Plea in Apex Court: Dilution of Labour Laws Amounts to Forced Labour

A petition challenged the Constitutional validity of the notifications issued by various State Governments; suspending the operation of certain labour laws with respect to working hours, wages, health and safety conditions before the Supreme Court. Nandini Praveen, a law student through Advocate Nishe Rajen Shanker filed the plea. Explicitly, the petition slams the relaxation of labour laws in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Assam; issued without any authority of law.

The plea states that labourers remain exposed to exploitation if the laws concerning them remain suspended; in terms of working hours, wages, health and safety conditions, every day. The petitioner asserts that the impugned notification stands in violation of Article 23 of the Constitution. That suspension of welfare and health measures of workers, increasing work hours and relaxation of wage laws essentially amounts to forced labour. The Petitioner points out that the impugned relaxation is also in contravention of the international framework on labour laws.

Notably, the employers of labourers do not provide adequate measures for the workers to be safe from COVID; while coming to work amid lockdown. With regard to this issue, the petitioners relied on the Supreme Court’s verdict in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration; wherein, the Apex Court held that the right to health is a part of the right to life; under Article 21 of the Constitution. Hence, it cannot be diluted.

The Petitioner thus seeks quashing of the impugned relaxation of labour laws; to the extent, they are violative of the Constitutional principles. Additionally, it seeks a strict implementation of the Central Laws such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act,1948, the Code of Wages Act, 2019 and other laws concerning the labours.