One of the important factors of production that we have studied in economics is labour. Labour refers to the physical work or activity done. Labour is demanded in most of the industries for various work. India being a densely populated nation labour is available in surplus. Indian labourers have witnessed various forms of ill-treatments, exploitations, unfavourable working conditions from their employers. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to study Labour Legislations.
‘A nation may do without its millionaires and without its capitalists but a nation can never do without its labour.’-Mahatma Gandhi.
Labour Legislation is a most dynamic institution in modern society. From a simple restraint on child labour in Great Britain less than a century and a half ago, labour legislation has become an important agency of the State for the regulation of working-and often living–conditions of men and women throughout the world, as indicated by the rising number and variety of International labour Conventions and also by the adherence thereto of most important nations. This rapid development of labour legislation is due to the fact that it is an integral part of modern social organisation. Like slave labour in ancient times, serf labour in mediaeval times and indentured labour in transitional periods, the relics of all of which are still to be found in many backward countries, free labour is the direct result of growing industrialism and democracy, and labour legislation is the institution through which the State protects the interests, and ameliorates the moral and material conditions, of the working classes.
Labour legislation presents a number of complex problems. An institution which owes its origin and growth to a variety of social, political and economic forces, deals with the life and labour of a vast proportion of the population and often comes in direct conflict with vested interests, cannot but be complicated. Moreover, the very fact that both its enactment and enforcement depend upon Government, which may be much more easily influenced by employers than by workers also adds to its difficulty. But the continued attempts towards the solution of these problems give momentum to the movement for labour legislation.
History of Labour Laws
The seeds of labour legislations were sown in India from the time of colonialism. Of course, in formulating certain early laws, considerations of British political economy are crucial. In the beginning it was difficult to get enough regular Indian workers to run British establishments and hence laws for indenturing workers became necessary. There has been the labour legislation so as to conserve and shield the interests of British employers.
The labour laws of independent India derive their origin, inspiration and strength partly from the views expressed by important nationalist leaders during the days of national freedom struggle, partly from the debates of the Constituent Assembly and partly from the provisions of the Constitution and the International Conventions and Recommendations. The relevance of the dignity of human labour and the need for protecting and safeguarding the interest of labour as human beings has been enshrined in Chapter-III (Articles 16, 19, 23 & 24) and Chapter IV (Articles 39, 41, 42, 43, 43A & 54) of the Constitution of India keeping in line with Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. The Labour Laws were also influenced by important human rights and the conventions and standards that have emerged from the United Nations.
As weall know, Indian textiles have put forward fierce competition with Britishtextiles in the export market. In order to make Indian labour more expensive, the “Factory Act” was first promulgated in 1883 due to pressure from Manchester and British textile tycoons on the British Parliament in Lancashire. The Employers and Workmen’s (Disputes) Act 1860 criminalised breaches of contract by workers. It was introduced for settling disputes regarding wages paid to workers engaged in building canals, railways, and other public utilities in a speedy manner, this legislation was a result of disputes between European railway contractors and their Indian workmen in Bombay Presidency. India implemented the eight-hour work system for the first time,abolished child labour, restricted women’s night work, and implemented overtime pay for over eight hours.Although the impact ofthis move is obviously welfare, the real motivation is undoubtedlytrade protectionism. India’s first law regulating the relationship betweenemployers and their employees was the Trade Dispute Act of 1929. Economic depression led to unemployment. Royal Commission on Labour in India was established in 1929. This commission was rejected or boycotted by the Indian labour movement, the AITUC strongly criticised by vocalising that the establishment of the commission was “an open and brutal attack upon the trade union movements by using repressive legislation” and the lack of bona fides. The industrial unrest, reduction in wages, reduced jobs continued to exist. However, during the 1930’s there was an advent of two conclusions from the repot of Royal Commission. Firstly, the central and provincial government introduced a few new labour legislations.
