Adityanath Govt in UP to Suspend Key Labour Laws, Workers' Rights for Three Years

Under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government says exempting businesses from these laws will boost investment. But experts term the move an attack on fundamental rights.

New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh government has approved an ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of almost all labour laws for the next three years in a bid to provide a fillip to investments affected by the novel coronavirus in the state.

The ordinance will become law only after it receives the president’s assent.

“The horticultural and economical activities in the states have been severely affected and slowed down due to the outbreak of COVID-19. This is because businesses and economic activities came to a halt more or less due to the national lockdown,” a press statement issued by the state government said. The decision was taken in a meeting of the state cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Adityanath on Wednesday.

The statement said that the government has cleared the ‘Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’ to exempt all establishments, factories and businesses from the purview of all, but four labour laws and one provision of another Act, for a a period of three years.

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Only the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; and Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (the right to receive timely wages), will apply in the state, according to the statement. It also said the provisions related to children and women in the labour laws would continue.

Other labour laws will become defunct. They include laws related to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety, health and working conditions of workers, and those related to trade unions, contract workers, and migrant labourers.

This will apply to both the existing businesses and the new factories being set up in the state.

“The idea is that in the present circumstances where we need to provide employment to workers who have migrated back to the state and to protect the existing employment, some flexibility has to be given to business and industry,” Uttar Pradesh chief secretary R.K. Tiwari told Business Standard.

He added that some of the labour laws have been kept intact, especially the ones related to women and children, which will act in the welfare of the workers and “they will continue to be protected”.

Tiwari added that the ordinance will be sent for the approval of the central government. Since labour is a concurrent subject under the Constitution of India, the states can frame their own laws but they need the approval of the central government.

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“It is absolutely shocking. This move of the Uttar Pradesh government turns the clock back by more than 100 years. It will lead to slave-like conditions for workers and it’s unacceptable, in violation of all human and fundamental rights. This move should be legally challenged,” labour law advocate Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan said.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan held a press conference on Thursday announcing how the state government will exempt new manufacturing units from all, but some provisions, in the Factories Act, 1948 for the next 1000 days (or over two-and-a-half years). The labour law changes in MP, which needs the sanction of the central government, will allow more factories to operate without following safety and health norms and give a free hand to new companies to “keep labourers in service as per their convenience”.

“The reported labour law reforms by the UP government of exempting industries from all labour laws save three, all of them otherwise poorly implemented by any government is beyond the scope of imagination and will make even the most vocal labour flexibility advocates to shame and even industries would not have imagined getting these ‘holidays from labour laws’,” XLRI Jamshedpur professor and labour economist K.R. Shyam Sundar said.

He said that the move may prove counter-productive as “good capital chases high labor standards.” “The COVID-19 times are witnessing fall of labour standards like a pack of cards. The argument of occupying the market space vacated by China is taken far too seriously by this state,” he added.

State governments have witnessed a severe shortage in revenue after the national lockdown because businesses are shut. Many migrant workers in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have returned from places like Kerala, Delhi, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
States have begun easing labour laws to attract investment.

By arrangement with Business Standard

Note: This story has been edited to add the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 to the list of current labour laws which will be exempted from the proposed three-year suspension.