Exposing the Anti-labour Thrust of Karnataka Government
As Karnataka approaches elections, here is a close look at the anti-labour policies adopted by the incumbent Karnataka government:
1. Impact on lives of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, lakhs of workers lost their jobs, weren't paid wages for the periods they had worked, and were pushed into utter penury. The government failed to ensure the provision of basic necessities, including food, to these workers and gave rise to a situation where migrant workers were forced to walk hundreds of kilo metres to their homes. Moreover, the government sought to amend laws to the detriment of workers, by increasing working hours and reducing minimum wages.
2. Pushing Away Workers from the Protection of the Law:
The government promulgated the Industrial Disputes and Certain Other Laws (Karnataka Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, in July 2020, raising the threshold level to 300 for the applicability of various laws and pushing lakhs of workers outside the protection of the law.
While the law previously prohibited termination in establishments employing less than 100 workers without government permission, this minimum threshold level was increased to 300. This pushed workers in establishments with less than 300 workers outside the protection of the law.
The Factories Act, which provided health and safety measures in factories with more than 20 workers, was amended to increase the threshold from 20 to 40, placing those units with less than 40 workers outside the law, denying them basic rights of health and safety.
The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, was amended to increase the threshold from 20 to 50 workmen, placing establishments with less than 50 workers outside the protection of the law, thus denying them the most basic rights including wages, equal pay for equal work, restrooms, among others. This law brought in the form of an ordinance, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a blow to the democratic processes and the basic rights of workers.
3. Increase in working hours:
In 2023, the Karnataka Legislature passed the Factories (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2023, which increased the daily working hours from the present 9 hours to 12 hours, taking away the most basic right of workers to an 8-hour work day. While world over, the discussion is of reducing the number of working hours, the BJP government has chosen to increase the working hours.
Several studies have linked 12 hour shifts to negative impact on general health, including problems with cognitive anxiety, musculoskeletal disorders, sleep disturbance, and stress.. A report showed that these amendments were brought in due to the lobbying of Apple and its manufacturing partner Foxconn.
4. Lifting prohibition on night-shift for women:
The Factories (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2023, allows employers to engage women to work night shifts in factories, which was previously prohibited. The deletion of prohibition against employment in night shifts is nothing more than an extension of exploitative practices against women workers. In the name of freedom, women are compelled to work in the night. Consent taken from women workers to be employed at night would be nothing more than an unfree choice, thus a travesty of justice. Moreover, women workers are being pushed into a situation where they are made vulnerable to harassment, tortures and sexual violence when proper safety mechanisms are not put in place.
Several studies have also found that night shifts result in several health issues for workers, including even increasing the possibility of cancer in workers who work night shifts, and the effort must be to reduce night shifts across gender.
5. Betrayal of the assurances made to sanitation workers:
After a four day strike in July, 2022, the Chief Minister assured pourakarmikas / sanitation workers that all of them would be made permanent and that the contract system would be completely abolished in solid waste management, with drivers and helpers being brought on direct payment within 4 months. However, even 9 months later, the promise remained unfulfilled and the government has betrayed the pourakarmikas on the assurances made to them.
6. Reduction in minimum wages of dyeing and printing, silk and textile industries: In a first, the government reduced the minimum wages payable in dyeing and printing, silk and textile industries by Rs.130 per day thereby pushing the workers into penury even as these industries continue to make extremely high profits. The wages notified for the garment industry, a highly profitable export-oriented industry, was also marginal and less than that of other industries.
7. Failure to ensure the rights of workers and criminalization of workers seeking rights:
Workers at Wistron, which manufactures iPhones at Narasapura Industrial Estate in Kolar district, were forced to work in 12 hour shifts, women were forced to illegally work in night shifts, while not being paid wages properly in highly exploitative working conditions. In December 2020, workers protested seeking basic rights when their grievances were not heard. However, instead of addressing their grievances, hundreds of workers were arrested and the government defended the actions of the company.