April 11, 2017
Ahamed Hassan Imran speaks on The Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2016
In the 19th century, when organized labour first compelled factory owners to limit workdays to 10 (and then eight) hours, management was surprised to discover that output actually increased – and that expensive mistakes and accidents decreased. This experiment was later repeated over a century later by Harvard Business Review, it still held true. And there have been similar studies done across the globe which have found out that working more than 10-12 hours actually reduces productivity and output.
Now this Bill seeks to increase the overtime limit of factory workers from 50 hours to 100 hours in a quarter. Increase the overtime working hours for factories with “exceptional” workload from 75 hours to 115 hours in a quarter. And the Centre or States, or Chief Inspector with the prior approval of the State Government may increase this overtime limit to 125 hours in a quarter in “public interest.”
However, there are certain basic problems with the provisions of this Bill.
Why such haste: The Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2014 is already under consideration, the Standing Committee has submitted its report. What is the rationale behind trying to amend only Sections 64 and 65 as a fresh Bill in such a hasty manner?
Overtime hours: “Public interest” has not been defined in the Bill. This could lead to arbitrary decisions on increasing overtime hours. The increase in overtime hours will also drive down fresh recruitment. Stakeholders have not been taken into confidence before introducing this Bill. Not a single trade union of West Bengal is in favour of increasing the overtime in this way. It is true that many countries have extended overtime hours and the ILO has also suggested increasing overtime hours. But we must look at the reality. Working conditions in Indian factories are not at par with their Western counterparts. The ILO’s recommendation is neither mandatory nor compulsory. First and foremost, we have to keep the health and safety issues of our workers in mind.
Blow to Federalism: The 1948 Act vested the power of framing rules and implementation to the State Government. This Bill seeks to change that, and rests decision making powers with the “Central Government or, as the case may be, the State Government”. The clause ‘as the case may be’ is ambiguous and has not been defined. This could lead to the Centre taking unilateral decisions without consulting the States. This is an attempt to interfere with the federal structure and dilute the power of the States.
It is anti-worker: The Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that the “need for increasing the total number of hours of work on overtime in quarter is based on the demand from industries”. Thus it is clear that the Government is overlooking the basic provision related to the health of the worker, and working towards the benefit of industrialists who would gain from this provision. This is an anti-labour and anti-worker Bill.
It must be noted that the government is also planning to introduce the Small Factories Bill, where units employing less than 40 workers will be exempted from ESI and PF requirements. This is akin to taking away their only means of social security.
There are roughly 100 million workers in India in the manufacturing sector alone. Squeezing the already marginalized workers makes little sense. We need to bring in a comprehensive legal framework to safeguard the rights and interests of all workers, instead of trying to pass Bills in this piece-meal manner.