By Archana Chaudhary
Indian billionaire Azim Premji cautioned states against diluting already lax labour laws, saying this was the time for shielding the economically vulnerable from hardships caused by a nationwide lockdown.
“It was shocking to hear that various state governments, encouraged by businesses, are considering suspending — or have already suspended — many of the labour laws that protect workers,” Premji, the founder of Indian software services provider Wipro Ltd., wrote in the Economic Times newspaper. “The migrant workers we find fending for themselves and their families have almost no social security and too little — not too much — worker protection.”
Migrant workers form part of India’s vast informal sector and are among the worst hit by the shutdown imposed since March 25, as businesses shuttered operations and left them with no jobs and incomes. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi relaxing some of the restrictions to enable the resumption of economic activity, workers’ interests appear poised to be hurt further as some states suspend a variety of labour laws to make doing business easier for the industry.
The labour laws being considered for suspension relate to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety, health and working conditions of workers, and those related to minimum wages, trade unions, contract workers, and migrant labourers, Premji wrote.
“It will only exacerbate the conditions of low wage workers and the way we do business and industry,” he said, while calling for more measures to boost the economy, including scaling up the existing rural employment guarantee program and introducing an urban employment guarantee plan.
Modi has pledged a $265 billion package to support the economy, including offering cheap credit to workers and farmers hurt by the lockdown.
Premji is not the only industry captain to voice his concerns on the treatment of workers. Rajiv Bajaj, managing director of Bajaj Auto Ltd, has criticized India’s handling of the lockdown. In an interview, Bajaj called the extension of the lockdown to contain the virus as “piecemeal, arbitrary and erratic.”