Labour Laws: Karnataka to Relook at Minimum Wage, Working Hours 

Government officials reportedly said the “cabinet approval for increasing working hours to 72-100 hours is pending”

Published
India
3 min read
Female garment workers immersed in their work at a factory in Bengaluru.
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In developments that indicate that Karnataka might be the next state to relax labour laws in order to boost economic activity, the state labour secretary P Manivannan on Saturday, 9 May, said that the government was re-looking at laws determining minimum wages, weekly working hours requirement and resolution of complaints filed by workers about working conditions.

During a virtual meeting with members of the Karnataka chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and government officials, P Manivannan reportedly said that CM Yediyurappa had asked for a review of minimum wages being paid in the state.

According to activists and lawyers present during the meeting, Manivannan also said that the state government was considering a proposal to increase working hours to 100 hours per week. He added that the request of several companies to be exempted from over-time payment would be considered and a ‘no-work, no-pay’ policy might come into play.

So far, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have announced relations and exemptions from key sections of labour laws to boost economic activity in the state, amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Responding to online outrage from trade activists and unions about the proposed change in labour laws, Manivannan responded by saying that the government had a ‘balanced vision’ in mind.

Relaxations to Minimum Working Hours, Wages Discussed

During the meeting with over 100 participants from large and small firms, several issues pertaining to the industries were reportedly discussed.

Representatives reportedly spoke about having no funds to pay wages, protection from plaints filed by labourers about working conditions, retrenchment etc and exemptions from paying over-time labour dues.

Lekha Adavi, an advocate and member of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions-Karnataka, who was present during the meeting said that the labour secretary had said that “Karnataka would outdo Uttar Pradesh” in providing a fillip to businesses suffering because of the lockdown.

“When several companies asked about being exempted from paying over-time to workers in key businesses, the secretary responded by saying a proposal to increase working hours to 100 hours per week was being considered and that there would be more clarity the following week,” she said.

While minimum wages being paid to workers in Karnataka varied sector-wise, a garment worker is entitled to wages amounting to Rs 9-10,000, while a construction worker is paid approximately Rs 450 per day.

She added that some of the disturbing announcements made during the meeting were regarding the process of resolution of complaints made by workers, about wrongful termination, non-payment of salaries etc.

“If any worker files a complaint, no notice will be issued to the employers, but an informal inquiry would be conducted. If it is found that the company is not making profits, the complaint will be closed. If the company is found to be profitable, then the labour department would approach the appropriate association that the firm belongs to for review. If the association approves action against the company, only then it would be initiated. What law is this?”
Lekha Adavi, Advocate

‘No Basis in Law’

Criticising the planned move, Adavi said that it was shocking to hear the labour secretary not stand up for the rights of workers, at a time when the state was reeling under a migrant labour crisis.

“There is no food, there is no shelter for them. There are reports of them not being allowed to leave labour camps and they are also being forced to pay for their train journeys back home. At such a time, a more severe infringement of their rights is being discussed. How can they be so blatant?”

Many on Twitter had earlier criticised the UP government’s move by either questioning its legal validity or comparing it to a “bonded labour system”.

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