Topic: General Studies 2:
- Fundamental Rights and Human Rights
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- Governance issues
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar insights on Labour Rights
Some state governments have recently decided to relax the application of labour laws in order to restart economic activity stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, such a move, even if it delivers results in the short-term, is myopic and grossly unconstitutional in nature.
Note: Below editorial covers the following important dimensions –
- How Labour Laws emerged in India?
- Concerns with current labour laws in India
- Dr. B. R. Ambedkar insights on Labour Rights
Labour laws in India
- Labour laws arose out of a long period of struggle.
- Pre-Independence labour movements, 1931 Karachi Declaration and Bill of Rights – expressly placed labour rights on a par with ordinary civil rights such as the freedom of speech and expression.
- Preamble of 1931 Karachi Declaration and Bill of Rights declared that “political freedom must include… real economic freedom of the… millions”.
- Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a long-time advocate for the rights of labour. He was instrumental in the passage of an eight-hour working day law.
- Role of Supreme Court – In a landmark judgment, PUDR vs. Union of India , the Supreme Court had held that the right against forced labour included the right to a minimum wage.
All the above principles and laws eventually found their way into the Indian Constitution in the form of “Directive Principles of State Policy” and “fundamental rights.” (Example, Article 23 – guarantees right against forced labour.)
India’s labour law structure has been criticised on multiple counts.
- It is argued that there is a structural inequality that enables the capitalists to “make the rules” for the labour. (which amounts to a form of “private government”)
- Of late, with the rise of the platform or gig economy, this inequality of power has only grown starker.
- It is argued that it sets up a labour bureaucracy that is prone to corruption.
- Adjudicatory mechanisms are inefficient.
- Majority of the workforce, engaged in contract labour or informal employment, has very few rights.
- Labour laws doesn’t represent the interests of the employees.
- Many prominent labour unions prefer to arrive at an accommodation with the management, rather than represent the interests of their constituents.
All these problems calls for a debate on the future of labour rights, especially in a world where the nature of work is changing rapidly.
This debate can be guided by B.R. Ambedkar’s insights that remain relevant even today, the Constitutional guarantee against forced labour.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar ideas on Labour Rights
- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed that the purpose of Constitutions has been to limit state power, in order to preserve the freedom of the individual.
- Ambedkar argued that fundamental rights must “eliminate the possibility of the more powerful having the power to impose arbitrary restraints on the less powerful by withdrawing from the control he has over the economic life of the people”.
- The purpose of labour laws should be to mitigate the imbalance of power between capitalists and labour. It should aim to secure the “rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, in both the public and the private spheres.
However, the recent decisions by several state governments are grossly unconstitutional as the economic power exercised by capital will be left unchecked.
An increase in working hours and a removal of minimum wages are two proposals strongly under discussion.
This would be nothing other than the freedom to “increase hours of work and reduce rates of wages”.
According to Ambedkar’s words, the Constitution provides for equal freedom and that must be the yardstick from which the proposed legal changes in the shadow of COVID-19 should be measured.
Connecting the dots:
- Bring out the significance of labour reforms for sustained economic growt and employment generation.
- Was labour the obstacle to the growth of the Indian economy all this while?
- What are the labour laws in the country, and how can such changes impact firms, their workers, and the economy?