Labour Rights

HRLN ‘s work in labour rights has its roots in the trade union struggle in Mumbai. In India, only a minuscule fraction of the workforce is organised, most of which is in urban areas, leaving the rest of the working class vulnerable to blatant exploitation. As a result, closures and job losses, sub-minimum wages, bonded and slave labour, contract labour, discrimination against women and the siphoning away of money from the workers’ funds characterize Indian labour.

Although Indian labour laws are amongst the best in the world, their implementation is slow and obstructed by corruption. Over the last 15 years, under the impact of globalization, privatization and structural adjustment policies the situation is further deteriorating. Despite stiff opposition from trade unions, the government has succeeded in making major inroads into workers’ rights.

What HRLN Does

The Labour Rights Initiative works in both rural and urban areas with the organized and unorganized sectors. HRLN lawyers have filed several cases in Supreme Court and High Courts representing workers on cases of discrimination, illegal closures, illegal termination, starvation death cases, minimum wages, no-pay and others.

It conducts investigation into safety and welfare measures for construction workers as per the Building And Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996. It also conducts people’s tribunal where victims give testimonies on how they have been affected by corporate crimes. The objective behind these people’s tribunals is to identify measures for remedying loopholes and provisions in the existing legal and government structure that allows corporations to abuse human rights without any fear of punishment. By organizing consultations at a national level, the initiative gives organizations, trade unions, labour lawyers, judges , journalists, academicians and other professionals across the country a platform to present their struggles on a variety of labour rights issues and work together to bring about a change.

HRLN also has publications on labour rights topics ranging from posters on occupational health and safety issues for use in the workplace, to compilation of landmark judgments. It works at the grassroots level to assist workers and surrounding communities in campaigning against specific companies.

Main Concerns

    - Fair wages and working conditions
    - Implementation of labour laws
    - Discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sexual orientation, disability
    - Implementation of health and safety regulations for workers

HRLN Impact

Though there are laws prohibiting the closure of factories without prior government permission, illegal closures are common. HRLN has often intervened where courts have inducted closures in several cases. It has also intervened in cases relating to wages of workers. For example, in Girni Kamagar Sangarsh Samiti vs Matulya Mills Limited, the court’s remarkable judgement that a company’s inability to pay is no defence for non-payment of wages brought a change in the rights of workers.

HRLN had also filed a PIL on the behalf of the Occupational Health and Safety Association about the alarming levels of toxic air pollutants in and around thermal power plants which caused occupational diseases among workers. The Supreme Court directed the agencies to take several actions which benefited thousands of workers, including free and comprehensive medical checkups, continuation of work contracts during illness, occupational disease compensation, modern protective equipment, strict measures for the control of dust, heat, noise, vibration and radiation, and adherence to the code of practice and occupational safety and health audit as developed by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

In another case, a PIL filed by HRLN benefited tens of thousands of tea plantation workers. In a landmark case, the Supreme Court of India issued a notice and the government bought out a notification to cater to the health, education, food and livelihood of the workers and their families by reviving plantations and including them in various schemes.

HRLN has always criticized contract labour and takes up several cases demanding that the workers be made permanent. In Kachara Vahatuk Shramik Sangh vs Bombay Municipal Corporation, the High Court of Bombay held that removal of rubbish was statutory duty and was open to corporations delegating this work to contractors. But after HRLN appealed in the Supreme Court, the decision of high court was set aside and 800 workers were regularised. Similarly, in the case of Rajkumar vs Union of India, HRLN lawyers demanded the abolishment of the contract labour system at Delhi airport. Though the contract labour board upheld the case against the workers, the High Court ordered the board to make a fresh decision after HRLN’ s intervention.
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