As the industry braces for recovery from the coronavirus crisis, many state governments including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat are offering them opportune support, in assorted ways.
Taking the lead, the UP government has decided to keep most labour laws in abeyance for the next three years, while MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said his government would seize the current opportunity to bring the much-needed reforms in the state’s labour laws to lure investors, including those likely relocating from China.
Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have amended their respective Factories Acts in April to increase the work time to 12 hours/day and 72 hours/week in place of 8 hours/day and 48 hours/week.
These steps are taken an emergency measures, and will remain effective for three months. The idea is to provide some relief to industries which are genuinely stressed by labour shortages and poor economic conditions.
In addition, states like Karnataka, Punjab and Gujarat are apparently trying to ensure that large-scale exodus of migrant labourers doesn’t take place from their states, leading to a labour shortage in the run-up to the resumption of construction and other activities in the states.
The UP Cabinet approved an ordinance on Wednesday, as per which industrial units will not have any inspection/enforcement official knocking on their doors, to check whether the labour laws are implemented. “There are 38 labour laws prevalent in the state. Barring the basic laws, all others would not be enforced for the next three years. Industries, factories and commercial establishments as well as labourers have been direly impacted by the absence of economic activities. This move will provide relief to them, and also create job opportunities for the migrant workers, who are returning back to the state,” UP labour minister Swami Prasad Maurya said. The minister added that these reliefs were also aimed at attracting new investments in the state, domestic and foreign.
The laws that will remain in force in UP during the three year period include those which provide basic facilities and security to the labourers. These include Abolition of Bonded Labour Act, Building and Other Construction Act, Employees Compensation Act, Payment of Wages Act and laws relating to women and children.
Madhya Pradesh has proposed to amend the Factories Act to exempt new factories that will be registered in the next 1,000 days from several provisions in the Act, excluding those relating to safety & health and hazardous processes. The Madhya Pradesh government has also proposed to liberalise the Shops and Establishments Act to extend the timing of operations, aimed at facilitating both business and consumers. The exempted provisions include regulations regarding conditions of work like temperature, ventilation, lighting, etc and even the appointment of labour welfare officer.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani has said recently the state would allow labourers to work for a 12-hour shift, instead of 8-hours shift, with commensurate extra pay. In Madhya Pradesh also, factories have been allowed to keep 12-hours work shifts.
Labour reforms have gathered some pace at the central level over the last few years, but at the state level, the progress has been slower. The facility of fixed-term employment (FTE) – which was first introduced in the garment sector driven by the seasonality of export orders in October 2016, and were extended to all sectors in the ‘central sphere’ including the labour-intensive agriculture, mining and ports in March 2018.
Rajasthan has amended Industrial Disputes Act to increase the threshold for lay-offs and retrenchment to 300 from 100 earlier. For the purpose of recognition of the trade union, the threshold membership of the trade union has been increased from 15% to 30%.
Maharashtra has allowed all the shops/ Establishment/Factories to submit consolidated annual returns in lieu of multiple returns under various labour laws. Tamil Nadu has permitted employment of women for night shifts, with effect from April 2017, subject to certain safeguard measures.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath earlier this week instructed officials to prepare a concrete road map for revival of industries in the state once the lockdown is lifted and had also issued directives to review and reform labour laws so as to make existing industrial units as well as new investors comfortable in doing business in the state. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said recently that the state government would facilitate new industrial licence within a week after application are filed, provided the investor agrees to complete formalities in a year.
(with inputs from M Sarita Varma in Thiruvananthapuram)