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Karnataka: CITU Urges Governor to Reject Amendment to Factories Act

The new amendment extends working hours from nine to twelve and removes restrictions on women working late-night shifts.
Factory Workers

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Flickr

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) general secretary, Tapan Kumar Sen, has written to the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala and urged him not to give his assent to the amendment to the Factories act passed by the Karnataka Assembly.

If passed, the new amendments would render changes to six sections of the Factories Act 1948. The new provisions would drastically change life inside and outside the factories.

The maximum working hours have been revised to 12 hours/day, up to 48 hours/week. Workers can be made to work for up to 6 hours without a break.

The original law prohibited engaging women in factories between 7 pm and 6 am, but the new amendments allow women to work during these late hours.

Sen's letter provides various reasons why the bill should not be passed. It argues that the present trend of shifting factories to the city's outskirts has led to a travel time of 1-2 hours/day for workers. This, coupled with 12 hours of work, would result in workers being outside their homes for up to 16 hours/day. Further, the letter argues that compelling women to work the night shift may discourage women from working in factories.

Regarding the hours of work, the letter states, "The well-settled economic thought of extraction of profit is directly linked with the hours of work. The huge profit in absolute terms is generated by the extension of working hours/day of work. Even though the concept of profit/surplus sharing is enunciated to some extent in the concept of bonus through the Payment of Bonus Act 1973, it too has put the limitation on the payment of bonuses at the rate of minimum bonus at 8.33% and maximum at 20%. Further, in most cases, it is 8.33% or the notified statutory minimum wages of the scheduled employment, whichever is higher. Hence this extension of working hours/day and the spread over of the working day, with more restrictions being imposed on the entitlement of a worker for overtime wages at double the rate of wages, is only an attempt to enable the employer to legally usurp more profit generated by the increase in working hours of a working day."

Prathibha R, a former garment worker turned trade union leader, says that factory owners in the garment sector would not be able to implement late-night shifts for women.

Speaking to Newsclick, she said, "Women who work in the garment sector do not have the same socialisation as the women in the IT sector. They would not agree to night shift work. Moreover, the law requires factory owners to arrange transportation facilities for women (on the late night shift). They do not like to invest even an extra rupee on workers, so they would never provide these facilities."

Prathibha, 52, is also pursuing a PhD from Akkamahadevi Women's University, Vijayapura, where she is researching the garment sector in Karnataka.

Regarding increasing the working hours on the factory floor, she said, "Young workers are giving their sweat and toil and building the country and the economy. They have been handed over entirely to factory owners now. In the garment sector, the timings can be irregular. It is not always fixed. The provision of 12-hour work days will end workers' overtime (OT) payment. They will work longer but won't earn in proportion to that. For female workers (in the garment sector), life will become much harder because they cannot plan their work and family life."

The Karnataka State government (led by BJP) had previously tried to increase the working hours to 10 hours/day and 60 hours/week during the pandemic. It was opposed by unions and workers.

Sen's letter cites some figures to argue that the move is anti-worker.

It states, "As per the Annual Survey of Industries (factories division) 2019-20, the share of wages in the Net Value Addition (NVA) in Karnataka is 15.04%, while the national average is 18.87% and the share of profits of employers in NVA is 46.11%, while the national average is 38.71%. These amendments will further reduce the share of wages and increase the share of profits. It leads to the redistributive process of value addition tilted towards the employer class as such. This trend of decreasing share of wages will only shrink the purchasing power of the workers and contribute to slow down and resultant recession in the economy of the state."

Meenakshi Sundaram, General Secretary, CITU Karnataka, says that all trade unions have agreed to go on a protest on March 23.

"The new amendments will give more flexibility to owners. They can run the factory for 24 hours (in two shifts) for four days and shut it down for three days. They will save on overtime payments and reduce costs while extracting more work from the labour force. These amendments will hurt workers, and that is why we will protest. All trade unions will participate. Even BMS leaders have signalled their interest in joining the protest."

While the bill has passed both houses of the Karnataka Assembly, it is awaiting the governor's assent.

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