The BWI-Indian Affiliates Council submitted on 19 May a petition to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind urging him to reject anti-labour ordinances passed by several states relaxing and/or suspending important labour laws for three years to boost productivity and incentivise industries during the COVID-19 economic slowdown.
The BWI union affiliates said that the ordinances were passed by India’s major states: Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Predesh. Other states are reportedly considering extending working hours from 8 to 12 hours a day.
Rama Chandra Khuntia, BWI Asia Pacific Vice-Chair and INBCWF President, called the ordinances a clear attack on labour and human rights and a gross violation of the principles of tripartism. “This is rubbing salt to the wound of millions of Indian workers who are already grappling with the effects of COVID-19 to their health, jobs and incomes.”
In its petition, BWI-IAC said that the states’ ordinances will add to the vulnerabilities of workers already suffering from the pandemic. The unions said that the policies are against the principles enshrined in the Constitution and undermines the country’s labour legislative framework, which was the product of workers’ struggle and tripartite mechanisms. It explained that under the Indian Constitution, Article 254 (2) and Article 213 (1), any bill or ordinance relating to a subject in the concurrent list, which may be repugnant to a union law, needs the approval of the President for its enforcement. BWI-IAC said that labour falls under the Constitution’s concurrent list.
These policies were met with workers’ protests and coordinated trade union actions. As a result, the Uttar Pradesh government withdrew its plan to pass another ordinance extending working hours.
In a meeting held on 13 May attended by 41 state representatives, BWI-IAC planned more protest actions both online and off and media activities. The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) and the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions and Federations likewise condemned the states’ ordinances, with the latter calling for a nationwide protest on 22 May.
Meanwhile, two public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed challenging the anti-labour ordinances before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Uttar Pradesh State.
India’s lockdown, which is the biggest COVID-19 quarantine in the world, has been extended and entered its fourth phase (18-31 May). As of 22 May, the country has 118,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,583 deaths.