Indian Labour Law during the Covid-19 Pandemic- SAHIBNOOR SINGH SIDHU

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

In order to analyse the impact of the ILO and its Convention on the rights of the labour, it is important to understand that ILO was set-up as an agency of the League of the Nations and then the UN, to protect the labourers as they became an important stakeholder in the reconstruction of various countries post the World Wars. The globalisation wave that swept the world in the 1990s forced the ILO to come up with the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998. The declared aim was to ensure that while each country tries to ramp up production and take over the maximum market share, they don’t do so at the cost of the rights and liberties of their labour. It laid down four basic principles that should guide the nations,namely:

a. freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

b. the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;

c. the effective abolition of child labour; and

d. the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

These obligations accrue even in the absence of ratification of the ILO Conventions. The follow-up mechanism has to facets- annual review reports and global reports. In the annual review reports, the ILO gives the government which has not ratified the conventions to inform the ILO about the steps it has taken in its national laws towards achieving the goals of the Declaration as well as the employers and workers to give feedback on the government’s actions.

The Ministry of Labour, Government of India has issues various advisories. The ministry via notification No. Z-11025/1/2020-LCon 19/03/2020 notified preventive measures to be taken by employers and workers including regular hand-washing, provision of sanitizers, encouraging and facilitating work from home where possible and keep vulnerable sections away from the front line of work. The government also issued an advisory to public and private enterprises to not lay-off workers and continue to pay them even if the place of work is being shut down to ensure that the crisis doesn’t deepen. The government also set-up region wise control rooms to address complaints and distress calls of workers and employers during the pandemic.

Various state governments also made separate provisions to send back andreceive immigrant labourersfrom their state of employment to their state of residence to lessen the stress. The central government also announced low interest loans worth 3 lakh crore for MSMEs special provisions for farmers and migrant workers. At the same time, multiple state governments have taken away rights of the labourers by increasing daily working hours from 8 to 12and not making the payment of overtime a compulsion, with U.P. the only one to withdraw the same. Hence, while on surface, the government seems to be the messiah of the working population, the reality couldn’t be farther from this and the government is surely opening itself to criticism from the ILO and international organisations.

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