‘Labour’ we mean the work done by hard manual labour mostly work done by unskilled worker. But in Economics, the term labour mean manual labour. It includes mental work also. It is in this sense, for example, that one speaks of “organized labour.” In a more special and technical sense, however, labour means any valuable service rendered by a human agent in the production of wealth, other than accumulating and providing capital or assuming the risks that are a normal part of business undertakings.
Decent employment and livelihood options ought to be among the most important policy objectives on any meaningful agenda of economic development. India’s experience, on this count, has been quite unsatisfactory since Independence. Like many other developing countries, India has made inadequate progress in terms of addressing the problems of poverty, unemployment, and occupational structural transformation. As is well-known, even today vast masses of the country’s population continue to eke out an existence primarily through their dependence on agriculture and a variety of non-rural informal activities under extremely fragile conditions. Furthermore, since the early 1990s, during the era of neo-liberal reforms, the standard correlates of the well-being of the masses in general have come under further relative pressure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced words and phrases that have now become deeply familiar to us: Corona, quarantine, thermal screening, tracing, testing, isolation, and vaccination and, most prominently, “stranded migrant workers”.
At regular intervals, we have been witnessing heart-rending visuals of weary migrants painfully trudging along roads — people who have been compelled to set out on arduous journeys to reach their native villages, which they had once left for “greener pastures”. These migrant workers have been contributing towards the development of the nation by the sheer sweat of their brow, their labour, so that India could move towards the goal of becoming a trillion dollar economy.
In India, there is no dearth of hype and hyperbole. Swami Vivekananda had once said, “An ounce of practice is worth twenty-thousand tones of big talk”. The entire post-lockdown scenario vindicates the fact that the lockdown was a half-baked, knee-jerk exercise that has resulted in an unprecedented human disaster on a scale unseen since Independence. This could have been averted had there been a well-thought out plan in anticipation of the magnitude of this looming corona menace. Can we ignore the fact that if these migrants do not return to their workplaces after the lifting of the lockdown, several critical economic activities will take a hit? The structure of our economic activities has evolved in such a manner that migrants — from within or outside their respective state — have an integral role to play.
Women constitute an important segment of the Indian labor force whose working conditions have not made significant progress. Despite some noticeable advances for a small percentage of women, women as a whole have been relegated largely to agricultural and menial pursuits that pay the lowest wages. In some ways, as the overall economy has grown, the situation of working women in India has even deteriorated. In 1911, for example, three-quarters of the working women of India were agricultural workers; in 1991, the proportion was over 80 percent. Nearly 70 percent of the population as a whole derives its livelihood from land resources, and women contribute an estimated 55 to 66 percent of the total farm labor force. [1]

The lockdown has forced us to think specifically about migrants, whether they are skilled or unskilled workers, blue-collar workers or white-collar workers. All migrants face difficulties. Appropriate facilities should thus be created at all places to address their problems. There is a need to match demand and supply for their skills, and the employers have to be sensitive enough to create required facilities for them. Hence, a law is needed to deal with any adversities that the migrant workers may confront in future in a holistic manner. Migrant workers must be able to believe that this is a country for all, without any discrimination. They do not require mercy; they should be allowed to live with dignity.
A welfare fund for the unemployed [2] Gurcharan Das, a renowned author and the former CEO of Procter and Gamble India said that India needs a model that protects its workers — a labor welfare fund that can help the workers with some protection when he loses his job. “I was talking about having a labor unemployment fund where contribution has to come from the employer and the government every year. If its 10 years, then that fellow gets 10 years funding,” he said. For instance in Denmark, you can hire a person in the morning and fire in the evening. Once you fire him, he goes to a labor unemployment fund, and he’s supported by that fund until the 21st day. And then, he has to report at the labor office to either accept the job that they give him or go for training for another job. If he doesn’t do that, then the employment fund finishes.
Some state government including Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) have proposed ordinances to exempt manufacturing establishment from the purview of most of labour law. Labour is a concurrent subject, in which the Central law and the states can make laws. Where there is any conflict between a central law and a state law on the same subject, the central law will prevail. If some of the laws sought to be suspended have a central counterpart, the suspension is open to legal challenge. While Uttar Pradesh has retained compensation for disability caused at work, the Vizag gas leak shows occupational safety brooks no compromise.

Author – Ambleshwar Pandey, BA.LL.B, Allahabad University

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