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The Dismantling of Workers’ Protections

Context

  • The purpose of International Labour Day (also referred to as May Day), which is observed on May 1 each year, is to remember the sacrifices and struggles made by the labour movement.
    • The International Congress of socialist parties convened in Paris in 1889 and decided to observe Labour Day, also known as Worker’s Day, on May 1.
  • Recently, the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also extended the number of working hours per day.
    • The Tamil Nadu government suspended the work hours amendment to the Factories Act in response to opposition.

Relevance:

GS Paper-3: Effects of Liberalization on the Economy, Ease of Doing Business, Labour Reforms

Mains Question

The governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu recently extended the number of hours employees can work each day. Examine the effects of longer working hours on labour productivity and rights in light of these changes. (150 Words)


Key Points:

  • The International Labour Organisation adopted the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention in 1919, which set a 48-hour workweek and a limit of eight hours per day for working hours.
  • The Convention was ratified by British India on July 14, 1921.
    • In the ensuing decades, the working class launched several agitations in numerous nations to win the right to an eight-hour workday.

Regulating working hours:

  • The theory of economic development postulated that as a result of technological advancements and innovations, and with economic prosperity, people will have more leisure time to participate in sociocultural activities, and that social welfare will improve.
  • However, there is still a persistent urge to modify, or rather raise, the number of working hours.
    • Several States amended the Factories Act, 1948 using the ordinance route when COVID-19 hit India.
  • The governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka extended the number of hours employees can work each day.

Justification for the Increase in Working Hours

  • The increase in working hours is being justified by the fact that employers, particularly in the garment and electronic industries, have pushed for a flexible work schedule so they can manage export orders.
    • Even if an initiative compromises on labour and human rights, mainstream economists in India support it as long as it boosts exports.
      • They advise taking cues from nations like Bangladesh (for apparel) and Vietnam (for electronics).
      • Bangladesh was listed as one of the ten worst nations where labour rights are not guaranteed in 2022, according to the Global Right Index published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
      • The ITUC gave Vietnam a rating of 4, which denotes a pattern of systematic labour rights violations, on a scale of 1 (best) to 5+ (worst) for respect for workers’ rights.
      • As a result, the comparator nations that neoliberals use are infamous for their subpar record of labour rights.
    • Regional governments provide numerous subsidies and exemptions under the guise of “ease of doing business” in order to draw in foreign and domestic investment.
      • In addition to quantitative subsidies, these multinational corporations advocate for qualitative subsidies.
      • In a peaceful industrial environment with access to cheap and skilled labour, employers prefer weak or no unions.
      • While India pays the price for training the workforce, multinational corporations profit.
      • This slow path to development taken by the majority of capitalistic businesses results in a race to the bottom.
    • Despite the fact that these businesses tend to offer highly skilled positions, which contribute to an increase in the number of unemployed people, they do not significantly lower unemployment rates.
    • Increasing the number of hours worked per day while maintaining the eight-hour rule is a common request.
  • For instance, Karnataka has raised the daily work limit to 12 hours while still adhering to the weekly limit of 48 hours.
    • The system is also changing from a three-shift system to a two-shift system.

Economic Justification:

  • The employee spends about nine hours per day in the factory.
    • The businesses believe that maximising the time that employees spend in the factory will increase production.
    • They would be able to reduce their travel expenses and transaction costs.
  • Since some workers must travel two hours to get to work, it is likely that they will be away from home for at least 14 hours.
    • It can be challenging, even for younger workers, to work 12 hours and travel 2 hours each day for four consecutive days.
  • Marginal productivity will eventually decline, possibly to the detriment of employers.
    • Workers who are older become less productive, extremely tired, and more likely to be involved in workplace accidents.

Way Ahead:

  • In the name of business convenience, we are turning the clock back to the 19th century by increasing working hours and ensuring job insecurity.
  • States can change labour laws with little opposition because of the lack of political cohesion and trade union cooperation.
  • Human resources professionals are employed by businesses who advocate for a work-life balance but remain silent when employees are treated poorly.
  • The rule of law should be applied to business in accordance with the principles of justice and equity that form the cornerstones of our Constitution.
  • That will guarantee a vishwas-filled environment and call upon the animal spirits required for explosive growth.
  • Governments, capital, and labour are the three main stakeholders, and each of their interests must converge.
    • Each of these parties involved has personal interests that might not necessarily line up with the objectives of economic performance.
  • In order to achieve the objectives of industrial policy and labour right protection, governments at various levels must assume responsibility for coordinating and disciplining the stakeholders.
  • The Union government is not overly concerned about the delay in the new labour codes’ implementation.
  • This May Day, trade unions have many reasons to be concerned.

Conclusion

As a reminder of the significant role the working class has played in our society, Labour Day is observed all over the world to promote awareness of workers’ rights and protect them from exploitation.


March 2024
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