The face of exploitation
Governments are once again choosing to protect industry at the cost of workers’ rights and dignity
- As thousands of migrant workers walk across India in a desperate attempt to reunite with their families, States are competing with one another to provide greater relaxation of labour laws to appear ‘industry friendly’.
- U.P., for instance, has cleared an ordinance exempting businesses and industries from labour laws, except for a handful, for three years.
- The Centre has done the same through its many circulars and clarifications issued during the lockdown.
- When the lockdown was relaxed from April 20, the Standard Operating Procedure issued permitted asymptomatic workers to return to their worksites where they were to reside, but not to their home State.
- This denial, trade unions alleged, was because industry heads were worried that there would be labour shortage when industries reopened; that if migrant workers returned home, they may not come back to work immediately.
- However, the same industrial heads did nothing to ensure that these workers were given adequate food, shelter and their dues during the lockdown.
- It permitted only “stranded workers” to leave, with the Centre clarifying that workers “otherwise residing normally at places, other than their native places for purposes of work” are not “stranded”.
- The Central government could have ensured that travel was free.
- Effectively, the Centre once again sought to protect industry at the cost of the workers’ rights, while appearing as though it was doing its best for the workers.
- The dispute about payment of fare also provided a ready excuse to the States to prevent workers from crossing borders.
- Through their various actions, the States and the Centre are consistently and systemically violating the fundamental rights of migrant workers.
- Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits “forced labour”.
- Thus, the various Home Ministry directives and State ordinances would be violative not only of India’s own Constitution but also its international commitments.
- Industry leaders, ministers and bureaucrats have denied workers the dignity and respect they deserve as fellow humans.
- Workers are being treated as a resource to be exploited by industry and state, the workers have no autonomy.
- This autonomy over self is at the core of dignity, a fundamental right.
- Until we develop a plan that respects this invisible 13-crore force, there can be no real revival of India’s economy or society.