The Statesman – Restructure labour laws; don’t junk them

The government must strive for a golden mean in recasting India’s labour laws, argues Sukanya Singha.

Sukanya Singha

New Delhi – India, 26 May 2020. The Covid-19 crisis has brought one of the major extraordinary changes in the labour regime that India has ever witnessed.

This has not only brought massive migration of labourers but also India has recorded high levels of unemployment due to the closing down of markets.

The migrant labourers are forced to leave for their hometown, walking sometimes barefoot for thousands of kilometres. Amidst all this, incidents like the Aurangabad train disaster have uncovered the vulnerability and helplessness of migrant labourers.

It does not only raise questions on India’s economic model but also on the human rights issue.

In such a situation, the Uttar Pradesh Government has legislated the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020 which was passed a few days ago, exempting businesses from all labour laws except three i.e. the Bonded Labour Act, 1976, Employee Compensation Act, 1923, and Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, 1996 for the next three years.

Almost similar announcements for 1,000 days are also being made by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

These new developments in Labour Law have come about in a very bizarre way; thus on the one hand we are witnessing inhuman labour plight and on the other we are trying to liberalise the laws so as to protect industries which will promote the hire and fire policy in the guise of creation of more jobs.

India has one of the largest labour forces. According to an analysis by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 92 per cent of India’s labour force belongs to the informal sector.

The report further shows that 49.6 per cent still do not have any social security benefit, 71.1 per cent had no written job contract and 54.2 per cent were not eligible for paid leave.

Most urban employees in India according to the NSSO work on an average for more than 60 hours a week which is higher than the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s prescribed time-limit and one of the highest in the world.

This is the present scenario of a nation which strives in its Preamble for creating a socialist pattern of society of which labour welfare is one of the important pillars.

India proudly claims to have enacted many legislations for the benefit of the working class. Labour regulations are a part of Entry 55 of the Concurrent List under Schedule VII of the Constitution of India.

As of today we have around 44 Central Laws and approximately 200 State laws and all have been enacted to safeguard the interest of workers. Liberal economists have time and again argued that labour laws we have in India are archaic and if they are removed or weakened it would result in many benefits.

It is said that these laws emphasize more on the protection of jobs and less on labourers and employers. The latter have very less flexibility in situations of lay-offs, retrenchment and so on.

In a way labour laws have looked better in the statutes than in the real industrial scenario. So, they believe that one of the major benefits such new labour reforms can bring is that industries will be able to work in an independent manner.

There will be a positive impact on economic activities like setting up of more industries, attracting new investors, which in turn will bring a change in the income of the labour and this will in turn be beneficial for both the employers and the workers.

The Economic Survey 2019 stated that deregulating labour law restrictions can create significantly more jobs. A comparison between indicators for labour, capital and productivity of manufacturing firms reveals that flexibility in labour laws creates a more conducive environment for growth of industry and employment generation.

What is happening in today’s scenario is that, despite having so many laws as mentioned earlier employers evade these in some way or the other.

In an industry, under Section 26(5) of The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950, a muster-roll shall be maintained by every employer and this is directly related to the social security schemes. But to comply with such provisions was difficult for industries.

Again, under Section 25F of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 in case of a factory employing more than 100 workers, prior permission of the appropriate Government must be obtained for retrenchment although few states have now allowed factories with 300 workers to retrench staff without official sanction.

So, what happens eventually is that the industries do not try to expand as taking approvals at multiple levels involves a real cumbersome process which employers try to avoid. Now this becomes the sole reason why many industries refrain from hiring permanent employees; rather they find contract workers to be more profitable.

The Contract Labour Act, 1970 under Section 1(4) applies to every establishment or contractor wherein/with whom 20 or more workmen are employed and this is deviated easily more now by the contractors by appointing specialised contract workers who are less than 20 at a given point of time to work for industries.

This means that the labour law is so stringent without any freedom for employers. This makes it difficult for employers to abide by laws and thus workers end up becoming a part of the informal sector doubling the issues for the economy.

Undoubtedly the present labour law regime must be reformed to ensure industrial growth but at the same time we cannot abandon labourers on the altar of the free market. Certainly, our labour laws are archaic and much behind the needs of the society and the economy.

