Covid-19 impact: Gujarat, Punjab increase working hours in factories

Topics Coronavirus | layoff | Lockdown

The states have invoked special powers under the Factories Act of 1948, which could be used during a public emergency.
Gujarat and Punjab have become the latest states to increase working hours for factories, even as Andhra Pradesh has issued a strict directive to employers to not lay off contract workers during the lockdown period.

The governments in Gujarat and Punjab followed the footsteps of the Rajasthan government and increased the working hours limit allowed in a day to 12 hours in manufacturing units. Earlier, while Punjab had allowed a maximum of 9 hours in a day per worker, Rajasthan and Gujarat had a provision for a maximum of 8 hours.

However, unlike Rajasthan and Punjab, workers in Gujarat will not be paid double the normal wages for the increased working hours.

“Wages shall be in proportion of the existing wages (e.g. if wages for eight hours are Rs 80, then proportionate wages for 12 hours will be Rs 120),” the Gujarat labour department said in an order dated April 17. These provisions will be valid for three months beginning April 20. The Gujarat government said shifts should be finalised in a way that workers be given rest of half-an-hour after six hours.

The states have invoked special powers under the Factories Act of 1948, which could be used during a public emergency, to make these changes, without taking the legislative route.

The move by the state governments is seen as a way to ensure that to ensure production in factories doesn’t take a hit with a limited workforce as social distancing measures have to be put in place during the operations.

These changes to the labour law will be applicable for all the exempted categories of industries that will be allowed to work through notifications issued by the central and the state governments in the safe zones. According to sources, Maharashtra is also looking to raise the working hours in factories.

XLRI Jamshedpur professor K.R. Shyam Sundar termed these measures as violations of the International Labour Organisation’s norms and said that the move could be counter-productive as it will lead to reduced efficiency in cases where workers need to perform multiple functions.

Some states such as Madhya Pradesh already have a provision for 12 hours work day in their labour laws. Labour falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution.

The states can make their own legislation, but with the approval of the Central government.
In Andhra Pradesh, Special Commissioner of Labour Rekha Rani issued an order on April 18 directing the employers to pay salaries during the lockdown period to all employees without any deductions and not to “remove any contract or casual labour” which will be seen as a violation of the order and punishable under the Disaster Management Act.

This follows complaints of employers not paying wages during the lockdown period to workers. The Union Home Ministry had in an order dated March 29 said that the companies shall not deduct wages of its workers during the lockdown period.

“This is the biggest worry for industries. The MHA guidelines are silent about the time period till when the industries have to necessarily finance the wages of employees during the lockdown period,” an industry executive said, requesting anonymity.

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