Rahul Gandhi, a key politician of India's main opposition party Congress, has taken a swipe at state governments that have changed labour laws in order to incentivise industry to resume industrial and construction work to boost the Covid-19 hit economy.
The former Congress party chief and a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter on Monday to say that states government opting for changes in the labour laws are violating human rights and that the “fight against Covid-19 cannot be an excuse to exploit the daily wage earners”.
अनेक राज्यों द्वारा श्रमकानूनों में संशोधन किया जा रहा है। हम कोरोना के खिलाफ मिलकर संघर्ष कर रहे हैं, लेकिन यह मानवाधिकारों को रौंदने, असुरक्षित कार्यस्थलों की अनुमति, श्रमिकों के शोषण और उनकी आवाज दबाने का बहाना नहीं हो सकता। इन मूलभूत सिद्धांतों पर कोई समझौता नहीं हो सकता।— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 11, 2020
“A number of states are amending the Labour laws. We are struggling with the Coronavirus, but this cannot be an excuse to violate the human rights of labourers, muzzle their voices, exploit and make them work in unsafe environments. There cannot be any compromise on these basic principles,” his tweet stated.
"India needs changes in labour laws, but no one wants a lawless state where employers can do anything and everything. The point of reform is not to put workers completely at the mercy of employers. This is no way to reform..." https://t.co/aEYdmZJGOj#SuitBootLootKiSarkar pic.twitter.com/WCEfetITEg— Geet V (@geetv79) May 11, 2020
Last week, a number of Indian states made amendments to their laws suspending a slew of labour norms to reinvigorate investment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"While Indian states are trying to suspend labour protection and make it easier for employers to sack workers, many other countries are trying to minimise lay-offs in this period of crisis by giving wage subsidy," writes Prof. Pranab Bardhan.— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) May 11, 2020
Read more at: https://t.co/TtlZFEVWR2
States ruled by both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gandhi's own party Congress have both made changes to labour laws.
The amendments made by the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by BJP’s ascetic chief Yogi Adityanath, have been far-reaching and have seen standards and norms suspended for three years in areas including occupational safety, industrial disputes, working conditions, and trade union legislation.
The Uttar Pradesh government said in a statement last week: “The industrial and economical activities in Uttar Pradesh have been severely affected and slowed down due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Businesses and economic activities came to a halt more or less due to the national lockdown. To bring economic activity back on track, new investment opportunities would need to be created along with fastening the businesses processes and productivity.”
Other BJP-ruled states that have suspended labour laws include Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat – the home state of Prime Minister Modi.
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have increased working hours from 8 hours and 48 hours a week to 12 hours a day and 72 hours a week.
Congress-led states, including Rajasthan, have also made changes to their labour laws increasing working hours.
In India, both states and the central government can legislate on working hours.
The Congress party has strongly attacked the Modi government, as a majority of daily wage earners have been marooned amid the national lockdown. Losing their livelihood and shelter in industrial cities, labourers have often been forced to walk miles to return to their homes.