By Girish, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC)
All over the country workers are opposing Central government’s attempts to forcibly put in place the four Labour Codes. At the same time various State governments are amending various laws in order to promote the interests of corporates. On 22nd February 2023, the Karnataka government passed one such amendment bill called Factories Act (Karnataka Amendment) Bill 2023.
This is one more instance of what invariably happens in our country. Common people that are affected (in this case the workers of Karnataka) were not consulted. Once the ruling party or coalition decides that some Bill has to pass, it is passed, whether or not some elected members oppose it.
Let us look at the completely anti-worker and pro-capitalist nature of this new law.
The daily work hours have been increased from nine to twelve hours, with a maximum of 48 hours a week. Defending the Bill, the Law and Parliamentary Minister of Karnataka had said in the legislature that “Working for 12 hours a day is not mandatory but will have to be mutually agreed by the employer and employee … The Bill also states that if any worker works on 4 consecutive days for a total of 48 hours, then the worker will get 3 days paid weekly off”.
Who was he trying to fool? All of us workers know very well that mutual consent of worker and management does not exist in reality. If worker refuses then he or she is just shown the door. From our experience, we know very well that weekly offs are also at the mercy of the management. The real intention of the Law is thus very clearly nothing else but to help the companies to legally force workers to work for 12 hours a day.
The Law also has one very important amendment clause regarding payment of overtime. It allows the government to fix work hours for overtime duty during which employees have to be paid wages at the rate of twice the ordinary rate of wages. This very clearly means that now the overtime wages of workers will be curtailed so as to benefit the companies.
The Law also enables women to work in night shifts in factories and offices. As usual, the government wants to show as if the Law is in the interest of women employees and in its defence the Minister said, “Even the High Court has given a direction that equal opportunity must be provided to all under Article 14 of the Constitution”. The real reasons the government wanted this amendment was revealed by the Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs when he said, “There were limitations on work hours for women. There was a lot of pressure on the government from everywhere, including the software industry to relax this”.
Just to make a show of the concern of Karnataka government for women’s safety, certain provisions have been made in the Law. According to it, women can work between 7 pm and 6 am subject to a long list of safety measures employers are required to put in place. “It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons at the work places to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment,” the Law stipulates. It requires employers to provide transport facilities to women workers from their homes and back during night shifts and says that each transport vehicle should be equipped with CCTV and GPS.
On the background of increasing violence against women, all these provisions are really just empty phrases. The reality is that women do not feel safe at their work places even during the day. Karnataka itself has reported a sharp increase in the number of cases registered in connection with crimes against women in the state, as per the National Family Health Survey data, UN and other official reports. The total number of cases registered relating to crimes against women in 2019 was 13,828 which increased to 14,468 in 2021.
It is thus very clear that the new Law is neither in the interest of workers as a whole and nor in the interest of women workers. Its sole purpose is to legalise increased exploitation of both men and women workers. While opposing the Central government’s attempts to enforce the four notorious Labour Codes, we should also be on guard against anti-worker steps being taken by various state governments.