When slaves were being given food to survive (regardless of its taste and edibility), clothe to wear (regardless of its length and suitability) and roof to stay under (regardless of it being a horse’s shed) what was all the fuss of freedom and liberty from slavery regarding? Let me be very clear, this is not about America or The Great Britain or India or any other singular country. This is about the nature and construct of a whole market, often referred as the labour market, and prevailing practices in regulating the same, where the employers (state and private) acted like the Dracula, surviving on the blood of the innocent.
The regime that we witness today was achieved after a great and extensive struggle of different advocates of human rights who realised how the industries and the State was abusing the labour force in order to achieve maximum economic gain, with bare minimum regard being given to the need and requirements of the workforce. There was no standard wages; no guidelines to mandatory holidays; no trade unions to fall back upon; no maternity reliefs; or, no forum to raise disputes against industry. Also, there was no concept of future planning or post-retirement social security to the labours, and thus there was no provident funds or employees insurance requirement. More so, while the industries and states wished that their labour would die on job, while trying to fetch maximum profits from them, it hardly seemed like a matter of concern for the then employers.
Then came the era of rights advocacy through activists and trade unions, which fought against the tyranny and obtained a decent earning opportunity, while ensuring no abuse of human labour was being done. Legislations were made restricting working hours, and making provisions for overtime, providing minimum wages and holidays, creating a corpus of retirement benefits and alike. This ensured that businesses grew in coordination with the growth of living standards of its workforce.
Industries, at its peak, lobbied the Governments in developing the concepts of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) within the territory of the country, as a black hole for labour legislations. It came as a tool for business expansion, with maximization of profit, with no to minimal labour legislations in place to ease compliance, furthered by granting tax benefits. It was also created as a tool for providing mass employment in countries with huge populations, as a result of non-application of labour legislations, which came in handy for political parties to reap scores during election.
A country that has created a huge demand of jobs, by creating an artificial scarcity, arising out of structured policy decisions to open least vacancies and even when opened then delayed recruitments, unemployment was the least of their worries.
Covid-19 created a situation of distress and anxiety. While there are data available, or could be available, with respect to the job cuts that are going to happen in the organised sector, the unorganised sector is going to be the worst affected class. Findings of CIME suggests there is over 12.2 Crore job cuts already with unemployment rate reaching around 30% in the country.
Mind it this data is of job “loss”, which suggests that this number adds up to those who were already unemployed and those who are graduating this year with expectation of employment. With an unemployed workforce running into hundreds of millions, it is a challenge for the Government, which hasn’t worked in the field of job creation, throughout their tenure.
With the bleak future of employment, the government is coming up with strategies which in all certainty will crush the economy and labour force into a situation and condition, getting up from where will not be an option in the near future.
With Uttar Pradesh passing ordinance for suspending majority of labour legislations, and Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and others already standing in the que for the same, the intent of State appears to disregard the basic understanding of exception, which SEZs were till date. Once applied, the exceptions will form the general rule, rolling back the efforts, put in by labour forces, by several decades.
The policy will ensure creating a hand-to-mouth scenario for such a huge army of unemployed individuals, who will be desperate to put in their head inside a machine, if needed, in lieu of some money. And the State will ensure that while the workers are getting enough to eat, wear and lie down, they will never have enough to uplift their standard of living, thereby reminding of the earlier evil.
The hungry unemployed labour workforce, which happens to be the “citizen” of the country, will be denied the basics of human rights, because there will be no legislation to protect them against exploitation. No liability of paying minimum wages, no liability of granting holidays, no liability of insuring their lives and no liability of contributing to post-retiral benefits. No liability and a license to exploit. And of course the workforce will voluntarily go for being exploited; remember it is the same crowd which walked down the Indian roads like they were walking on a scaled map.
Those not doing manual labour will be facing a different aspect of exploitation, with increased working hours (which is already more than what legislation mandates) at a poorly paid compensation, floating and fighting for survival in the cut-throat competition of educated unemployed.
When the need arises to put a loaf of bread in the plate of the dependents, workers will put out the most they can, irrespective of the fact if it comes at a cost of their own blood. Blood that they will happily feed for resurrection of the Dracula, because of a misplaced hope.