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Haryana: New Domicile Law Will Create Rift Between Locals and Migrants, Say Trade Unions

Ronak Chhabra |
The new legislation is nothing but an attempt by the Haryana government to hide its own “failures” at a time when the State has recorded the highest unemployment rate in the country, said TUs.

New Delhi: The law guaranteeing 75% reservation to local population in private sector jobs, which came into force last week in Haryana, has evoked strong opposition from not just industry bodies, but trade unions as well.

Criticising the Manohar Lal Khattar–led BJP government’s ‘local-first-policy’, trade unions said the new piece of legislation was nothing but an attempt by the state government to hide its own “failures” by seeking to now “create a rift” between the local and the migrant workforce. Notably, Haryana’s unemployment rate has been the highest in the country at nearly 36%.

Questioning the practicality of implementing such a measure, trade union leaders said if at all the government is “serious” about the welfare of the aggrieved jobless local youth, it should focus on filling up vacancies in government departments.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) coalition government in the state has brought in the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act, 2020, which makes it mandatory for employers to reserve three-fourth jobs, offering a monthly gross salary or wages up to Rs. 30,000, for local candidates.

Introduced in November 2020, and enforced on January 15, 2021, the law applies to new recruitments and will not bear any retrospective effect.

The new legislation provides for penalties on companies, societies, trusts, limited liability partnership firms and any person or employer that employs 10 or more employees in any trade, business, manufacturing units or enterprises for contravening the provisions and thus, effectively brings almost all the factory and blue-collar jobs under its legal quota fold.

The legislation, however, has a sunset clause and will cease after 10 years of its enactment.

The domicile quota, a major poll promise of the JJP, is a “political stunt” which will not “benefit anyone,” Satbir Singh, vice president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) told Newsclick in a phone interview.

According to him, it is not “practical” to get the law implemented when more than 90% of the industrial workforce in the state was from other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, among others.

“After all, the right to work anywhere in the country is one of the constitutional rights of a worker. How then can a state government bring in such reservations?,” the trade union activist, who has been active in Haryana’s industrial towns, such as Manesar, Rewari, Palwal, said.

“The new law will create a rift between local and migrant workforce in the industrial towns,” said Shyambir of Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra, a Gurgaon-based trade union. He said already in recent years, incidents of violence against migrants in industrial areas had increased.

“The new law will only give rise to more such incidents against migrants. This is meant to keep the working class divided,” he added.

According to media reports, the key arguments by the state government for introducing a domicile quota have more to do with the process of urbanisation and industrialisation, which has led to sustained land acquisition in Haryana.

Associated to be largely an agrarian state, over the years, Haryana has emerged as one of India’s leading industrial hubs, known for housing the top automobile companies. According to government estimates, Haryana is also the third-largest exporter of software and one of the preferred destinations for IT/ITeS facilities.

Believing that the shift from agriculture to industrial production has led to reduction in employment opportunities for the local youth who were earlier associated with farming, the BJP-JJP government, with the new legislation, hopes to reduce the dependence of industries in Haryana on migrant workers and encourage skill development in the local population.

With the new domicile law, the Haryana government also seeks to address the soaring unemployment rate in the State. Indeed, the issue has become a political hot potato after recent figures by the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed that the unemployment rate in the state has crossed the 30% -mark – in an estimate that was rejected by the Khattar government.

The move by the state government hasn’t gone down well with employers, too, with at least three industry associations from Gurugram, Faridabad, and Rewari now pinning their hopes on the judiciary to ensure that the new law, which is feared to undermine industrial competitiveness, is rolled back.

On its part, the state government, to ward off the concerns of employers employers, has relaxed the residency requirement from 15 to five years for a worker to get a bona fide resident certificate. It has also provided for an exemption from adhering to the quota if an adequate number of local candidates with desired skill sets or proficiency are not available for a particular job.

In a petition filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the employers, however, also contended that the domicile quota goes against the constitutional provisions and the basic principle of merit, underpinning private sector growth. The matter is scheduled to be heard on February 2.

Trade unions, on the other side, are questioning the intentions of the state government. “If the government actually cares about the local population, then it must instead start recruitment in the government departments,” said CITU’s Satbir Singh, adding that “currently, there are close to four lakh vacant positions in the health, education, transport and other government departments. Why doesn’t the government give better job opportunities to the local youth?”

A few independent unions feared negative consequences of the new legislation on the service conditions of migrant workers.

“The migrants are not going anywhere because, given the non-transparent nature of the hiring process, employers will surely find a way to circumvent the quota provisions,” Anant Vats of Automobile Industry Contract Workers Union, told NewsClick.

What will happen then, Vats added, is that the wages of migrant workers will be further pushed down. “Most of the migrants are anyway employed on contractual basis, which means, it will be easier to fire them in case such measures are met with any protests,” he added.

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