Suspend labour laws for 2-3 years, employers’ associations urge government

Representatives of 12 employers’ associations and industry bodies on Friday asked the government to suspend labour laws for the next two to three years “to help industry come out of the present crisis,” a statement from the Ministry of Labour and Employment said.

The associations made the demand during a meeting with Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar and Ministry officials through video-conferencing. The meeting was a part of the Ministry’s outreach to stakeholders to discuss the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and its impact on workers and industry. A similar video conference with Central trade unions was done on Wednesday where the Minister asked union leaders to convince workers to resume work.

During the interaction, the Minister said he was “sympathetic to the requirements of the industry and would try to provide all possible help for revival of industry and reopening of the economy,” the statement said.

‘Treat as lay-off’

Among the suggestions given by the employers’ associations were relaxation of the Industrial Disputes Act in order to treat the lockdown period as lay-off, treating wages paid during this period as corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding, increasing the maximum workforce to 50% from 33% upon reopening and suspending labour laws, except those governing minimum wages, bonus and statutory dues, for two to three years. The employers’ representatives also said working hours should be increased to 12 hours a day and the industries be given an appropriate package to ensure no job losses.

Concluding the discussions, the Labour Secretary [Heeralal Samariya] welcomed the suggestions given by the representatives of the employers’ organisations. He stated that the focus should now be on reviving the industry and opening of economy, to fully revive the economic activities and employment opportunities,” the statement said.

It added that Mr. Samariya assured the participants that the Ministry was committed to helping in case the industry faced any problems as well as protecting workers’ interests. Among the participants were representatives of the Council of Indian Employers, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

his discussion comes in the wake of some State governments amending labour laws or suspending them altogether. The Uttar Pradesh government has brought an ordinance to exempt industries from several labour laws for 1,000 days and the Gujarat government has raised working hours from eight to 12 hours a day. These steps have been widely criticised by trade unions.

BMS’ concern

Meanwhile, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) on Friday raised concerns over the condition of unorganised and migrant workers during the coronavirus lockdown, through a memorandum handed over to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

A delegation of BMS leaders met Mr. Shah and listed the problems faced by workers and suggestions to resolve the issues. The Home Minister responded “positively” and promised action, BMS all-India organising secretary B. Surendran said in a tweet.

The memorandum said the “assault on employment” was deepening while the health concerns due to corona virus were prevalent. Faced with no incomes, migrant workers were on the move in order to get back home. Those workers stranded midway should reach home “on priority,” the memorandum said. Those still living near their workplaces should be provided jobs, for which export units, construction sites, small and medium enterprises should be allowed to open. Those workers who have made it back home should be provided employment through MGNREGA in their villages, it said, adding that transportation should be arranged for those wanting to return to their workplaces.

For construction workers, the BMS said not only should registered workers get cash assistance, but also those unregistered workers who present identification documents.

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