Following a rap from the Allahabad High Court, the Uttar Pradesh government has withdrawn its controversial order in which it diluted certain sections of the Factories Act 1948, exempting factories from the 8-hour shift per day and allowing them to extend the shift to 12 hours for a three months, beginning April 20.
The Allahabad High Court’s order came on a PIL filed by the Uttar Pradesh Worker Front challenging the government’s order of May 8. The state government, on May 15, cancelled its earlier order, citing “unavoidable circumstances.” Copies of both the government orders are in possession of FE.
The May 15 order, signed by principal secretary (labour) Suresh Chandra, directed the state counsel to inform the court in the next hearing that the order stands withdrawn, following which the court dismissed the writ as infructuous.
In the wake of all economic activities coming to a halt due to coronavirus-induced lockdown, the UP government had on May 8 exercised the powers conferred on it by Section 5 to amend the Factories Act, 1948.
“The government of UP directs that all factories registered under Factories Act shall be exempted from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, overtime and intervals for rest of adult workers from April 20 till 19 July 2020,” the May 8 order said. It also said no worker shall be allowed to work for more than 12 a day and 72 hours a week. It further stated that wages for extra hours shall be in proportion of existing wages, instead of doubling of wage as has been done by some other states.
After the order of the government was challenged in the Allahabad High Court, the court issued a notice to the state government. Immediately after that, the government withdrew its earlier order.
However, the withdrawal of this order has no bearing on the ‘Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’, which has put almost all labour laws, except a few concerning safety provisions, timely payment of wages, minimum wages and provisions related to women and children, in abeyance for three years and increased daily work hours to 10 hours.
Workers unions are elated with the rollback of the notification and feel this is a major victory. “This can prove to be a ground to challenge the orders of many other state governments which have extended working hours,” said Dinkar Kapoor, president of UP Workers Front, adding that the state government’s decision is in contravention of the ILO convention, to which India is a signatory.
“Section 5 of the Factories Act defines “public emergency” as a “grave emergency whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance. The medical emergency caused by the coronavirus is not covered under the meaning of ‘public emergency’ defined in factories Act, and hence the argument of the UP government to extend working hours doesn’t hold,” Kapoor said.