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Bengal won’t change labour laws amid pandemic like BJP-ruled states: Mamata Banerjee

Banerjee said there will be no quick relief from COVID-19 in the near future and the key to revival of the state’s economy lies in strengthening the infrastructure of rural Bengal.

SNS | New Delhi |

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Wednesday, the state  will never alter the existing labour laws in the wake of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, as she criticised the BJP-ruled states that have brought about changes to such regulations and “jeopardised” workers’ job security.

Banerjee said there will be no quick relief from COVID-19 in the near future and the key to revival of the state’s economy lies in strengthening the infrastructure of rural Bengal.

“We have come across reports that some BJP-ruled states have either suspended labour laws or tweaked them. The employees and labourers in those states would work more but get paid less, they will not have any job security.

“We do not support this and would never take such a step. We will follow the existing labour laws and ensure that the migrant labourers returning to the state can be employed here. The government can employ them under the 100-days-work scheme (MGNREGA),” she said, addressing a video-conference on the COVID-19 situation.

Banerjee’s comments come in the backdrop of states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh announcing suspension of certain labour laws with the objective to assist businesses recoup from the coronavirus blow.

“I think the revival of the state economy lies in rural Bengal. We have to strengthen the rural economy. In the days to come, this will be the roadmap for the entire country,” she said.

“There is no need to be worried about COVID-19. We will overcome it. But life cannot come to a halt because of this disease,” the chief minister added.

Six states, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh including Congress-ruled states Rajasthan and Punjab have passed laws extending working hours from the currently mandated 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day. The amendment will allow companies to extend a factory worker’s daily shift to 12 hours per day, six days a week (72 hours) from the existing eight hours per day, six days a week (48 hours). The government says it is to ensure that companies can operate with fewer workers and reduce the number of shifts, while meeting deadlines.

This move is said to be controversial, because 48 hours per week is what is mandated by global and Inernational Labour Organisation (ILO) norms. The first convention that ILO adopted was the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1) which India ratified in 1921 and it proclaimed 48 hours of work in a week.

A report by Hindustan Times says, UP government passed the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, that exempts businesses, manufacturing mostly, for three years from a gamut of labour laws barring four: the Building and Other Construction Workers Act; Workmen Compensation Act; Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act; and section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, which mandates employers to pay timely wages, and the Maternity Benefits Act.

UP has suspended key labour laws for three years on May 6 through an ordinance, and Madhya Pradesh on May 7 announced it was taking a similar course to put all labour laws on hold, barring some provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, for the next 1,000 days.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief said steps should be taken to restart the MGNREGA in West Bengal and adjust the man days that were lost due to the nationwide lockdown since March 25, while strictly adhering to social-distancing norms.