International Labour Organisation writes to PM Modi, says India should uphold labour laws

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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.

This comes after 10 central trade unions lodged a joint complaint with the international body over some BJP-ruled states allowing complete exemption from labour laws for new establishments to attract investments and most states increasing the work hours from 8 hr to 12 hrs in single shifts.

“Please allow me to assure you that the ILO Director-General (Guy Ryder) has immediately intervened, expressing his deep concern at these recent events and appealing to the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to send a clear message to Central and State governments to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue,” Karen Curtis, ILO’s Chief of Freedom of Association Branch under the International Labour Standards Department, said in a letter to trade unions on May 22.

The letter added that the ILO will keep the central trade unions informed about “any observations or comments that may be made by the Indian authorities on the matters that you have raised.”

Ten central trade unions, in a letter on May 14, had requested ILP to intervene with the Indian authorities to urge them to take necessary action for the protection of workers’ rights in light of measures taken by a number of state governments to undermine labour legislations and international labour standards.

The unions had said that the governments had not consulted the unions before proposing or making labour law changes, as is required under the ILO’s conventions.

The 10 CTUs included the Congress-backed INTUC, Left’s CITU and AITUC and others like HMS, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC. Following their complaint with the ILO, they had held a nationwide protest a week later against anti-worker policies of the state governments.

BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have passed executive orders exempting new establishments from most labour rules. While all of them had allowed businesses to extend shift hours to 12 from eight as part of the reforms, UP and Rajasthan recently rescinded the decision after strong protests by RSS-affiliated labour union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and other unions.

India is one of the founding members of the ILO, which came into existence in 1919. The Indian Parliament has ratified 47 conventions of the ILO, some of which relate to working hours, labour inspections, equal remuneration, and compensation in case of injuries, among others.

At least 10 states in India have increased the working hours in India from 8 to 12 hours. These are Maharasthra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, MP, Uttarakhand, Assam, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.

Niti Aayog’s vice chairman Rajiv Kumar has recently said that reforms do not mean complete abolition of labour laws. “I have just noticed that the Union Ministry of Labour is firming up its stance to tell the states that they cannot abolish labour laws because India is a signatory to the ILO,” Kumar had said in an interview to a news agency.

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