Central trade unions on Monday sought Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar intervention to stop any purported move to amend the Factories Act, 1948, for raising daily working hours to 12 hours from the existing 8 hours. In a joint letter to Gangwar, 10 central trade unions have also demanded that funds of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) should not be used amid lockdown to fight COVID-19.
“A section of the press has reported that the Government is seriously considering amendment of the Factories Act, 1948, to allow 72 hours of work per 6-day week (12 hours working day), in place of the existing limit of 48 hours (eight hours working day). The move is being justified as exceptional circumstances call for exceptional provisions,” the letter said. The central trade unions demanded that the government must come clear and publicly refute the said media reports. These unions are INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC.
A Labour Ministry spokesperson clarified that the central government is not considering any such amendment to increase working hours to 12 hours per day and since labour is a concurrent subject, states have the right amend labour laws according to their requirement.
The official told that among the states, Rajasthan has increased working hours in view of emergency situation to avoid production loss. About appropriating funds of the EPFO and the ESIC, the official said that the Centre would provide funds under PMGKY for contributing employers’ and employees’ contribution for next three months which would benefit 79 lakh subscribers and 3.8 lakh firms with an outgo of Rs 4,800 crore.
The unions have alleged that the government has already been trying to bring in the amendment to increase working hours through the Code on Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Bill, which has been opposed by the entire trade union movement. In fact, this move of the government is linked with the original project of codification aiming to end the internationally accepted eight hour working norm and not just exceptional circumstances, it added.
They said, “Rather, present Covid-19 situation is being sought to be utilised to put in place such anti-worker measure. The report under reference talks of shortage of workers which is not the reality, particularly when the nation is reeling under the highest rate of unemployment, which was slated to rise further due to economic slowdown.” According to the letter, the projections by employer organizations from various sectors if added, the emerging scenario is grim as the unemployment rate may reach 23.7 per cent.
A report by the International Labour Organisation has also highlighted impact on poverty status for various countries and as for India goes, the estimation is worrisome as it projects that 40 crore of Indians would become poorer. They are of the view that even so called exceptional circumstances or even temporary shortage of availability, if it does arise at all, can very well be taken care of within the framework of the present Factories Act. It does not require permanently ending eight-hour working day norm through hasty amendment, it added.
Further, it appears that the government intends to shift the burden of Covid-19 generated economic crises on to the shoulders of working masses,who are already the worst victims of present calamity. “In another news report we get to know that the EPFO funds which are wholly-owned by the subscriber- workers are being diverted to Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY) claiming that 3.8 lakh firms will benefit with 76 lakh subscribers with an out go of Rs 4,800 crore,” it said. “There is also report about the move to divert ESI funds for meeting Government expenditures, totally unrelated to ESI Scheme,” it said.
“We strongly feel that the Government should consider mobilising resources in this exceptional circumstances from the huge wealth accumulated by the High Net-worth Individuals (HINI) in the country who have cornered virtually 50 per cent of the national wealth, instead of grabbing workers’ lifelong recurring savings in social security funds.”