Does An Apple A Day Keep Labour Laws Away?

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On December 12, 2020 the workers of the Wistron plant went on a storm of smashing windows, destroying assembly lines and burning cars at the plant. Situated in Kolar, Karnataka the plant specializes in manufacturing Iphones. The ransacking of the Taiwan based corporation caused damage of up to $7.12 million. The plant recruited thousands of contract employees but was severely understaffed to manage the welfare of the labourers.The conflict occurred due to overexploitation and underpayment of their wages. The employees accused the management of not adequately compensating for working overtime. The Karnataka government has observed serious violations of labour laws and the incident reverts to the questions on the recent labour code bills in September. 

The initial reports mentioned that the engineering graduates would be recruited for a salary of INR 16,000 per month which was later cut to INR 12,000.  Newly passed bills are also said to increase the reach of social security by including gig workers and proposed measures to provide greater flexibility for the employersPrior to Lok Sabha approving the bills, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttrakhandd altered the State laws to suspend 35 out of 38 laws. The largest BJP run State —Uttar Pradesh initiated the dramatic move to exempt most of the labour laws. The working hours increased from 48 to72 hours without a requirement to provide overtime pay. Classified under concurrent list in the Indian constitution– currently, there are 100 state laws and 40 central laws. 

The central government has codified various laws under four codes to ease compliance and ensure uniformity. However, according to the World Bank, Indian labour laws are restrictive and creates a psychological barrier for entrepreneurs to invest in the business. For instance, one provision under Industrial Disputes Act (IDA) 1947─ an enterprise employing more employees needs prior permission from the government to lay-off or shut down the enterprise. The officials believe these laws are to replace the archaic system and compensate for the losses during a pandemic. The Wistron case could be a probable offshoot of the resistance to the latest laws that aim to dilute the powers of the workers union. 

The  Industrial Relations Code Bill 2020, has proposed to introduce more conditions restricting the rights of workers to strike and offers an easy hire and fire policy without the government permission. Wistron company with 8,000 contract employees failed to provide wage slips to the minimum wage employees.

Besides, the clause clearly shows the reduction of power and rights of labour and limits the scope of negotiation by legitimizing the power employers to nullify protests. The law fails to provide protection to workers against any wrong retrenchment in this case the police arrested the aggrieved workers for committing violence and caused a major setback in resolving the concerns.  The bill is set to be effective from April 2021 and has not directly prohibited strikes but made the process complex to deter employees. 

The second bill, relating to the Social Security Code proposes a National Social Security Board which shall recommend to the central government formulation of apt schemes for different sections of unorganised workers, gig workers and platform workers. Also, aggregators employing gig workers will have to contribute 1-2 percent of their annual turnover for social security, with the total contribution not exceeding 5 percent of the amount payable by the aggregator to gig and platform workers. Though this code has provision to protect workers, unfortunately, the provisions and their implementation is not promising.The security given is not well defined, which can lead to under-compensation of the workers, along with these problems there is no institutional support and certainty to provide social security. 

The latest  bill on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code has exempted new factories from the code to boost economic activity. It defined inter-state migrant workers as the worker obtaining employment in another state, earning up to Rs 18,000 a month. They have, however, dropped the earlier provision for temporary accommodation for workers near the worksites. It has proposed a journey allowance — a lump sum amount of fare to be paid by the employer for to and from the journey of the worker to his/her native place from the place of his/her employment. This provision has removed the obligation of employers to provide security of housing of employees which can harm the efficiency of employees as they do not have to spend substantial time and effort to search for an accommodation which could be used for better purposes.

Thus, the uncertainty, lack of clarity and legal ratification to demonstrate dissent and reconcile the lapses in labour law. The Wistron incident symbolizes the damage in the support system and fault lines in the labour laws. Though the company has decided to rectify the flaws in their human resource management, the incident is a warning signal for the upcoming action of labour laws and their potential to alter the plight of the working-class in India. Many experts point out that the labour unrest will continue to flash under the new regime and if not negotiated in the start it would create an irreversible dent in the industry labour relation.