It's A Hobson's Choice For Labour

By Chittarvu Raghu. Dated: 5/24/2020 12:24:25 AM

"The very objective of these industrial laws is to put an end to unfair labour practices and provides for the rights privileges, obligations and responsibilities of the work force. The other main objective is to safeguard the workers against the exploitation."
Suspension of crucial labour laws for varying lengths of time by some of the states viz. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan etc., reflects the paradigm shift in relation to labour policies consequent to Covid-2019.
Already the economy is struggling with the lockdown and the labour is starring at the uncertain future. It is claimed that the labour laws have been suspended to incentivize economic activity in the respective states irrespective of the party ruling the State. In the process, the legislations that have been made to protect the welfare and the interest of the labour have been jeopardised.
Article 246 contemplates the subject matter of laws to be made by the parliament and legislatures of the State. The VII Schedule of the constitution consists of three lists i.e., (1) Union list, (2) State list & (3) Concurrent list. Entry 22, 23 & 24 of the concurrent list relate to the labour laws.
The very objective of these industrial laws is to put an end to unfair labour practices and provides for the rights privileges, obligations and responsibilities of the work force. The other main objective is to safeguard the workers against the exploitation.
Article 43 directs that State shall endeavour to secure by suitable legislation to all workers, a living wage, and conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life. The aforesaid legislations have been passed in the background of the said constitutional obligations and cannot be trampled upon under any circumstances. The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Peoples Union Vs. Union of India has held that there are certain fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution which are enforceable against the whole world and there are found inter-alia in Article 17, 23 & 24 of the constitution.
The Apex Court also held that Article 23 is clearly designed to protect the individual not only against the State but also against the other private citizens. The sweep of Article 23 is held to be wide and unlimited. The constitution makers, when they set out to frame the constitution, found that they had enormous task before them of changing the socio economic structure of the country and bringing about socio economic regeneration with a view to reaching social and economic justice to common man and it was necessary to carry forward social, economic revolution with a view to creating social economic conditions in which everyone would be able to enjoy the basic human rights and participate in the fruits of freedom and liberty in an egalitarian social and economic framework.
The Hon'ble Apex court also analyzed as to why, the subject of 'forced labour' was included in the Chapter on Fundamental rights. It is held that the prohibition of forced labour is intended to be a general prohibition, total in its effect and all pervasive in its range and also against any other person indulging in any such practice and Article 23 strikes at 'forced labour' manifested in any form which is in violation of human dignity and human values and the word force must therefore be constructed to include not only physical or legal force but also force arising from the compulsion of economic circumstance which leaves no choice of alternatives to a person in want and compels him to provide labour or service even though the remuneration received is less than the minimum wage. In a country like India where there is so much poverty and unemployment and there is no equality of bargaining power, a contract of service may appear on its face voluntary but it may, in reality, be involuntary, because while entering into the contract, the employee by reason of his economically helpless condition, may have been faced with hobson's 'choice', either to starve or to submit to the exploitative terms dictated by the powerful employer.
Therefore the decision of the State government to suspend the Labour laws as an incentive to the employer would be unconstitutional. The State cannot take advantage of the present adverse circumstances and the lack of bargaining power by the labour. It cannot act detrimental to the interests of labour welfare. The State has to abide by the directives contained in the Directive Principles and act in a manner to promote the interest and welfare of the work force and prevent any scope of exploitation by the employer. The easing of the lockdown, at the threshold, if experiences such adverse decisions, it would drastically effect the industrial peace and harmony.
*(Chittarvu Raghu, Advocate, High Court's of A.P. & T.S. Email:



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