Labour laws’ fairness challenge

Source: The post is based on the article “Labour laws’ fairness challenge” published in Business Standard on 2nd May 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Employment

Relevance: concerns associated with amendments made in labour laws by some states.

News: Some states have amended their labour laws and have brought changes.

What are the changes brought by the states in their labour laws?

Karnataka has allowed 12-hour work shifts instead of eight or nine. It has increased overtime from 75 hours to 145 hours in three months, and allowed women to work in the night shift. 

These work hours are, however, capped at 48 hours per week or 4 days a week.

Similar changes in working hours have been brought by Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. 

These changes have been brought up on the request of several global contract manufacturing firms.

What are the concerns with these amendments?

The concerns with these amendments are whether these changes improve labour productivity and are efficient in creating new jobs or it leads to worse working conditions and labour exploitation.

It is argued that the flexibility to institute a 12-hour workday will improve productivity and will make India competitive with its counterparts in countries like China or Taiwan or Korea.

Some studies have also found that longer hours improve productivity because workers need to settle down in a shift before his/her productivity hits its peak.

However, a large number of studies have found that a longer number of working hours decreases productivity due to fatigue.

Newer studies have also suggested that rather than the number of working hours, other factors such as conditions at work, attribute of labour and work schedule play a much bigger role in increasing productivity.

Climate change and geographical locations may also affect the productivity of workers.

In terms of labour exploitation, it is hard to argue whether a 12-hour work shift coupled with four days will lead to labour exploitation. However, if the total number of hours per week changes, then it might lead to labour exploitation.

What can be the way ahead?

Factors such as protections for workers (wages, hiring and firing practices, insurance, etc.) and workplace conditions (safety norms, proper facilities and training etc.) are more important for workers rather than long working hours.

These factors should be taken into account because today factories tend to hire more contract workers, and often the terms and conditions for these workers are lower than those who are in the company’s roles.

Hence, these are the issues that the government should be most worried about, and they should be closely regulated and monitored.

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