Ten central trade unions on Monday sent a second petition to International Labour Organisation (ILO) urging it to "powerfully and effectively" intervene upon the Centre on suspension of labour laws by states even as the "deeply concerned" multilateral body asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send a "clear message" to uphold the country's international commitments on workers.
The latest letter by the trade unions, which came 11 days after the first letter, said there has been "umpteen number of instances" which reflects "refusal" by the Centre to the aims and procedures of the ILO as it has no obligation to the international body.
"There are clear reasons to understand that with the endorsement from, rather insistence of the Central Government on so-called labour law reforms 'on priority basis' the state governments have dared to attack the basic rights of the workers," the trade unions said in the latest letter.
"These diabolical measures are being pushed taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown period when no industrial action by workers is possible. And most of the workplaces having been closed during this period, there is absolutely no relationship or import of all such measures with the task of containing the COVID-19 pandemic," it said.
In its first letter on May 14, the trade unions -- INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC -- said it was unfortunate that the Centre was supporting "blanket exemptions" to all establishments from all substantive labour laws for a period of three years by the state governments. They said it empowered the employers to hire and fire workers at their convenience, freezing collective bargaining rights and undoing the rights of occupational safety and health.
Responding to this, ILO's Freedom of Association Branch chief Karen Curtis said in his letter on May 22 that ILO Director General Guy Ryder has immediately intervened expressing his "deep concern" at these recent events. He has appealed to the Prime Minister to "send a clear message to central and state governments to uphold the country's international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue".
States like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had enhanced working hours from eight hours to 12 hours amid other provisions initially, though some of them backtracked later on some provisions. Certain states have also curbed workers' right to form unions besides other restrictions.
In the latest letter, the trade unions have said that the Centre using the state governments to push this "retrograde anti-labour exercise" for "virtual nullification of most of the substantive laws".
"This exercise has been aimed at total abrogation of the provisions of not more than eight hour- working day and Right to Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining," the leaders said in the letter and added that these were contravention of ILO conventions.
"We feel that at this very turbid and uncertain situation, the ILO must powerfully and effectively intervene to prevail upon the Government of India to refrain from such exercise of abrogation of all basic labour rights unilaterally trampling underfoot the basic concept of social partnership and tripartism as espoused by ILO," it said.
The letter also took exception of a press statement issued by the ILO's Decent Work Team (Asia) on May 13, which said certain states in India are moving towards relaxing labour laws with a view to
revitalize the economy from the impact of COVID-19. "Such a statement tantamount to certifying by ILO, the retrograde actions of the state governments in connivance with the Government of India, in gross violation of ILO standards, as legitimate," it said.