India: fresh insights into Modi government’s long-term attack on labour standards

photo: Flickr/Ian D. Keating

A new ITUC report, entitled Labour Law Deregulation in India, reveals the extent to which India’s recent labour law overhaul violates its international labour standards obligations. The government has failed to recognise that focusing on economic growth for its own sake leads to jobless growth and greater inequality while exposing workers to exploitation.

“This fresh analysis highlights that the Modi government has taken a sledgehammer to existing laws aimed at ensuring workers are represented, promoting their health and safety, guaranteeing coverage by social security, including maternity and other crucial benefits. The safety and health of working people and the structures that protect them and help ensure living wages are not a wrecking site the government can just walk away from,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

The report analyses the implications for workers and the application of international labour standard by theme. It exposes how industrial relations standards are undermined by the imposition of drastic criteria which impede union registration, organising and operations, and go as far as to require that unions represent a minimum of 66% of the workforce before workplace representation can take place. This is a direct affront to collective bargaining rights. The report goes on to detail similar attacks on workers’ rights on occupational safety and health, social security and wage-setting.

“Many tricks were used to keep the Modi government in power, including circumventing due process to force through legislation allowing secret contributions to political parties. The electoral bonds scandal is only surfacing now, and reports indicate that 95% of those opaque contributions went to Modi’s BJP party. It wasn’t the money of working people that funded the huge teams of digital analysts and other opinion manipulators that won them the election. Now, we are seeing that the government is doing everything it can to undermine workers’ conditions and representation,” said Burrow.

With these reforms, the government is notably aiming at an improved rating on the World Bank’s discredited Doing Business ranking to catalyse an increase in private sector investments. The ITUC has joined the broad criticisms of this ranking, which held up Chile’s privatisation of pensions, one of the drivers of the huge civil unrest the country is going through, as a model.

“This is another example of the adverse impact of the World Bank’s ideologically motivated ranking system on the lives of working women and men. Conceiving of labour standards as a barrier to private sector development pushes division that wreaks social havoc that becomes a ticking time-bomb that countries must painstakingly deal with at a later stage. It also exacerbates flaws in the economy, depriving people of purchasing power and leaving workers in precarious circumstances,” said Burrow.

Read the full report:

Labour Law deregulation in India