On Friday, May 22, the Karnataka government issued a notification allowing all factories to extend working hours up to 10 hours per day and 60 hours per week for the next three months. The move comes at a time when several states are on a spree of notifying labour reforms in favour of industries amid disruptions due to the lockdown imposed for the containment of COVID-19 pandemic. Opposing the changes, the trade unions are arguing that the notification is illegal and would delay the recovery of the economy.
Extending the work hours from existing eight hours per day and 48 hours per week, the state’s Labour Department notified, “In exercise of powers conferred under Section 5 of Factories Act, 1948 (Act No.63 of 1948), the Government of Karnataka is pleased to order that all the factories registered under Factories Act, 1948 shall be exempted from the provisions of Section 51 (weekly hours) and Section 54 (daily hours), and with effect from 22-05-2020 to 21-8-2020.” The notification was issued under Section 5 of the Factories Act that enables the government to make changes in “emergency” situations for a maximum of three months.
The BJP government’s move is to satisfy the employers and the central government, said Meenakshi Sundaram, General Secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Karnataka unit. “The changes are being imposed without any consulting workers’ union. This seems to be like a testing strategy of the state government for further dilution of labour laws. The notification is illegal and in violation of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and will delay the recovery of the economy post- lockdown,” Sundaram told NewsClick.
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Meanwhile, C R Janardhan, president of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI) welcomed the government decision saying that the increase in working hours would improve productivity and revenue for all the stakeholders.
The notification comes after the same has been requested by employers’ groups, said K N Umesh, secretary, Bangalore South District Committee of Communist Party of India (Marxist). “The decision on increasing working hours reveals the inherent class character of the BJP government which is going all out to help the corporate and monopoly houses to rob the working class of Karnataka state of their labour,” Umesh told NewsClick.
Prior to the Karnataka government, three other BJP-ruled states -- Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and two Congress-ruled states -- Punjab and Rajasthan had increased the daily working hours in all factories to 12 hours. Even though the UP government did revoke the order extending the working hours later, it, along with the Gujarat government, have recently issued ordinances exempting crucial labour laws barring a few provisions on minimum wages and safety conditions. The ordinances have been cleared by the respective state’s governors and have been sent for the approval of the President. Similarly, the Madhya Pradesh government earlier this month has announced labour reforms such as allowing factories to hire and fire workers among others.