World War II & Preindependence Period
During the world war 2 and pre-independence phase, policies and regulations were under industrial unrest in relation to the conditions. The legislations were focused to bring the central and state level coordination amongst the labour force. Section 49A of Bombay Industrial Dispute Act of 1941 provided the Bombay Government to address conflicts in compulsory arbitration by Industrial Courts and banned all strikes and lockdowns prior to the arbitration for industries. These limiting legislations were continued as Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946 even after the end of the war. Essential Services Act 1941 and the Defence of India Rules (Rule 81-A, 1942 and Rule 56-A, 1943) were other important legislations. The provision pointed out the restrictions against strikes, other industrial issue including action on part of employers while political and general strikes were also targeted. The Industrial Dispute Act of 1947 was applicable to workmen in industries. Various workers were excluded from “workmen” mentioned in the Act. The term “industries” has a broad term now, but agricultural workers and domestic workers are still not mentioned in the Act. The Trade Dispute Act of 1929 and Trade Dispute Act of 1947 along with the legislations of the Bombay Act of 1934 were created to help the government agencies to evaluate disputes and settle them but these regulations seemed to control the labour more than address the grievances. Constant and consistent efforts to the Bombay Industrial Disputes Act 1938 resulted in the Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946 which recognized various unions and gave unions right to represent workers in particular industry. These regulations provided protection to the workers. Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946 mandated the employers give employees transparent terms and conditions in relation to their employment. The Factories Act 1948 and the Minimum Wage Act 1948 were also introduced during this era. Most of these regulations had a system like Industrial Disputes Act 1947 restricting its application to only certain businesses.
Post-Independence, 1948 Onwards
Post-independence, it was agreed upon that the Indian Central Government would be responsible for legislation in relation to laborers, by working for their interests reflected in the 5-year development plan of dealing with every aspect of labourer’s life, housing, welfare, good working conditions and wages. The Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act 1948 eliminated employment of casual dock labours, the Employee’s State Insurance Act 1948 helped enabling workers to access insurance for health issues or death, the Plantation Labour Act 1951 provided welfare for employment in industries of rubber and tea plantations and in case of legislations in relation to social security the Employee’s Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1952 was present. In favour of the state planned and organized economy, the steady and continuous labour laws in India followed a dual pattern. The disputes were majorly fixed by the legislation models brought forth from 1926 to 1947. They were responsible for regulating the trade unions, while trade unions were legally sanctioned, collective bargaining, strike and lockdowns were recognized, importance was given to support “industrial peace”. The amendment of Industrial Disputes Act of 194 in 1982, outlawed various practices of unions, workers who were in anyway designed to disrupt the legalized method of dispute settlement. It would be an unfair trade practice on part of the employer to deny a collective bargain approach. The termination or dismissal of an employee was not a contentious subject of individual industrial dispute in the initial Industrial Dispute Act 1947. There was no restriction on the employer end to terminate employment as it saw fit, nor did the legislations place limitations upon the same. The Central Government started fostering new regulations in relation to retrenchments, layoffs, plant, and industry closures by amending the Industrial Disputes Act in 1953,1976 and 1982. The Industrial Disputes Act 1965 amendment passed a legislation wherein the right of the individual worker to notify an industrial dispute regarding discharge, dismissal, or termination from the employment, even though they are not represented by a union. Amendment in 1971 gave power to the tribunals to instigate dismissal of employees and pass necessary orders including reinstatement and compensation in cases where the dismissal was found to be unjust. In 1970, Central Government introduced significant legislations which strictly limited and regulated the used of contract labour. The Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act 1982 mentioned certain behaviours of both employers and unions on the hiring practices, stating that hiring practices which dealt with the continuation of employment of workers on temporary or casual contracts with the objective of depriving them of their legal status and privilege of permanent worker also considered unfair labour practice. After independence, the Central Government and several other state governments played a significant role in development of legislations related to labour rights.
International Labour Organisation.
Recently, indeed, the world has awakened to the fact that lack of progress in one country constitutes an obstacle to progress in others and the need of dealing with labour questions on a scale transcending national boundaries resulted in the formation of the International Labour Organisation.
ILO was established in 1919 and is a very important factor in labour law worldwide. Adhering to the principle of “labour is not a commodity”, the slogan that “poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere” impacted Labour legislations in several countries. The ILO has continuously studied the living conditions of workers and has recognized the need to improve labour legislation. Establishing minimum international labour standards for the implementation of the International Labour Law, covering a wide range of topics, including wages, working hours, paid annual leave, minimum working age, medical examination, maternity leave, occupational healthand safety, safety and social security, social security, freedom of association, the right to organize and instruct universities, active negotiations, seafarers’ employment conditions and unemployment.The standards of the International Labour Organization have greatly influenced Indian labour laws. The standards of the International Labour Organization have always been the foundation of Indian labour law, especially since the establishment of the status of the Indian government in the “Labour Law Concept” in 1946 formulate labour policy goals that have close ties and influence on the International Labour Organization’s Constitution and the 1944 Philadelphia Charter.In this way, the ILO has directly or indirectly exerted a great influence in the field of labour and labour law in India.
Purpose of Labour Legislations.
