Basic instinct. Hearing the concept of labour, what strikes the minds of the layman is the name sakingly clad men and women who work at construction sites, factories and alongside the roads, working in the scorching sun and pitiful conditions. Does it ever come to the minds of the general public that these labourers have a huge set of laws governing and safeguarding their rights ? yes. Probably some of us do know about labour laws. Ever given a second thought about the implementation of these laws and regulations which are painstakingly formulated? Not that they are not followed at all but come on! We’re aware of the scene here in our country…..’’this is INDIA boss…All jugaad works..’’
Heavy. But true. In the forthcoming case study, my focus is not only on the legal provisions as available to these 17 million and still counting labour force, but I’m also going to compare as to what actually is being practiced under the hoax of Labour Laws and the international treaties to which India is signatory. Is the labour benefiting from these provisions or there is no awareness about the sanctioned benefits?
Another major part which I will be covering in this study is that the section of the labour force under my scanner is the Contract Labour Force. Those poor people who are hired by contractors specifically for one work and are generally rendered jobless and hapless after their skill and manpower has been sapped, strained and drained out.
What is Contract Labour?
Contract labour is a growing and a significant form of employment which is prevalent in almost all kinds of industries, agriculture, allied operations and also in the service sector. It refers to workers employed through an intermediary and is based on a three-way relationship between the principal employer, contractor and the workers. These workers on the whole are millions in number, have less or no bargaining power, have little or no social security and are involved and exposed to hazardous occupations often endangering their lives and safety. They are denied minimum wages and have no security of employment.
Contract Labour remained ignored for a long time. Neither the contractor, nor the principal employer cared for contract labour. In the name of paid laboring, it was bonded labour which was actually being carried out. Poor and needy people were hired by contractors to be employed in factories, construction sites, road making, in the chemical and dye industries etc as they came cheap and free from the hassle of labour laws. The contractors could use, abuse and exploit these people and then when the work was completed, these people were rendered jobless and uncared for. If during the work process a worker got killed or lost his limbs, impairing his capability to earn ever again, it was considered the folly of the laborer and the contractors and principle employers got away scot-free saying that they were not liable under any legislation.
The parliament therefore in 1970 passed the CONTRACT LABOUR (REGULATION AND ABOLITION) ACT, to prevent the exploitation of contract labour. The policy of the act is to prohibit the employment of contract labour and wherever that is not possible, to improve the conditions of work and bring this exploited lot in the ambit of the Labour Laws prevalent in the country. The Act applies to every establishment or contractor employing more than 20 workers who are employed in any day in the preceding 12 months. It does not include establishments where the nature of the work is seasonal in nature. The Act also applies to Government and local authorities.
· What does the Contract Labour Act guarantee?
The Act aims to guarantee proper hygiene and welfare of the labour in terms of food, clothing and shelter, Also protecting them from the exploitation of the contractor’s and principal employer’s negligence to provide them with what is rightfully theirs. Therefore, The Act has laid down certain amenities to be provided by the contractor to the contract labour for establishment of Canteens and rest rooms; arrangements for sufficient supply of wholesome drinking water, latrines and urinals, washing facilities and first aid facilities have been made obligatory. In case of failure on the part of the contractor to provide these facilities, the Principal Employer is liable to provide the same.
Apart from the regulatory measures provided under the act for the benefit of the contract labour, the govt can prohibit the employment of contract labour in any establishment where the work is of seasonal nature and not perennial.
Contract labour under the EPF Act and ESI Act
1. Contract laborers are eligible for provident fund benefits under the EPF (amending) Act of 1963
2. If the establishment, where the labour has been employed is covered under the ESI act, employees engaged by the contractor have to be enrolled as members of the Employee State Insurance
Contract Labour entitled to benefits under other Labour Laws
Contract laborers are entitled to benefits under the following other labour laws:-
• Factories Act, 1948
• Payment Of Wages Act, 1936
• Minimum Wages Act, 1948
• Workmen Compensation Act, 1923
• Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
Protection of the women workforce
As stated earlier, the women force working as contract laborers are covered under Equal Remuneration Act, they are entitled to benefits under the Maternity Benefits Act where they are entitled to take leave and still receive remuneration as decided by the Labour Commissioner specific to the state amendments and the area of their employment which is generally 50% of their regular wages.
Rights of the contract laborers
· Obligations of the contractors and the principal employer are practically the rights of the contract labour.
· Parity of pay (for the same or similar works) with the pay of the directly employed labour work force.
· Contract laboures have also the right to be represented on the state and centrl advisory boards.
These are the provisions, rights and obligations which are provided by the law to safeguard the interests of the workers. But, the point to ponder about is that is the law being evaded or is it being followed as it should be? Law in our country is ‘moulded’. Molded as it is old and is moulded and twisted by people at various stages according to what suits them. We see it everyday…bribe the local traffic cop and he won’t challan you…bribe the local police chowky hawaldar and he will insure you get away with minor felonies..bribe the contractor and he will fool the laborers to work for half the wage rates. This is happening all around us. For us, law students who are aspiring litigants, judges, corporates, social workers, it gets frustrating to study the procedure and the provisions and then to actually see the laws being broken so widely and so easily. It is a famous quote that LAWYERS MAKE BETTER CITIZENS OR SMARTER CRIMINALS. The following insight into the reality of contract laborers lifts the curtain from the plight of these people who suffer silently at the hands of their employers and at the hands of poverty.
