By M.C. Linthoingambee
“A person is a person no matter how small”, is a line borrowed from a Hollywood movie whose name I don’t recall.
But if we take some time to observe carefully, we will see little ants carrying food away for their family from our tray tables. It is common knowledge that ants are one of the most hardworking creatures on this planet; they do not stop to work in the break of the sun, rain or the winter cold. That is the life of the general working class, “The Labourers”. The issue of Labour being a subject within the scope of the concurrent list of the Indian Constitution, India has more than 50 Acts and numerous laws that regulate employers in matters relating to industrial relations, employee unions as well as who, how and when enterprises can employ or terminate employment. Many of these laws survive from British colonial times, while some have been enacted after India`s independence from Britain.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) working under the wings of the United Nations (UN) stands to safeguard the rights of the workers all around the world. In India, several legislations have been compiled to form the Labour Laws but the question as to how much of the above are applied can only be answered by the Labours. The Government has been kind enough to award compensation to an injured worker or to the next of kin in case of death arising out of work requirement. Social Security for the workers is a constantly overlooked predicament for all centuries. Now, we can only hope that the existing legislation does enough for the general working class. The Introduction of the Employees State Insurance Schemes (ESI Scheme) has helped both the beneficiaries and the employers maintain a better relationship as all rules and regulations have been laid out in a visible platter for them to follow. But since these labour laws are large in numbers, it often creates overflow of confusion and therefore leading to that affect more dispute happens thereby giving rise to a large set of litigation (court case) rather than the situation becoming resolved.
Labour Laws are classified into the following eight categories: Laws related to Industrial Relations; Laws related to Wages;Laws related to Specific Industries; Laws related to Equality and Empowerment of Women; Laws related to Deprived and Disadvantaged Sections of the Society; Laws related to Social Security; Laws related to Employment & Training and Others. These classifications provide a varied mixture of justification from working hours, fair wage, minimum wage, leave, working conditions, etc. Justifying to nature, the government has also added a Maternity Benefit Act to add onto the necessities of women workers. The existence of various registered and unregistered Trade Unions have also given a voice to the unheard workers. Little has changed but it is changing with a worker’s right equals that of a man and not a working robot who is ill treated with no rest.
The poor continue to become poorer and the rich become richer. Long gone are the days, when we learnt, “Slow and Steady wins the race”, it is now more like survival of the fittest. In a poor country like ours, where the major part of the population earns income from products of agriculture work day, night and do not stop for leisure. I also paid certain specific visits to some small scale factories in Manipur where I learnt that no worker, yes “NO” worker knew of the existence of the Social Security Schemes provided for by the Government to help the employees.
Leaving it all aside even the employers themselves were not even aware of the same which in a greater spectrum questions the Legal Services Authority that should be providing awareness of some terms to the general working population.
The Legislations provides that no worker shall work for more than 8 hours in a day and in case a worker happens to work beyond these 8 hours they are liable to receive overtime payments from their employers but the reality is that the working class continue to work in spite of day, night, rain or cold without having the authority to ask for extra payments either because they are illiterate or they cannot question their employer for fear of getting fired. At my hometown, it’s raining heavily but the workers are still pouring stones and mixing cements in the wet mixture at a construction site. It is more than 45 degrees in the national capital of India, New Delhi but in spite of that the workers are still carrying heavy loads in the heavily guarded desert like area. Some government sweepers still get only a mere income of Rs 15 a month. This is the true picture while some people enjoy luxurious comforts and travel in AC Cars and Metros, a Rickshaw Driver pulls and unloads every few minutes hoping that a passenger stops by. A worker might fall out from the 8 floor in an unfinished construction site but nobody would take heed until their own sons become victims to such incidents.
One of the greatest issues that herald the working population is Child Labour. It refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. Although these practice have been considered prohibitory by International and National Laws these practices goes hidden and active in the present day especially in a developing country like ours. We will find kids working and begging in heavy traffic of the streets in India. These kids are childhood deprived; instead they leave for work in the early morning and return late at night in the hope of earning even a meal for a day. In spite of the overall combination of incomes of the father, mother and the kids the slum population still finds it unaffordable to even enjoy basic necessities of life. So think twice before you throw away food, think twice before you spend more than wanted. Think.
(M.C. Linthoingambee is an undergraduate pursuing B.Com. LL.B(H). An avid blogger, poet, a seasonal artist and a foodie, she is also a life member to the Indian Society of the Red Cross.)