Constitutionality of suspension of labour laws especially ID Act: Government of UP
Written By: Prerak Raj & Sudhanshu Ranjan, Students, Central University of South Bihar
“Work is not man’s punishment. It is his reward and his strength and his pleasure.” -Deorge Sand
During the period of these consecutive lockdowns from 25th March, 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19, various labourers lost their jobs and several migrant workers were compelled to walk on the roads to reach their respective homes. In amidst of all this, the act of the various state governments like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh of suspending the labour laws including the Industrial Disputes Act (‘ID Act’) by invoking the ordinance for such has made the situation worse for the labourers. The intention behind the enactment of the ID Act was to promote and secure the good relations among the laborers and employers and to maintain the peaceful work culture in the industries. It was one of the beneficial and welfare legislation enacted for securing just and humane conditions of work in the industries.[i]
Suspension of ID Act is “denial to the access of speedy justice”.
This Act provides a complete redressal of the industrial disputes by establishing proper dispute redressal forums. It contains the procedure for establishing a works committee consisting of representatives of both sides i.e. employer and workers and provides the duty to promote measures for securing and preserving the good relations amongst them and to make their relations more swift[ii] and under section 4 & 5 of the ID Act, it is provided that the government can appoint the board of conciliation and conciliation officers with the duty of mediating and promoting the settlement of industrial disputes. Moreover this Act gives power to the government to constitute if needed the court of inquiry to set up for inquiry of a dispute between workmen and employer and for constituting labour court for adjudication of such a dispute.[iii] This Act also provides the power to the government to establish or constitute a National Tribunal for the adjudication of the question which contains the matter for national importance.
Such ordinance[iv] invoking the suspension of the ID Act by the government of Uttar Pradesh takes away the dispute redressal forums like labour court and court of inquiry which will deny the “access to justice”[v] in a speedy manner and the workers will also left with no any quick dispute redressal forum and It is unfair to expect that with limited resources the poor workers will or can approach civil courts for remedy against the mighty management disputes.
Such suspension also violates the other strands of right to life of the workers.
The ID Act safeguards the individual rights of the workers by setting up the Grievance Settlement Authority which will look after the matter of the individual disputes with such industrial establishments.[vi] It provides the provisions for the compensation to the workman from the employer if there is any kind of retrenchment or lay off by the employer. It also states the proper conditions or steps taken by the industrial establishments for retrenchment to ensure the job security of the workers and to remove the hire and fire like situation. It provides a proper mechanism to bring a notice of change in the conditions of service applicable to any workman and gives power to the government to exempt such change for safeguarding the rights of the workers.[vii]
The mischief which this Act intends to remove the prohibition imposed on employer to prevent indulging the unfair trade practices by imposing a penalty for doing such[viii]. It is pertinent to note such suspension of the ID Act for three long years will infringe the right to livelihood[ix] and the right to social security[x] of the workers by making a hire and fire like situation and promoting any of kind unfair trade practices by the employer against the workers. Chapter V of this Act provides a systematic way of doing a strike by the workers or lockouts by the employer.[xi]
Nobody either employer or workers can start strikes or lockouts at any time without giving prior notice as specified in this act.[xii] It also prohibits any person to supply financial aid in support of the illegal strikes and lockouts.[xiii] Such suspension of the impugned Act is unconstitutional and will directly affect the peaceful work culture of the industries in India.
It violates of the International Labour Organization.
India is also a member of the International Labour Organization (hereinafter ILO) and has ratified six out of eight conventions therefore it is mandated to follow the ratified conventions. The Ordinance passed by the government of Uttar Pradesh for the abolition of the labour laws is in violation of the ILO convention. The ordinance passed is in violation of ILO Convention 81, which mandates labour inspection for effective implementation of the national labour laws. Inspection is a mechanism which keeps check on the employers so that they maintain minimum level of safety standards at the workplaces and proper implementation of labour laws provisions. But abolition of inspection or inquiry which has been mentioned in the ID Act has removed that check on the employers who are now free to pick and choose the laws and regulation they want to follow. They can increase the working hours, change their shift according to their choice. An effective labour inspection mechanism is essential to prevent the workers exploitation by the employers and protect their rights.
Such suspension is unconstitutional and will also defeat its purpose.
The purpose of the UP government behind such suspension to incentivize the economy will ultimately cannot be brought up by making already vulnerable sections weaker as the equal protection of laws, guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India is a fundamental right of workers and the state is under the obligation to secure all persons within the territories of of India against arbitrary laws as well as arbitrary application of laws.[xiv] It is also the obligation of the state to take necessary steps so that every individual is given equal respect and concern which they are entitled to as a human being.[xv] In the present context the primary duty of the state is to ensure economic support and social security to them and not to put them into sheer exploitation in terms of making poor work conditions. Further section 36B of the ID Act provides that the government has power to exempt from all the provisions of this act only when the appropriate government is satisfied that adequate provisions exist for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes in respect of workmen employed in such establishments. In the present context there are no other alternative establishments that have been provided and also the government has not introduced any other bill or act in furtherance of this. Therefore, it signifies that such suspension by the UP government is unconstitutional as due procedure of law has not been provided.
The objective to increase investment and employment by relaxing the labor laws can be an optimistic approach of the government in their view but India had already been experiencing an economic slowdown which was essentially a problem of demand in the economy and the relaxation of labor laws is a reform towards the increase of supply in the economy and would intensify the demand problem due to the unavailability of disposable income among a large class of people, i.e. the labor force.[xvi] Therefore, by allowing more intensive exploitation of workers is unlikely to open the sluice gates of investment.[xvii]
Such suspension of the ID Act for three long years will violate the right to life and right to equality of the labourers by denying access to justice and social security to them. It is also in violation various international conventions. Therefore, suspension of labour laws by the government of Uttar Pradesh is unconstitutional. It is pertinent to note until we dare to recognize cruelty for what it is whether its victim is either human and animal we cannot expect things to be much in this world and this will also set back the progress of humanity. So we should make efforts towards resisting labour cruelty and give them respect by making stronger legal systems against the wrongdoer instead of weakening them.
[i] INDIA CONST. art. 42. [ii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 3. [iii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 6 & 7. [iv] The Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption From Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, U.P Ordinance No._2020 (India). [v] Hussainara Khatoon v. Union of India,(1980) 1 S.C.C. 81 (India). [vi] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 9C. [vii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 9. [viii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 25T & 25U. [ix] Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, A.I.R. 1986 S.C. 180 (India). [x] Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation Ltd. v. Subhash Chandra Bose, (1992) 2 S.C.R. 267 (India). [xi] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 22 - 25. [xii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 22. [xiii] The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India); S. 25. [xiv] V.N Shukla, Constitution of India, 201-212 (13th ed, 2017). [xv] Ibid [xvi] Winy Daigavane & Pavan Belmannu, Impact of the Global Pandemic on Indian Labour Laws, Jurist (May 20, 2020, 6:05 PM), https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/daigavane-belmannu-labor-law-suspensions-india/. [xvii] Pranab Bardhan, Labour Law Suspension: Hit The Workers When They Are Down, Bloomberg (May 10, 2020, 12:33 PM), https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/covid-19-and-labour-law-suspension-hit-the-workers-when-they-are-down.
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