Hyderabad: Trade unions are set to launch an united mass agitation, beginning with workers protesting in front of all industrial establishments on July 29, in opposition to the Karnataka government’s recent amendments to the labour laws. Unions argue that the changes will take over social and legal protections, provided by the labour laws, of over 70% workers in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led state government recently unveiled its new Industrial Policy 2020-25, clearing the Industrial Disputes and Certain Other Laws (Karnataka Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.
According to the changes brought in through the ordinance, Section 25K of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, has been amended, increasing the threshold from 100 to 300 workers. Section 1 of Contract Labour (Regularisation and Abolition) Act, 1970 was amended, increasing the threshold from existing 20 to 50 workers, Section 2(m) of the Factories Act, 1948 was also amended, increasing the threshold from 10 workers (with power) and 20 workers (without aid of power) to 20 and 40 respectively and Section 65 (3)(iv) of the Factories Act, 1948 has also been amended, increasing the total number of hours of overtime in any quarter from 75 hours to 125 hours.
Unions have opposed the changes, claiming that they will take away the social and legal protections provided by the labour laws, which will no longer be applicable for the majority of the workers (over 70% they said) and factories.
These changes will allow factories to hire and fire workers indiscriminately, said Meenakshi Sundaram, General Secretary of the state unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). “We have given a call to burn the copies of the ordinance in front of all factories on July 29. Following this, there will be a statewide ‘Save India’ protest on August 10 to mark our dissent against the BJP-ruled state and central governments. Subsequently, trade unions will campaign jointly to intensify the trade movement to restore workers’ rights,” said Sundaram.
He added that the trade union will challenge the ordinance in the Karnataka High Court.
On the other side, in a press statement, the Minister for Large and Medium Scale Industries and Public Enterprises, Jagadish Shettar, said that the pro-industry changes in the labour laws were necessitated due to the pandemic and to improve ‘ease of doing business.’ However, a state cabinet note on the ordinance, seen by NewsClick, mentions that the proposals made in the ordinance are in line with directions issued by the Union Ministry of Labour in May, and the Business Reforms Action Plan 2017 recommendations by the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade.
Ten trade unions in the state, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress, CITU, Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the All India Trade Union Congress, under an umbrella union – Joint Committee of Trade Unions (JCTU), have submitted a memorandum to the principal secretary of the department of Labour, terming the government’s ordinance as regressive and anti- workers on July 24.
According to the JCTU, such wholesale changes to the labour laws are designed to keep workers outside the purview of the Act, implying that workers in smaller establishments and factories are not deserving of the protection of the law. “How can the government ensure employment growth by allowing the lay-offs, retrenchment and closure of industries without permission?” asked JCTU statement. The trade unions urged the state government to reconsider its stand and revoke measures that will lead to mass unemployment in the organised sector.
JCTU said that if, despite its opposition, the state government “continues to pursue an anti-worker policy by deferring the payment of minimum wages and the dearness allowance in any manner,” it will take up “mass agitations, including direct action, in order to secure the hard won rights of the working class.”