HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF LABOUR LAWS

Introduction

Labour Laws play a very important role in the functioning of the corporate sector. It acts as a tool of empowerment for the workers and also for their protection. Labour Laws act as mediators between the employees, business owners, and the Government. Labour Laws consist of Minimum wages act, 1948[1], Factories Act, 1948[2], Maternity benefits act, 1961[3], Payment of bonus act, 1965[4], and many more. The main aim of introducing labour laws was to safeguard the interest of labourers from being exploited by elite employers. With COVID-19 situation of labours have further gotten worse and they seek justice from laws in force and depend upon courts to serve remedy to them.

DEVELOPMENT OF LABOUR LAWS

Industries, Multi-national Companies, Enterprises, so forth work for the betterment of the economy and to strengthen rich people. To maintain high profits and have more output is what firms usually focus on, even if it comes at the cost of snatching the rights of labourers. Therefore, many wrongs have been committed against labourers throughout history and continue to take place. Because of such evil wrongs taking place against innocent and vulnerable labourers, the labourer’s laws came into force across the world at different times to protect and empower labourers.

The labour laws came into enforcement around the 18th century when Industrial Revolution was going on. In history we have seen how unjustifiably labourers were treated, be it World War I, World War II, Great Depression, so forth. To stop this gross violation committed against the labour class the government had to come up with laws to safeguard them. We can see in history the emergence of the French revolution was focused on the emergence of social justice and creating a fair society. The rest of the countries as well followed the footsteps of such a fair society and introduced laws. But in a real and true sense, labour laws emerged in the 20th century and prior to that much justice wasn’t served to the labourers. After World War I countries held a meeting and decided to form an International Labour Organization to protect labourers from malpractices and other wrongs committed with them. The convention dealt with and protected certain issues such as:

  1. What should be the maximum working hours of labourers. 
  2. Equality of payment and treatment of labourers despite different genders. 
  3. Prohibition of child labourers needs to come into enforcement so that children can get educated. 
  4. Mandatory pregnancy leaves to women.
  5. A six-day working policy should be practiced and not all the seven days of the week the labourers should be forced to work tirelessly.
  6. A certain amount of minimum wages need to be paid. 
  7. The condition of the workplace should be safe and habitable, so forth. 

Therefore, International Labour Organization became a vital body of the world and still continues to look after the rights of labourers.

In India, during British rule, the British introduced certain laws to protect the labourers and solve disputes if any arose between any employer and employee. But the main agenda behind this was to make sure that industries’ development and trade face no loss or doesn’t come at a halt due to Indians at any cost.

Post-independence in India the constitution-makers framed several codes for betterment and safety of labourers, such as the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947[5], Trade Unions Act, 1926[6], so forth. Also, for enforcements of such acts, the creation of Industrial and Labour Courts was done. Therefore, India is on the right path and takes all the necessary steps to take care of its population.

ISSUES FACED BY LABOURS

Today the vast majority of industries don’t have a strict mechanism to enforce the laid down laws, even some countries fail to have comprehensive and all-inclusive laws to tackle the wrongdoings against the workers. Furthermore, in some countries, the labourers are not even aware of their rights and the companies exploit them in any and every way possible. Not to forget that the situation has improved in many ways, the directors are particular about safety rules and have improvised the risk management. Also, the government and judiciary are taking a serious approach against malpractices committed by industries. Nevertheless, the scope of improvement is quite enormous as the heinous crimes committed against labourers are unbelievably huge in number. 

The workers face many challenges such as:

  1. They are uninformed about their rights.
  2. They are forced to work for long hours which is unacceptable and can cause severe psychological issues. 
  3. They are exposed to harmful chemicals which may harm the body they came in contact with.
  4. As they need to extract minerals they usually need to work with a bulldozer, jumbo operators and due to the vibration of these machines, they might develop cardiovascular changes and other severe health problems. 
  5. Technical training of labourers can be improved. 
  6. Children are yet to work in hazardous industries in many parts of the world. 

There are many other deeper level issues that labourers face in their day-to-day work life and these issues go unseen and unresolved for most of the time. For these issues partly many parties are responsible, as in, the government for framing outdated laws against safety and health of labourers, the industries for not taking enough safety precautions and finding a grey area in rules to exploit labourers, the judiciary for not giving quick judgments against such heinous crimes, labourers for being careless about their rights, not speaking up against the poor level of safety, not complaining about long hours of work and lastly the society for not spreading the message about such crimes and tolerating it. 

Such acts of unfair work are not only an issue for the labourers but also for the community at large. It depicts that we as a community have failed to address basic human rights and exploit the poor strata people as much as we can. This even fails a nation in terms of economy as it stops one from getting a basic amount of income and impacts the lives of labour in all the ways possible. Further, this crisis is not only faced by undeveloped countries, it is even seen in developed countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdoms, China, etc. Only with awareness amongst the public and by the implementation of stricter laws can the situation get any better or else the atrocities committed against workers will only increase in coming years.

These labourers deserve their right to a safe workplace, a certain minimum amount of wages, regular medical check-ups, safe equipment and machinery, the needed amount of technical training, equipment to keep workers safe from ultraviolet rays of sunlight, and in case of any misshaping the industry must compensate the labour or his/her family members. If we do take the necessary steps and look after the labourers we all will prosper towards a better world. Therefore, it is not only the duty of policymakers to do just by labourers, but also of the judiciary and public at large.

Conclusion

Herein the focus is on how labour laws came in force and how crucial they are for any country and its citizens. Further, that labourers still face many challenges in various parts of the world despite the laws in force. With COVID-19 the situation of labourers has become worse and they faced many more challenges, so we need to make sure that laws and remedies are available to them and that we take all steps possible to prevent any atrocities done against the hard-working labourers.

Author(s) Name: Parul Thadani (Fergusson College, Savitribai Phule Pune University)

References:

[1] Minimum Wages Act, 1948

[2] Factories Act, 1948

[3] Maternity Benefits Act, 1961

[4] Payment of Bonus Act, 1965

[5] Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

[6] Trade Unions Act, 1926

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