Free Hand to Violate Labour Rights: BJP Led Assam Government to “Decriminalise” Labour Laws

In the name of ‘Ease of Doing Business’, the Assam government has tabled ten bills which seek to decriminalize the industrial and labour laws on 20th  December, 2022 in the winter session of Assam assembly. This will effectively mean violators of labour laws will escape imprisonment.

 Law means the power to punish criminals or law violators.  Punishment means the ability to impose jail and fines.  But the recent amendments to the Labor laws seek to abolish the essence of the law.  In other words, the amendments seek to exempt employers or authorities who violate labor laws and thus deny workers their legal rights from imprisonment. The amendment increases the amount of the fine several times instead of imprisonment. The Himanta Biswa Sarma government  has argued that corrupt officials harass employers under the pretext of law.  It also says that freedom from fear of imprisonment reduces employers’ anxiety and makes it easier to do business. The government also thinks that employers violate law due to low investment in business, so such violations cannot be criminalized and imprisonment is undesirable.

 Interestingly, all arguments of the government are focused on making life easier for the violators, at the cost of rights of the toiling masses. The rights of the people who run the economy with their sweat and blood are being dispensed with by those who have the power to make laws for them.

   The entire logic system of the government makes their intention clear. Let us look at their argument one by one. To begin with, let us ask who shields the corrupt officials harassing the employers so dear to the government? The same government machinery that is seeking to deny workers their rights today, shields the corrupt officials.  Without government patronisation, it is not possible for officers to abuse the law.  Only honest officers apply the law properly and take a tough stance against violations of the law by employers. So, the argument of corrupt officials harassing employers is clearly fallacious.

    Secondly let us ask the government, can denial of workers’ rights be a basis for increasing investment in business? This argument is nothing but a justification of the blood sucking profit mongering of companies.

  It is worth mentioning that no state in India, even the most industrialized states, has introduced such an amendment and it can be assumed that the state of Assam is being used as a laboratory for this effort.

 The proposed amendments by Assam government are nothing but an assurance to the companies and employers that they can freely deny workers their right because there will be no law to punish them. The companies and employers can carry on increasing their wealth accumulation by cutting labour cost because they can now legally bribe the government by paying fine. They have been given freedom to escape any punishment for exploiting the workers.

    The AICCTU and other central trade unions in Assam have opposed the amendment and said it would increase the incidence of violation of workers’ rights.  The central trade unions have demanded the cancellation of the amendment and the proposal of the amendment only based on discussion and consensus with the trade unions of the workers and employees.

    Strict laws have become an obstacle to corporate plunder and this amendment bill is part of the dilution of the laws to pave the way for corporate plunder.  The Government of Assam is also seeking to decriminalize illegal land acquisition by amending the Assam Revenue Act. Its objective is clear and that is to justify corporate land acquisition.

  Let us strongly protest this amendment.