India: Unions & workers stage nationwide peaceful protests against states' suspension of labour laws & impacts on migrant workers during COVID-19 pandemic

Ten central trade unions called for nationwide strikes on 22 May to protest against the suspension of labour laws by some states during the COVID-19 lockdown period, taking the matter also to the ILO. Moves from unions came soon after eight states announced they would increase the daily working hours through an executive order. 

Protesters' demands include: immediate relief to stranded workers for safe reaching to their homes, food to be made available to all, universal coverage of ration distribution, cash transfer to all unorganised labour forces (registered, unregistered or self employed) and protectiongs for migrant workers.

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25 May 2020

India: Peaceful nationwide protests against suspension of labour laws calls for national govt to recognise rights

Author: BWI International

"Indian unions launch nationwide protests against labour laws suspension", 26 May 2020

Responding to the call of the Central Trade Unions (CTU), BWI Indian affiliates on 22 May joined a nationwide peaceful protest against the suspension of labour laws in India's major states and the deplorable plight of migrant workers. 

It was reported that several states, responding to the COVID-19 economic slowdown, have passed laws extending working hours from the currently mandated 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day, and suspending labour laws which protect fundamental principles and rights at work, including protection from the violation of principles of freedom of association and forced and compulsory labour. 

In the Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi states, the INBCWF, NOBSM, OFMFPWU, OKKS, CLU, MPTSMC, DANMU and DSEWU held demonstrations to protest the government’s anti-labour measures. Many workers expressed their solidarity to the nationwide protests by wearing black badges and organising lunch-hour meetings.  

...Rama Chandra Khuntia, Vice-President of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Chair of the BWI Indian Affiliates Council, congratulated all the trade unions that participated in the protests. 

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24 May 2020

India: In response to trade unions' complaint, ILO expresses 'deep concern' over labour law amendments

Author: Prashant K. Nanda, LiveMint

"ILO expresses 'deep concern' over labour law changes, appeals to PM Narendra Modi", 25 May 2020

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has expressed “deep concern" over the labour law amendments and exemptions initiated by several Indian states, and has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and give a clear message to states on international commitments.

On 14 May, 10 central trade unions wrote to the Geneva-based ILO highlighting the plight of workers and the violation of ILO convention No 144. They sought its intervention. India is a signatory of ILO convention 144, which calls for tripartite consultations among government, employers and workers.

“Please allow me to assure you that the ILO director general has immediately intervened, expressing his deep concern at these recent events and appealing to the prime minister to send a clear message to central and state governments to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue," said the ILO letter addressed to the trade unions. Mint has seen a copy of the letter...

This is the initial stage of ILO’s response, but if the matter escalates further, it may hamper Indian trade in the global market because of violation of the rights of workers. Trade unions said they will escalate the matter and are readying to send another letter to ILO on the issue.

...Indian industries, however, have maintained that the amendments to the laws are required to facilitate the ease of doing business and will promote more investments.

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20 May 2020

India: Founder of Wipro calls state govts’ labour law suspensions "shocking", exacerbating conditions of low wage & migrant workers

Author: Prerna Sindwani, Business Insider (India)

“Billionaires Azim Premji and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw argue against the labour reforms in Indian states - they are not alone”, 19 May 2020

…Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have suspended several labour laws including minimum wages [and]…at least 10 states…[increased] the daily working hours from 8 to 12 hours. [S]tate governments said that diluting these laws will attract more foreign [and local] direct investments…post-COVID-19.

“It [is] shocking…, many of the labour laws…protect workers. It will only exacerbate the conditions of low wage workers and the way we do business. Migrant workers we find fending for themselves and their families [with] almost no social security…and little…worker protection”, Azim Premji…, founder of Wipro.

Gurcharan Das, renowned author and former CEO of Procter and Gamble India, and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Executive Chairsperson of Biocon, said the country needs a model that protects workers - that can help the workers with some protection when they lose their job - before doing away with labour laws. [Furthermore], this might push more women out of the workforce…“women are employed in textiles…, food processing, services, hospitality [etc]. Cuts or reduction in their work…[may] only [leave] physically-intensive tasks such as cleaning [remaining]”.

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14 May 2020

India: Joint platform of Central Trade Unions release statement to challenge govt on suspension of labour laws; plan nationwide protest on 22 May

Author: The Hindu

"Trade unions to go on strike on May 22 to protest against labour laws suspension", 15 May 2020

Ten central trade unions...gave a call for a nationwide strike on May 22 to protest against the suspension of labour laws by some states during the lockdown period, and also decided to take the matter to International Labour Organization (ILO).

The laws that have been suspended include Trade Union Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Act on Occupational Safety and Health, Contract Labour Act, Interstate Migrant Labour Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Maternity Benefit Act etc, it said.

The move came after 8 states-- Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab -- increased the daily working hours to 12 from 8 earlier through executive order in violation of the Factories Act, taking advantage of the lockdown situation, they said.

Their demands include, immediate relief to stranded workers for safe reaching to their homes, food to be made available to all, universal coverage of ration distribution, cash transfer to all unorganized labour force (registered or unregistered or self employed), among others.

The ten central trade unions that issued the joint statement are INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC.

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