From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Emergency provision dealing with internal disturbance/ Provisions related to ordinances
Mains level : Paper 2- Changes made in labour laws without consultation.
The article examines the changes made in the labour laws by several states. The legal route to make these changes are different. While some states used the Emergency provision, others used the Ordinance route. One major issue with these changes is that these were brought in without consultation.
What legal route was used by the States?
- Changes were made by the several state government in the labour laws dealing with the maximum working hours and other provisions.
- These changes have been made through notifications issued by the State governments and will be applicable for the next three months.
- M.P. has also suspended most provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1946 (except those related to retrenchment and layoffs) for 1,000 days for State undertakings.
- In addition, M.P. issued an ordinance to amend two laws.
- The M.P. Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act will apply to establishments with more than 100 workmen (up from the existing threshold of 50), in line with the Central Act.
- The ordinance also enables the government to exempt establishments from the provision of another Act that provided for a labour welfare fund.
- The Uttar Pradesh government has approved an ordinance that exempts establishments from all labour laws for three years with some exceptions.
- As this will override provisions of some Central laws, it will require the assent of the President or, in effect, the assent of the Central government.
- The question is, was there sufficient consultation before all these changes were made?
Constitutional provisions for the legal route taken: Emergency and ordinance
- As per the Constitution, the legislature has the authority to make laws.
- Such laws could delegate powers to the government which are in the nature of detailing some requirements.
- For example, the Factories Act allows State governments to exempt factories from the provisions of the Act during public emergencies for a maximum period of three months.
- A public emergency is defined as a grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part is threatened by war, external aggression or internal disturbance.
- Most States have used this provision, presumably interpreting the current situation as an ‘internal disturbance’.
- Haryana has used a provision that allows relaxation of work hours “to deal with an exceptional press of work”.
- The Constitution also permits Central and State governments to make laws through the issuance of an ordinance when the legislature is not in session.
- Such a law needs to be ratified by the legislature within six weeks of the beginning of the next session. M.P. and U.P. are using this procedure.
Issues with the changes made
- Usually, any change in an Act follows a rigorous process of public consultation, scrutiny by committees of Parliament, and debates in the House before being approved.
- The changes described here have not gone through such a process.
- However, most of these have a three-month time limit, and any extension would need to be approved by the legislature.
The four labour codes
- The Parliament is consolidating 29 existing laws into four codes dealing with- 1) wages, 2) occupational safety and health, 3) industrial relations,4) social security.
- The first of these has been enacted, the Standing Committee on Labour has submitted the report on the next two, and is examining the last.
- The Code on Occupational Safety and Health does not specify the maximum hours of work but empowers the government to do so.
- The Standing Committee report states that the government agreed to incorporate a provision of maximum eight hours per day with overtime permitted for certain types of industry.
Consider the question “Several States made changes in the labour laws to deal with the problems caused by the corona pandemic. Examine the legal provisions used for making such changes by various States. What are the issues with such changes?”
Given the emergency, the government has to take quick action and change the response as the situation evolves. However, that should not be a reason to exclude the processes of consultation with and scrutiny by elected representatives. The legitimacy of state action in a parliamentary democracy comes from the fact that there is constant oversight and check by elected representatives.