The Indian Labour Legislation has its roots from the British Raj. Britishers took the advantage of India’s cheap labour resources and exploited the worker class. The British enacted labour legislations so as to safeguard the British employers. This however didn’t benefit the workers as they were constantly subjected to inhumane treatment from their employers in the form of problems as hours of work, wages, working conditions, trade unions, industrial disputes etc. The disputes between the workers and trade unions during the Industrial Revolution urged the need for Labour Legislations. The employers used hire and fire theory to remove the employees in the view of increasing production by creating competition to get hired. This theory negatively affected the rights of the employees.
Labour legislation that is adapted to the economic and social challenges of the modern world of work fulfils three crucial roles it establishes a legal system that facilitates productive individual and collective employment relationships, and therefore a productive economy; by providing a framework within which employers, workers and their representatives can interact with regard to work-related issues, it serves as an important vehicle for achieving harmonious industrial relations based on workplace democracy; it provides a clear and constant reminder and guarantee of fundamental principles and rights can be implemented and enforced. But experience shows that labour legislation can only fulfil these functions effectively if it is responsive to the conditions on the labour market and the needs of the parties involved. The most efficient way of ensuring that these conditions and needs are taken fully into account is if those concerned are closely involved in the formulation of the legislation through processes of social dialogues. The involvement of stakeholders in this way is of great importance in developing a broad basis of support for labour legislation and in facilitating its application within and beyond the formal structured sectors of the economy.
Emergence of Labour Laws in India.
Labour and employment laws are referred as Industrial laws in India. It was usually the sweeping character of transition from a simple agriculture setup to a complex urban industrial society that gave rise to various labour problems all over the world, especially in our country. Since labour is a perishable commodity, the workers had no bargaining power with the employers with the regard to settling the terms and conditions of their employment, and therefore, they had to work at the terms dictated by their employers, which included working on low wages for long hours and under deplorable working conditions. At the advent of industrial revolution around mid of the 19th century in our country, in their eagerness for quick returns and easy profits, most employers started exploiting not only male workers but also woman and child labour. The government was totally indifferent to the cause of labour, it has been rightly said that at that time, the policy of the government was to protect the social system from workers rather than to protect workers from the social system. This is evident from Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act,1859 and the Employers’ and Workmen’s (Disputes) Act,1860 which are mostly related to the penalties for the workers found guilty of breach of contract and this was made a criminal offence.
An enactment to regulate the conditions of labour in factories in India was passed in the year 1881 and for a number of years no important Act dealing with labour was placed on the statute book. That Act was a simple measure intended primarily to protect children who were then employed in large numbers and to provide for some health and safety measures. The Act was inadequate in many respects which led the Government of India to reconsider the law almost immediately after it was passed and a commission was appointed in 1890 to examine the question and to make recommendations. As a result of the recommendations of the commission a new Act was passed in 1891. For the next 20 years there was no change in the law. In 1911 the new Factories Act was passed which regulated for the first time the hours of work of men. The Act was amended from time to time in 1923, 1926 and 1931. As a result of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Labour, more popularly known as the Whitley Commission, a revised and more comprehensive Act was passed in 1934. The Act was amended on not less than seven occasions and was finally replaced by a new Act in 1948 which came into force with effect from 1st April 1949. It is over 125 years that India is experiencing the Labour Legislations. In 1850 Apprentice Act was passed which aimed at providing employment to children of the orphanages. Our Indian Constitution being the lengthiest of all provides source for various laws enacted. The laws related to labour identifies the duties and rights of both employers and employees.
The Apprentice Act of 1850 was followed by the Factories Act of 1881 and the first State act was the Bombay Trade Disputes (and Conciliation) Act 1934, followed by the Bombay Industrial Disputes Act,1938 which was amended during the war years. This was replaced by the BIR Act,1946. The Central Government at this time introduced the industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act,1946. In 1947, the government replaced the Trade Disputes Act with the Industrial Disputes Act, which was later modified. This law is the main instrument for government intervention in industrial disputes. After independence, many laws concerning social security and regulation of labour employment were enacted, such as the ESI Act,1948, EPF and Miscellaneous Provisions Act,1952, Payment of Gratuity Act,1972, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, etc.
Objectives of Labour Legislations.
Labour legislation in India has sought to achieve the following objectives:
(1) Social security, political justice and economic stability.
(2) Employment without discrimination on the basis of creed, caste, religion, complexion, gender, etc.
(3) Safeguarding the backward and weaker classes of society.
(4) Enabling Industrial Peace.
(5) Creation of favourable environment for economic growth.
(6) Safeguarding labour standards.
