Three Indian states with a combined population of over 300 million have used the Covid-19 crisis to radically weaken workers’ rights.
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have all legislated to allow a major lengthening of shifts with no increase in pay. Madhya Pradesh is allowing employers to hire and fire at will, has removed the need for contractors to have a licence to employ up to 49 people, changed factory licence renewals from annual to every ten years, and given employers the right to bar workplace inspections.
Uttar Pradesh, whose chief minister is a radical fundamentalist Hindu monk, has exempted all employers from almost all previous labour laws for 1,000 days. Only a few laws, including those banning outright slavery and insisting on payment of wages, will remain functional.
These changes — which the national government of Narendra Modi now has to approve — are being justified on the basis of creating jobs for workers returning to their home states as a result of the pandemic. Their advocates are also demagogically pointing out that a large majority of workers work informally and so are not effectively covered by legal rights.
Even the “union” linked to the Hindu fundamentalist BJP and fascistic RSS militia has denounced the changes.
The BJP regime has consistently to attacked and undermined workers’ rights and India’s labour movement. Indian workers are on the back foot, but in January many tens and probably hundreds of millions joined a mass strike against the government.