The International Labour Organization said in a press release on Thursday that amendments to labour laws should be done only after tripartite talks between the government, workers’ organisations and employers’ organisations. It was referring to relaxation of labour laws by several states in India, with a view to increasing production following the coronavirus pandemic.

India imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 25, which severely hit most economic activity. From April 20, some businesses were allowed to resume in low-risk zones, but economic activity remained low.

The ILO added that such amendments should be in consonance with international labour standards, including the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. “Labour laws protect well-being of both employers and workers,” the labour organisation said. “They are an important means to advance social justice and promote decent work for all.”

The ILO acknowledged that India has taken measures to provide income and social security support to workers, and revitalise businesses and the economy. ILO said it had advised four pillars of policy in this regard.

Firstly, the group said, recovery efforts should stimulate the economy and employment using fiscal and monetary measures. “Second, supporting enterprises, jobs and income through social protection, employment retention and financial relief to enterprises,” it added. “Third, workers need to be protected by strengthening occupational safety and health measures at work and by ensuring access to health care and paid leave.”

The ILO said India should also “strengthen the social dialogue, collective bargaining and labour relation institutions and processes for implementing solutions”.

The organisation said India, a founder member, has been a strong advocate of developing and implementing international labour standards. “Its commitment and respect for these standards has contributed to building a culture of social dialogue and tripartism in the country,” ILO said. “This culture is key to achieve consensus among government, employers and workers and build a resilient and inclusive economy.”

On May 7, 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. 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.