Resource centre on India's rural distress

Labour’s data lost -Rajendran Narayanan and Bishwa Pandey

-The Hindu

The government’s tendency to be opaque and blame states is not new

Last month, the Code on Social Security; the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions; and the Code on Industrial Relations were passed in Parliament with little debate. In August 2019, the Code on Wages was passed. The four codes together subsume more than 40 labour laws.

The mission statement from the Ministry of Labour and Employment reads: “Improving the working conditions and the quality of life of workers through laying down and implementing policies/ programmes/ schemes/ projects for providing social security and welfare measures, regulating conditions of work, occupational health and safety of workers, eliminating child labour from hazardous occupations and processes, strengthening enforcement of labour laws and promoting skill development and employment services”. However, a cogent critique of the labour codes by the Working People’s Charter shows how they contradict the Labour Ministry’s mission statement and lack any social protection measures. Moreover, the Indian Labour Conference (ILC), the apex level consultative committee concerned with labour, last met in 2015. Isn’t it odd that even a nationally constituted body such as the ILC was not consulted before the passage of codes that are going to affect 90% of the workforce? For the nearly 50 crore ‘informal’ workers in India, the codes come as another cruel joke when the embers of the largest crisis for workers have not died down.

Lack of data

On September 14, in response to questions in Parliament concerning the deaths of migrant workers during the lockdown, the Labour Minister simply said that no data were available. In an almost prescient move, four researchers — Aman, Kanika, Krushna and Thejesh — had been painstakingly tracking the number of non-COVID deaths since the lockdown was announced. Many surveys have documented the destruction of lives, livelihoods and increased hunger. However, like other independent research was disregarded in the PIL concerning migrant workers in the Supreme Court, these numbers too were disregarded. It is ironic that a government that is obsessed with surveillance purportedly for the welfare of its citizens has not kept track of data that actually matter.

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