India: Right wing uses COVID-19 to implement 12-hour workday, 72-hour week
Indian workers protest the moves by right-wing governments to eliminate labor protection laws. | IndustriALL

Some Indian states are using coronavirus as a pretext to attack working conditions. Many have increased the working day to 12 hours, while others have suspended or provided exemptions to labor law.

State governments, including Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, have increased the workday to 12 hours and the standard workweek to 72 hours. In a cabinet meeting held on May 6, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended 35 out of 38 labor laws governing trade unions, industrial disputes, and contract workers. All companies and establishments in the state are now exempt from all labor laws for a period of three years.

The state governments that made sweeping changes are ruled by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also the ruling party in the central government. Aggressive changes to the labor laws were made through executive orders when the legislative assemblies or parliament were not in session. The changes undermine fundamental principles and rights at work, reversing decent work gains made through decades of trade union struggle.

The Gujarat government exempted new industrial units from labor laws and norms for 1,200 days. Only three laws, the Minimum Wages Act, Industrial Safety Rules, and the Employee Compensation Act will be applied to them.

Madhya Pradesh provides exemptions from legal obligations under various labor laws, including the Factories Act, Industrial Relations Act, Industrial Disputes Act, and the Contract Labour Act. It intends to increase the exemptions through amendments by executive order for a period of 1,000 days.

Eleven categories of industries—among them textile, leather, cement, iron and steel, electrical goods, electricity, public motor transport, engineering, and the automobile sector—will be exempt from the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act for an indefinite period. There will be no inspection in the firms employing fewer than 50 workers and no surprise inspections will take place.

Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura, and Punjab have also increased working hours and exempted establishments from following labor laws.

During a meeting with the labor minister on May 1, central trade union representatives made a number of demands of government:

  • Do not increase working hours.
  • Maintain the strict implementation of labor laws.
  • Provide financial support to workers who lost their jobs during the lockdown.
  • Support to migrant workers.

No union demands were acted upon by the government.

On May 6, the labor minister met with employers, whose demands include the relaxation of the Industrial Disputes Act to treat the lockdown period as a lay-off, to suspend labor laws for the next 2-3 years, except for provisions like minimum wages, bonus and statutory dues, and to increase working hours to 12 hours per day.

In response, Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union stated:

“We strongly condemn the Indian state governments’ attempt to increase working hours and suspend labor laws. Let us not forget that workers are in the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.

“The central government should not allow draconian labor law changes that are against internationally established human rights and international labor standards. The state governments should immediately withdraw anti-worker labor law changes. IndustriALL Global Union stands in solidarity with the Indian trade union movement to defend workers’ rights.”

The joint platform of Central Trade Unions and Federations/Associations vehemently denounced labor law changes. Unions are planning nationwide action soon.




IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy, and manufacturing sectors and is a new force in global solidarity taking up the fight for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world. IndustriALL Global Union representa a 50 millones de trabajadores en 140 países en los sectores de la minería, la energía y la manufactura y es una nueva fuerza de solidaridad mundial que lucha por mejores condiciones laborales y derechos sindicales en todo el mundo.