· The following questions were put up to the contractors who had employed labour for small construction work – Maharashtra and Gujarat
Question 1. How are the holidays, wage rates, hours of work and the wage period being determined ?
Answer- the labour commissioner fixes the wage period which is state specific and in the state of Maharashtra, the wage period of the workers if less than 1000 people are employed is 7 days. The holidays which are given to the workers are gazetted holidays like 15th august, 26th January, holi, diwali et cetera. The workers are supposed to work for 8 hours a day; that is the first half is from 9am to 1pm and the second half is from 2pm to 6pm.
Question 2. What are the amenities which are being provided to the laborers and to the children of the laborers who are employed?
Answer- a place for dining has been provided and a place for resting purposes has been provided. Public toilets and urinals are provided for temporary purposes. The playroom or crèche for children is not provided separately, but in the same place as the laborers are working, an enclosure is made where the children are put.
Question 3. What are the employment criteria for the women workforce? Are the timings relaxed for them ? and are they paid equally ?
Answer- yes. The women are not asked to work after 7pm in the evening. They are given equal remuneration as is given to the men.
Question 4. Are the women given benefits under the Maternity Benefits Act ?
Answer- no. the women do come for work all through their pregnancy because they do not want to afford loosing the money even for a day as their financial condition is bad. Plus, even for the contractors, the business goes into loss if they pay wages even to those workers who are not doing the work.
· The following questions were put up to the labour force working as Contract Labour – Maharashtra and Gujarat
Question 1. What are the facilities available to you on the work site ?
Answer- a temporary enclosure for resting and dining is available to them which is of ‘’kutcha’’ nature and not white-washed. For toilets and washing pursposes, a small enclosure is put up which is available to them. No separate toilet facilities are given on the site. For first aid, the most basic requirements like savlon, cotton, anti-septic creams and bandages are available to them.
Question 2. Are the wages paid to you on time? Are there delays?
Answer- yes. The wages are paid on time. If there is a delay due to any reason, it is of 2-3 days. That is the wage period becomes of 10 days rather than that of 7 days.
Question 3. Are you aware of the Minimum Wage Act and of the Equal Remuneration Act as guaranteed by the Government of India ?
Answer - yes. There is awareness about the minimum wage act and that the men and women are entitled to receive equal wages for equal amount of work done.
Question 4. Is a service certificate issued to you after your term of employment has ended ? is there regular updation of your employment card ?
Answer- the service card is issued only if a lobourer asks for it. They do not know if the contractor has to mandatorily issue a service certificate once the termination of employment has been done. And yes, the contractor does the required entries on their job-cards once the weekly payment has been done and takes note of their overtime hours of work.
Question 5. Is a proper over-time register maintained by the ontractor? Are the extra wages paid to you satisfactory ?
Answer- yes. The over time register is maintained and there are regular entries made in it with regard to their work done. The extra wages are paid to them according to the extra hour of work that they have done and usually are not the guaranteed amount of double the wage rate.
Progress so far….a critique
The study partly reveals the futility of enacting a legislation and not following it up with correct implementation of its provisions. As has been already stated, collusive agreements between various agents often result in the exploitation of contract labour. Several provisions of the act are not entirely compiled with by the contractor/ principal employer which results in the gross violation of the beneficiary’s rights. The first step to ensure the proper administration of justice is to make sure that the contract labourers are made aware of their rights and responsibilities so that they are able to detect the violation of law and take necessary steps to remedy the same. Further it is necessary to facilitate the workers to complain to an independent authority in a confidential manner and giving punishment or reward to the supervisor on the basis of such complains is a more effective way of combating corrupt practices. As per an amendment which has been proposed in the Parliament, contract workers will get the same wages, facilities and benefits as are provided to regular employees. This is certainly the need of the hour as right now, as recent studies have shown that contract laborers are paid just 40% of the wages as are paid to the regular employees with no special protection. We have come to an era of industrialization where multi-national companies, their Indian cohorts, various global financial agencies and the Indian government have been baying for the blood of the workers. The industrial scenario is one where the prevailing management theories lay emphasis on ‘just in time’ production. This postulates, in current management parlance ‘flexibility’ of labour. This means more contract labour, more casual workers and fewer rights for unionizing etc. the official policy then seems like the workers will have to sacrifice their rights if the economy has to survive. The policy makers of the country must remember that the welfare of the workers is a real concern as a large number of people in the country still continue to live below the poverty line. Taking into account not merely heavy industrialization and profit making but also the welfare of those individuals whose perseverance results in such profits but never per take of such profit, is the correct way of achieving absolute economic development. If one proceeds with such ideas in mind, perhaps the day when the Indian economy is equted with those if the developed nations does not remain merely a recurring dream.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org