The International Labour Organisation has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to ensure that the Centre and the states uphold India’s international commitments on labour laws. The ILO’s intervention came after ten central trade unions escalated the issue of suspension and modifying of labour laws with the international body through a letter on May 14, 2020.
Ten central trade unions, in the letter had requested ILO, “To intervene with the Indian authorities to urge them to take necessary action for the protection of workers’ rights in the light of measures taken by several state governments to undermine labour legislation and international labour standards.” In a reply to the unions on May 22, the ILO said, “Please allow me to assure you that the ILO’s Director-General has immediately intervened, expressing deep concerns at these recent events and appealing to the Prime Minister to send a clear message to Central and State Governments to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement of effective and social dialogue.” The letter also added that ILO will keep the central trade unions informed about the comments that will be made by the Indian authorities on the matters they have raised.
In an interview labour minister, Santosh Kumar Gangwar said that “Codifying 44 labour laws into four codes are a big step towards labour reforms. We hope to see two of these four codes coming back to the Parliament from the standing committee in the next session.”
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Of the four codes, the one on wages has been approved by the Parliament and has been notified by the government. The code on industrial relations, on occupational safety, health, and working conditions are with the standing committee on labour while that on social security will go to the committee, the minister said. ILO’s joint complaint letter had made some states change their labour laws. Uttar Pradesh raised shift hours to 12 from 8, but the state subsequently withdrew the order following protests from RSS- affiliated labour union Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh. These labour unions have complained that the state governments did not consult with them before announcing such drastic changes, which they said were against the interest of the workers.
Governments are ordered to consult about labour unions on the changes to labour laws as per ILO’s framework. The unions had held a nationwide protest last week on this issue after filing a formal complaint to the ILO. The trade unions again shot off a joint complaint to ILO on Monday (May 25) seeking a stronger intervention from the multilateral body to restrain the Indian government from carrying out unilateral changes to labour laws. They have also raised the issue of migrant workers and their difficulties with ILO.
Due to the nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the pandemic Covid- 19, India has seen large scale reverse migration with workers returning to their home states.