Violations of core labour standards in India – new ITUC Report

There remain serious violations of all core labour standards in India, states a new ITUC report.

Brussels, 23 May 2007: There remain serious violations of all core labour standards in India, states a new ITUC report. The report is being released today to coincide with India’s trade policy review at the WTO on 23 and 25 May.

India has still not ratified the ILO’s Core Conventions on workers’ right to organise and to collective bargaining. Although workers have the legal right to organise, this is subject to restrictions, and in many companies there is a hostile attitude towards trade unions. Furthermore the formal economy only employs 10% of workers. Even those workers who are organised face great reluctance by employers to negotiate collective agreements. There has been an increase in contract labour which has further weakened trade unions and the bargaining power of workers. Law enforcement is seriously lacking and legal procedures remain long and costly.

The report further notes that there has been an increase in the number of Special Economic Zones. Although on paper the workers there have a right to organise and to collective bargaining, in practice entry into the zones is closely restricted which makes organising extremely difficult. Furthermore, state laws often dilute the central labour legislation in SEZs, and attempts have been made by some states to exempt the SEZs from the application of labour laws. The majority of SEZ workers are women, employed in export-oriented sectors such as garments, electronics and software. Many workers are employed on a temporary contract basis.

To further weaken the position of workers and their trade unions, proposals for amendments of the Contract Labour Act have been made that would increase the number of processes where contract labour is permitted with regard to cleaning, garbage collection, security, maintenance of machinery, house-keeping, information technology, support services, construction, SEZs and units exporting at least 75% of their production. It is also proposed that the appropriate government may in the case of an emergency, direct, by a simple notification, that any of the provisions of the Act shall not apply to any establishments or any class of contractors for any period.

The report further refers to a widening gender wage gap in India due to economic reform and trade liberalisation. Many companies appear to have responded to competitive pressures by maintaining the level of male wages but not those of women employees. It therefore seems that groups of workers who have weak bargaining power and lower workplace status may be less able to negotiate for favourable working conditions and higher pay. The lack of enforcement of labour standards that prohibit sex-based discrimination contributes to this widening wage gap.

Despite efforts and programmes to address child labour, bonded labour and the position of Dalits, large numbers of people remain in deplorable situations. More than 1.3 million Dalits are estimated to be still employed as manual scavengers. Dalits comprise the majority of agricultural, bonded and child labourers in the country and are employed in the most exploitative forms of employment.

Figures for child labour have resulted in estimates ranging between 12 million and 115 million working children, which shows the lack of reliable data collection. Most children are engaged in agriculture, cultivation, manufacturing, processing, household industries, factory work, domestic work and small trading activities. The worst forms of child labour include mining, carpet weaving, gems, silk industry, brick making, sexual exploitation, leather and agriculture processes. Although some progress has been made, enforcement of legislation remains poor and sanctions insufficient.

To see the full report click here

Founded on 1 November 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates.

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