There is no doubt that liberal economists have rightly pinpointed the issue but doing away with labour laws would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Covid crisis has bust the ‘market myth’ and re-emphasised the need for a strong state which can regulate if not control all its business areas. Moreover it has also made us realise that the business of the government is to remain in business.

It is understandable that the economy at this point of time is facing a huge setback and revival is an urgent need. However, it must be noted that the state cannot shrug off its responsibility towards labourers which are promised as part of Article 43 of the Constitution of India where it affirms to protect their rights and liberty.

Hence a golden mean should be arrived at so that on one hand development of the economy is ensured by giving ample working space to the employers and on the other hand, workers are not just protected but helped at this time of crisis.

The government should strive for re-strengthening and reenergizing the poorly enforced laws such as the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008. Also restructuring and simplifying Indian labour laws based on the recommendations of the Second National Labour Commission and the rules set by almost 47 ILO Conventions to which India is a signatory will help raise labour standards to face any crisis in the future.

At this juncture it is unimaginable to think about a labour regime which will have no welfare facilities, no Trade Unions, little or no scope for collective bargaining and no sanitation facilities.

This list of basic deprivations will be endless with such sweeping exemptions!

The writer is Assistant Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.[centre/italics]

Restructure labour laws; don’t junk them – Muslims should know Sikhs have always stood against the oppression of Kashmiris

Sikh24 Editors

New York – New York State – USA, 26 May 2020. On 25 May, a Muslim man of Pakistani origin attacked Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev in Britain’s Derby. This attack occurred exactly on the day when the entire Muslim community was celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr and the worldwide Sikhs were greeting our Muslim brothers on this auspicious day.

Interestingly, this attack also occurred exactly a day before the 414th martyrdom anniversary of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji.

After smashing the property of Gurdwara premises worth thousands of pounds, the attacker left a handwritten note behind, in which he clearly revealed his disturbed mindset due to the ongoing oppression of Kashmiris by India.

It clearly shows that a religious place of Sikhs got attacked because the attacker mistook Sikhs as supporters of the Indian government which is continuously oppressing Kashmiris.

This attack occurred because the Sikhs lack their distinct identity as nationhood and for being a stateless community. The Sikhs got targeted for the excesses being committed by the Indian government on Kashmiris.

Initially, the Indian media didn’t pay heed towards this attack, but as soon as it came to the fore that the attacker was a Muslim man of Pakistani origin, the Indian media outlets started airing this news considering it a golden opportunity to infuse hate in Sikhs against Muslims.

Sikhs have always stood against the oppression of Kashmiris.

In August last year, SGPC appointed Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh had openly opposed the abrogation of Article 370 by the BJP led Indian government in Jammu & Kashmir.

In Canada, the National Democratic Party’s head Jagmeet Singh had strongly condemned the oppression of Kashmiri people by India.

Similarly, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and Dal Khalsa had also condemned the abrogation of Article 370 by terming it a murder of democracy.

Muslims should know Sikhs have always stood against the oppression of Kashmiris

Gentbrugge-Melle-Gentbrugge & Gentbrugge – Dampoort

28 March 2020

Still in Melle !

Oude Brusselseweg

Stad Gent

No more Oude Brusselseweg
That name will reappear north of the Land van Rodelaan

Trying to follow the route of the Brusselseweg
Arthur Van Laethemstraat

Gentbrugge – Dampoort
31 March 2020

Victoria Regiapark
Off Oude Brusselseweg

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

India Today – Corona-virus: Sikh volunteers at Delhi’s Bangla Sahib Gurdwara feed masses during lock-down

New Delhi – India, 25 May 2020. At first, the kitchen at the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara cooked 40,000 meals each day for the hungry who live on the streets of India’s capital city, or who have lost their livelihoods to the corona-virus lockdown.

But the need was greater than that. So workers at the golden-domed gurdwara in central New Delhi made 80,000 meals daily. Then 100,000. Soon, they expect to be making 300,000, all provided free to the growing ranks of the unfortunate.

For centuries the faithful have flocked to the Gurdwara for its healing waters and a free meal at the community kitchen [langar], the symbol of equality found at every Sikh Gurdwara complex and open to all visitors.

