Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday hit out at the state governments for diluting labour laws and said that the coronavirus pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to deprive workers of their basic rights.

Labour laws are being amended by many states,” Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi. “We are fighting together against coronavirus but this cannot be an excuse to crush human rights, allow unsafe workplaces, exploit workers and suppress their voices. We cannot compromise on our basic principles.”

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, meanwhile, warned the government of the dangerous consequences of undermining labour laws. “In the name of economic revival and stimulus, it will be dangerous and disastrous to loosen labour, land and environmental laws and regulations as the Modi government is planning,” he wrote on Twitter. “The first steps have already been taken. This is a quack remedy like demonetisation!”

Last week, the Uttar Pradesh government exempted businesses from the scope of all but four labour laws for the next three years to boost investments hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The four laws that will still apply to businesses are the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, Section 5 of Payment of Wages Act, Workmen Compensation Act and Bonded Labour Act.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh exempted firms from inspections by the labour department and maintenance of registers while also allowing flexibility in extending the shifts of workers.

At least seven states have raised maximum working hours from 48 to 72 a week. Factory workers in India may now be required to work 12 hours a day, with six-hour shifts spread over 13 hours. While Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana will pay overtime rates specified under Section 59 of the Factories Act of 1948, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have said that they will pay only regular wages. Rajasthan has been silent on the subject of overtime payment to workers.

Labour organisations and experts have also fiercely criticised the move to junk laws that guarantee basic rights to the labourers, who are already struggling to survive amid the nationwide lockdown. They have also expressed concerns about exploitation of workers and believe that the move must be legally challenged.

Also read:

  1. The Political Fix: Why are Indian states junking labour laws in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis?
  2. Eight-hour day: States are using the pandemic to deny factory workers a hard-won right
  3. Is Uttar Pradesh’s decision to suspend 35 labour laws legal? Experts believe it could be challenged