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Labour law changes and migrant workers' rights in India

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4 September, 2020Last month, IndustriALL’s South Asia office organized two webinars with Indian affiliates to discuss anti-worker labour law reforms pursued by the Modi government, the impact of Covid -19, and rights and remedies for migrant workers.

In the webinar on ‘Labour law amendments and its implications for workers and unions in India’ on 4 August, Prof. K R Shyam Sundar of XLRI explained various aspects of labour law reforms and its implications for workers’ rights, and international labour standards towards paving the way for informed debate among IndustriALL affiliates.

Since 2014, the Modi government has restructured an expansive labour law regime of over 40 laws in to four codes, under the false assumption that the laws are archaic and need to be made more effective, flexible and in sync with the emerging economic and industrial scenario. The Code on wages was published in August 2019, and will come into effect.

The other three codes on occupational safety, health and working conditions, industrial relations, and social security were introduced in the lower house of the parliament and referred to parliamentary standing committee for further scrutiny.

These changes have been consistently opposed by trade unions. Under the banner of the Central Trade Unions, IndustriALL affiliates in India held massive demonstrations in January, July and August this year. The council of Global Unions has supported the Indian trade unions in their actions. IndustriALL Global Union has written to the government of India several times calling for the withdrawal of the anti-worker labour laws.

Sanjay Vadhavkar, general secretary of SMEFI and member of IndustriALL executive committee, said:

“The government’s attempt to simplify labour laws into four codes seem to serve corporate interests, while ignoring genuine concerns raised by trade unions. The Indian trade union movement is working together to stop state governments, which are using covid-19 as excuse, making far-reaching, anti-worker labour law changes.”

Ms. Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan, a lawyer specialized on labour laws, discussed ‘Rights of migrant workers’ on 25 August. With the backdrop of Covid-19 containment measures and lockdown, India has witnessed a massive crisis faced by migrant workers. Almost all migrant workers are engaged in contract work and most of them have no access to social security benefits. During the pandemic, many of the workers have lost their jobs and livelihood. The union leaders discussed and received clarification of various legal means to protect migrant workers rights.

Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia IndustriALL regional secretary, said:

“The webinars were organized to increase awareness and to support our affiliates’ ongoing efforts in defending the rights of their members and migrant workers. IndustriALL will continue the discussions to strengthen workers’ rights.”