Gurugram: Industrial workers call labor codes ‘black laws’ and reject PM’s claims

Gurugram: “Repeal the black laws” – a phrase that was used by restless farmers until last year until the three controversial farm laws were finally withdrawn after a 15-month protest, has been frequently raised as a demand at an open seminar held on Sunday by a union of industrial workers – this time the demand is the withdrawal of the four labor codes. Workers believe that labor codes are also designed to benefit businesses.

The seminar was organized at the Gurugram Mini Secretariat by the Employees’ Union of Bellsonica Auto Components India Private Limited, located in Manesar, a leading supplier to automobile major Maruti, which saw the participation of leaders from other automobile unions from the industrial belt.

Union leaders called the labor codes “black laws” because they feared they would aim to dilute hard-won workers’ rights and spark unrest across industries.

Several auto union leaders said that emboldened by the adoption of the four codes, factory owners in the region had already begun to take a “tougher stance” in the face of demands from many unions.

Adopted in 2020, the three Codes – Industrial Relations Code; Code of Social Security ; and, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code – along with the Wages Code, which was passed in 2019, are collectively touted as “reforms” in the country’s labor market.

However, their implementation has been deferred several times in recent years.

NewsClick recently reported that there are indications that the central government is now stagingwith the latest round of consultations with multiple stakeholders, for a phased implementation of the codes – with an initial deployment of two of them.

In this context, during the two days National Labor Conference comprising all states and union territories, held early last month in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi touted the four codes as “simplifying” labor laws – there has 29 such central texts which have been subsumed by the codes.

The codes “will ensure the worker empowerment through minimum wage, employment, social security and health,” Prime Minister Modi told The Hindu industry as he said in his address to the conference.

Workers skin changes under codes

Leaders of industrial workers’ unions in Haryana’s main auto hub, however, said the changes brought about by the codes were ‘anti-labour’.

“Labour codes will ‘legalize’ management practices which are ‘illegal under applicable labor laws’ and are therefore challenged from time to time by unions,” Ajit Singh, the union’s general secretary, said on Sunday. Bellsonica employees.

“The definitions of workers have been changed to exclude apprentices; thresholds have been erected, and even more, increased in many cases to exempt employers from the scope of the regulations; trade union rights were restricted; and strikes have been made difficult by the new codes,” Singh said addressing workers, pointing to the “anti-worker” changes enshrined in the Industrial Relations Code.

Mohinder Kapoor, president of the Bellsonica employees’ union, pointed out that the new codes also compromise worker safety. Under the Factories Act 1948, every unsafe factory must set up a bipartite safety committee (SC).

“But not anymore, under the new Codes,” Kapoor said.

The code of safety, health and working conditions leaves the question to government discretion which “may by special or general decree” require dangerous establishments to set up the said SC. It also prescribes thresholds for security officers for those who are not dangerous.

Unveiling these changes, Ajay Yadav from the Maruti Workers’ Union of the Gurugram Factory asked during his address whether industrial workers would feel safe working in the industrial establishments in the future. “Already, we are seeing an increase in accidents in factories across the country where hundreds of workers are losing their lives. In such a situation, will the children of workers be safe – that is the question we need to ask the government,” he said.

Business considerations remained “dominated” in the development of the four labor codes according to Anil Panwar, District General Secretary, AITUC-Manesar, adding that this means that whatever the government says, the job security of workers will come under attack.

Concern about “labour disputes” in Auto Hub

Expressing “deep concern over increasing labor disputes” with industry leadership, a joint council of all Gurugram and Rewari unions last month highlighted cases at 11 factories in the automotive region, where workers are “denied of justice”.

“These labor disputes have been going on for a long time, but it is very unfortunate that due to the lack of proper legal action by senior officials in the Department of Labor, workers are forced to run from pillar to post, and are denied justice,” the board said in its August 3 memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Gurugram and available through NewsClick.

Some of the factories, as mentioned in the memorandum, where labor demands have been pending for many years now, include Napino Auto and Electronics Limited, Munjal Showa Limited and Bellsonica Auto Components India Private Limited, among others. The council also demanded the repeal of the codes, which would allegedly ‘increase’ daily working hours from the current 8 to 12.

Meanwhile, in order to form a joint ‘mazdoor-kisan‘ front to fight against “anti-worker” measures, the union of Bellsonica employees appealed at Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) last month, calling on the farmers’ body to support the industrial workers’ union by holding a joint public meeting in Manesar.

Asked about it, Singh of the Bellsonica Employees Union said NewsClick that the two bodies should meet to discuss it on 6 September. The SKM is an umbrella body of farmers’ unions across the country that spearheaded the year-long nationwide movement against the Three Farm Bills.

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