(7) Workers safeguarded against exploitation.
(8) Right to form unions.
(9) Collective Bargaining.
(10) Entrusting the respective states to protect worker’s class.
(11) Granting Human Rights.
Proper adjustment of employee relations is a prerequisite for the planned, gradual and targeted development of society.The goals of labour law are an evolving concept that requires unremitting efforts to achieve them consistently.
In a landmark judgement Hindustan Antibiotics v. The Workmen (A.I.R. 1967, S.C. 948; (1967) 1, Lab.L.J.114) the Supreme Court of India made a significant observation. The aim of the Labour Codewas to improve working conditions for industrial labour by providing them withthe normal comfortof living that would lead to industrial peace,that would speed up the nation’s productive activities,and bring prosperity to all and continue to improve working conditions.
Factors Influencing Labour Legislations:
The conditions of life and labour in the early periods of industrialization in India were extremely rigorous-hours of work were excessive, and the industrial labour drawn from the rural areas was severely exploited. The British colonial rule in this country was primarily interested in protecting the interests of the British capitals invested in the Indian industries and not so much in protecting the workers. It is well known that the early factory and labour legislation in India resulted from the need for protecting the interests of the foreign industrialists and investors. In the tea plantations of Assam and Bengal, where life and work became extremely intolerable, workers started deserting their place of work for their village homes. Tea District Emigrant Labour Act, 1832, and the Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act,1859, were designed more for the purpose of ensuring a steady supply of labour to the tea gardens in Assam than for protecting the interests of the labourers. The latter act made the desertions of the tea gardens by the labourers a criminal offence. Similarly, the first Factory Act of 1881 resulted from the complaints of the Lancashire textile magnates against competition by the cotton textiles produced in the Indian mills because the labour employed by them was extremely cheap. Similarly other pieces of labour legislations enacted during the period such as the various amendments to the Factories Act, Workmen’s compensation Act 1923, Indian Mines Act,1923, Indian Trades Union Act, 1926, Payment of Wages Act ,1936, Employment of Children Act, 1938, among others have followed the British pattern.
Struggle for National Emancipation
The struggle for national emancipation from the colonial rule necessitated the welding together of the various sections of the Indian population. In order that the struggle could take roots and become a mass movement the workers, the peasants, the kisan and other downtrodden sections of the Indian population including the untouchables and backward classes had to be aroused and enthused with the dreams of a better future after independence. The struggle for national independence picked up socialist and communist influence generated by the Russian Revolution and came to be closely identified with the interests of the workers and peasants. Industrial workers were organised into trade unions and the peasants were encouraged to form their own organisation. The organised industrial workers demanded improvement in their working conditions and consequently laws had to be passed to protect them from excessive exploitation. The records of the debates in the Indian Legislative Assembly show how the National list members make tireless efforts to get protective labour legislations enacted. The Indian trade unions act 1926 was enacted in response to the demands of the Indian Trade Union movement supported by its nationalist leader the appointment of the royal Commission on labour 1929 which considerable influence the course of subsequent labour legislation was partly the result of the pressure exerted by the nationalist and trade union forces. The leaders of the nationalist movement had promised to the establishment of a better and just social order after independence.
Adoption of Indian Constitution
Fundamental rights of Indian citizens are provided by the constitution of India the constitution of India was adopted on the 26th November 1949 and put in use with effect from 26th January 1950 which guarantees that the residents of the land can lead a peaceful life as they inhabit the country. The individual fundamental rights of Indian citizens are common to most liberal democracies, which include equality before the law, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, freedom of religion and the right to constitutional remedies for the protection of civil rights.
Article 41- Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases: The state shall within the limits of economic capacity and development make effective provision for securing the right to work to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want.
Article 42 -Provision for just and humane conditions of work and Maternity relief: The state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for Maternity relief.
Article 43- Living wage, etc. for workers: The state shall endeavour to secure by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way, all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise work, a living wage conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities and in particular, the state shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas. Article 43A- Participation of workers in management of industries: The state shall take steps by suitable legislation or any other way to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organisations engaged in any industry.
Classification of Labour Laws
- Labour Laws enacted by Central Government where it has sole responsibility of enforcement.
1. The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948
2. The Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act,1952
3. The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986
4. The Mines Act, 1952
5. The Iron Ore Mines, Manganese Ore Mines and Chrome Ore Mines Labour Welfare (Cess) Act, 1976 6. The Iron Ore Mines, Manganese Ore Mines and Chrome Ore Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1976 7. The Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1946
8. The Beedi Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1976
9. The Limestone and Dolomite Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1972
10. The Cine Workers Welfare (Cess) Act, 1981
11. The Beedi Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1976 12. The Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981
- Labour Laws enacted by Central Government and enforced both by Central and State Government.
13. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
14. The Building and Other Constructions Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.
15. The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
16. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
17. The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. 12
18. The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
19. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979.
20. The Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988
21. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
22. The Minimum Wages Act, 1948
23. The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965
24. The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972
25. The Payment of Wages Act, 1936
26. The Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981
27. The Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996
28. The Apprentices Act, 1961
29. Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008
30. Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages Act, 1958
31. Merchant Shipping Act, 1958
32. Sales Promotion Employees Act, 1976
33. Dangerous Machines (Regulation) Act, 1983
34. Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1948
35. Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) (Inapplicability to Major Ports) Act, 1997
36. Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005
- Labour Laws enacted by Central Government and enforced by State Government.
37. The Employers’ Liability Act, 1938
38. The Factories Act, 1948
39. The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961
40. The Personal Injuries (Compensation Insurance) Act, 1963
41. The Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1962
42. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951
43. The Sales Promotion Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, 1976
44. The Trade Unions Act, 1926
45. The Weekly Holidays Act, 1942 13
46. The Working Journalists and Other Newspapers Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955
47. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923
48. The Employment Exchange (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959
49. The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act 1938
50. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976
51. The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966
The development of labour law is the result of tireless efforts made by workers all over the world to strive for better and fairer working conditions and job security. Due to its particularity and constantly changing legal concepts, such as development, goals, classifications, etc.will be of great help to understand its principles. When considering the labour law in India, we not only need to consider the application of laws or regulatory conventions that regulate specific socialwork, but also what labour law may mean in some aspects to change ineconomic and social conditions. The labour law is very similar to the labour law of developed industrial societies.It has extensive legislation that sets minimum standards for employment, social security, and health and safety at work. Labour legislationlegitimizes trade unions and their activities, and provides a basis for settlement of labour disputes.
- Rajani Kanta Das, Principles and Problems of Indian Labour Legislations, 1938.
- Babu Mathew, A Brief Note on Labour Legislation in India, 2003.
- Labour Laws and Other Labour Regulations, Report of the Working Group, 2006.
- Nitya Bansal, Development of Industrial Legislation in India, Legal Bites, May 14,2020.
- Aqueen Ekka, Development of Labour Laws in India, Legal Bites, May 17,2020.
- V.K.R Menon, The Influence of The International Convention on Indian Labour Legislation, 556(Content Downloaded from Hein Online).
- S.I.A Muhammed Yasir, Labour Legislation in India- A Historical Study,6, IJAR,34, Apr 2016.
- R. C. Sharma, Industrial Relations and Labour Legislation,580 (2016)
- Interim Report of the Study Group on Labour Legislation, National Commission on Labour, (1999).
- Hindustan Antibiotics v. The Workmen (A.I.R. 1967, S.C. 948; (1967) 1, Lab.L.J.114)
- P.R.N. Sinha, Indu Bala Sinha, Seema Priyadarshini Shekhar, Industrial Relations, Trade Unions and Labour Legislation, 367-68, 2017.
- R. C. Sharma, Industrial Relations and Labour Legislation,587 (2016).
 Rajani Kanta Das, Principles and Problems of Indian Labour Legislations, 1938.
 Babu Mathew, A Brief Note on Labour Legislation in India, 2003.
 Labour Laws and Other Labour Regulations, Report of the Working Group, 2006.
 Nitya Bansal, Development of Industrial Legislation in India, Legal Bites, May 14,2020.
 Aqueen Ekka, Development of Labour Laws in India, Legal Bites, May 17,2020.
 V.K.R Menon, The Influence of The International Convention on Indian Labour Legislation, 556. (Content Downloaded from HeinOnline).
 S.I.A Muhammed Yasir, Labour Legislation in India- A Historical Study,6, IJAR,34, Apr 2016.
 R. C. Sharma, Industrial Relations and Labour Legislation,580 (2016)
 Interim Report of the Study Group on Labour Legislation, National Commission on Labour, (1999).
 Supra note 2
 Hindustan Antibiotics v. The Workmen (A.I.R. 1967, S.C. 948; (1967) 1, Lab.L.J.114)
 P.R.N. Sinha, Indu Bala Sinha, Seema Priyadarshini Shekhar, Industrial Relations, Trade Unions and Labour Legislation, 367-68, 2017.
 Supra note 10
 R. C. Sharma, Industrial Relations and Labour Legislation,587 (2016).