The Bangla Sahib Gurdwara has remained open through wars and plagues, serving millions of people simple vegetarian food on the cool marble floor of its enormous dining hall. But during India’s ongoing lock-down, among the world’s most stringent, religious congregations are banned.

Bangla Sahib kept its kitchen open, with the help of about four dozen men who sleep at the Gurdwara’s guesthouse. To save time commuting to and from the Gurdwara and avoid the risk of infecting loved ones, they haven’t seen their families since the lock-down began 25 March.

In colorful turbans and cloth bandanas tied over their noses and mouths, they work in the industrial kitchen in 18-hours shifts.

Head cook Balbir Singh stirs an enormous ladle through a potato and soybean stew, simmering with ghee and coriander in a giant cook pot. A machine that every hour makes 5,000 chapati, thin, unleavened bread, whirs long before the sun rises and after it sets.

Singh, 44, lights the flames at 3 am so that 35,000 lunches are ready for pickup by 9 am.

“If we serve at this time, God will give us more. It’s a give and take system,” Singh said.

Bangla Sahib is the largest of New Delhi’s 10 gurdwaras, whose kitchens together form a vital part of the city’s strategy to feed the poor during the pandemic.

The city government approached the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee just after India’s nationwide lockdown began in late March, according to the committee president, Manjinder Singh Sirsa.

Bangla Sahib, which usually prepares around half a million meals per week using donated ingredients and equipment, is quickly ramping up to produce six times that many, Singh Sirsa said.

The government sends trucks to pick up the meals each day and distribute them to a network of shelters and drop-off points, but pays nothing for the food.

Singh Sirsa struggles to protect his workers and collect donations to keep the enterprise going. “This is the biggest challenge for me in my entire life,” he said.

Anticipating many months of hardship ahead, he appears nightly on the Bangla Sahib’s own TV channel to appeal for more donations.

A man from Montreal recently pledged $10,000, another from London offered $100,000, he said. The dining hall heaves with sacks of rice, flour and lentils and cans of oil, six months of supplies, said Jagpreet Singh, a 27-year-old Gurdwara clerk.

“We believe in God. He’s giving us this power, so we provide,” he said.

The Hindu – No immediate Supreme Court relief for anti-CAA activist Sharjeel Imam

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 26 May 2020. Bench seeks replies from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh; hearing adjourned for two weeks

Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) activist Sharjeel Imam on Tuesday failed to get any immediate relief from the Supreme Court despite arguing that several First Information Reports (FIRs) registered against him in different States were politically coloured and a ruse to silence his right to dissent.

Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, senior advocate Siddharth Dave, for Mr Imam, urged the court to club the cases against his client and transfer them to Delhi.

Mr Dave referred to how the top court had intervened with alacrity in the case of Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami. Mr Goswami too had faced multiple FIRs for making communal comments on his show. The Supreme Court had, in a recent judgment, quashed all the FIRs except the one that was transferred from Nagpur to Mumbai.

Mr Dave sought parity for Mr Imam, who is lodged in a Guwahati jail. However, the Bench said the petition filed by Mr Imam seemed to be “politically motivated”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that several States such as Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh needed to be heard first before any decision was taken on the plea for clubbing the FIRs.

He said the FIRs registered in Mr Goswami’s case were carbon copies of each other. They were identical. In Mr Imam’s case, the FIRs were varied and the facts and circumstances differed in each of them. Drawing parity in the cases of both men would be a stretch.

The Bench finally adjourned the hearing for two weeks. It sought replies from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh on Mr Imam’s appeal.

Earlier in May, the Supreme Court had asked the Delhi government to respond to Mr Imam’s plea to club the five sedition cases registered against him in different States and to have them investigated by a single agency.

At that time, the court even orally remarked that there was nothing wrong in the registration of a FIR if police had information about a cognisable offence.

Mr Imam was arrested by the Delhi Police’s crime branch on January 28 from Jehanabad in Bihar for allegedly making inflammatory speeches in Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh.

He has been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Purported videos of his alleged inflammatory speeches made during protests against the CAA were circulated on social media.