments being proposed. It may be pointed out that that a representative trade Union is one which gets the highest number of votes if an election is held. The Registrar Trade Union can also declare any trade union as representative trade union only by inspecting papers and random checking. In fact, the existing provisions were already flawed as practically it benefited only that paper trade union which maintained record better. The field strength was not considered relevant. The trade union movement have been demanding that every time there must be an election after fixed period for registering representative trade union.
This requirement of 30 % membership will further benefit the trade unions dearer to employers and any other genuine fighting trade union will be suppressed.
Under Section 25 K of the ID Act, raising cap for retrenchment and closure from 100 to 300 workers will further facilitate the employers to retrench or artificially close the industries and throw out the entire work force, without the permission of the Government. It has been our experience, that even now many of the industries which were actually employing more than 100 workers did not show them in their records and thus were bypassing Section 25 N and Section 25 O. Now all such mischievous employers will have the freedom to do exactly what they want. . It is also well known that even in well established Industries which are running, these methods are frequently adopted so that the non technical workers can be frequently changed and are always under the thumb of employer.
Till now there has been no limitation in time frame regarding the raising of an Industrial Dispute. But now now for the first time a limitation of 3 years has been introduced under section 2 A of I D Act. Till now the thinking was that the hands of an industrial adjudicator should not be tied down either in the matter of procedure or limitation of time frame. It is for the adjudicator to judge the reasonability of the matter looking into the circumstances of each case, but now this important space will not be there anymore.
We are afraid that this limitation provision will be interpreted strictly and even if a relaxation is made by the Industrial Court, still it will give a further issue to the employer to go to the higher court and further delay the matter. It will be interesting to note that though in the Central Act there was a limitation of 3 months for deciding a dispute by an Industrial Court but it was never adhered to. But the present situation of the Industrial Court is such that no case takes less than 10 to 15 years to be decided. If the government was keen to protect the workers interest it would have been better if a strict limitation provision should have been introduced or deciding a dispute finally which should not been more than 1 year in any case.
Further “Go Slow” ( Section 2 (ra), 5) has also been defined. It will only mean that from now on all types of protest and resistance by the workers will be suppressed. The definition is so wide that it is open to any interpretation which the employer likes.
The purpose of amendments in the Contract Labour Act and Factories Act is also to deny many legal rights which are basic for the working conditions and welfare of the workers to more number of workers. Even today the employers of small industries were using devious methods to subvert the law, in connivance with the Labour Inspecters. For instance they will take on record names of only a few workmen keeping it short of 1 or 2 of the required strength to come under the purview of the law. Though in actual strength the workers working there are much more.
Now this devious means of subverting the law will be easier for the employer to indulge in and so the gains of the amendments as is the objective, going to be only beneficial to the employers. The applicability of the Contract Labour Act will be only on the establishments which employ more than 50 workers which was presently restricted to 20. Similarly in Factories Act the requirement of the number of workers for the implementation of the law was 10 workers with use of power. Now this has been raised to 20. And for factories without power it has been raised to a minimum of 40 workers from 20.
It means that even the basic facilities like cleanliness, drinking water, ventilation, safety requirements, employment of child workers, working hours, weekly rest, holidays, maternity leave, creches, overtime will not be necessary in substantial number of industries.
The writer is Prem Krishan Sharma, with a fifty year old practice as a labour lawyer in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court, was with trade union movement for decades, was also the CITU Secretary, Rajasthan and presently President PUCL, Rajasthan.