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Lok Sabha approves labour reforms amid union protests

Manoj Kumar
·2-min read
Indian parliament building is reflected in a puddle after the rain in New Delhi
Indian parliament building is reflected in a puddle after the rain in New Delhi

By Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved long-pending, disputed labour reforms in the teeth of a boycott by opposition parties and protests from trade unions.

The three new labour codes - making it easier for firms to hire and fire workers and imposing operating restrictions on unions – will replace decades-old laws and simplify labour regulations, Santosh Gangwar, India's labour and employment minister told lawmakers during a debate on the legislation.

"India will be left behind if the labour laws are not amended," he said, adding the new codes will speed up resolution of industrial disputes and provide a social security net to millions of additional workers.

The three bills - the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, the Industrial Relations Code and the Code on Social Security - are part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious moves to liberalise conditions for investment.

They are set to become law after approval by the upper house of the parliament later this week, and the president's consent.

The Code on Wages, meant to regulate wage and bonus payments, was approved by parliament last year.

Under the Industrial Relations Code, companies employing up to 300 workers will not require government permission to lay off workers or close plants - a major demand from industry over the years.

The Code also puts restrictions on the recognition of trade unions - making it mandatory for them to represent at least 10% of workers in a given sector - and prohibit them from striking without prior notice and during conciliation proceedings.

Lawmakers from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party said during the debate the new laws would provide social security benefits to workers, including ride-hailing companies like Ola and Uber.

Unions said they would begin nationwide protests from Wednesday, accusing Modi's government of using the novel coronavirus pandemic to push through controversial bills without adequate consultation.

"This is the beginning of the end of regular jobs," said Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, adding the unions would jointly protest against the implementation of the legislation.

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar and Nigam Prusty; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Mark Heinrich)