A critique on the ILO's core labor standards.

AuthorBaig, Samina Nahid

This paper attempts to find how the existing labor law regime had reached present day stage of culmination. It extends a warning as to how this hard earned labor jurisprudence of the country would be torn into pieces in the near future with the upcoming pro laissez- faire attitude of the state. The article focuses mainly on the state of child labor, workers' right to organize and collective bargaining.


The reasons for migration to the cities from the villages predominantly were famines during the early 1872-81 and 1891-1901. India has been essentially a labor intensive economy. The beginning of industrialization in India was naturally due to the British in whose era the labor class revolved around the tea and coffee plantations, textile, coal, cotton and jute mills. Also, the labor population was absorbed in the construction of roads, railways and public buildings by the Government of India in the middle of the 19th century. These new classes of wage earners in India, a class though nominally free from the shackles of the tyranny of village customs and social disabilities, were looked down upon as "jail labor" in terms pf politics [Sharma, 1982]. The labors were exploited through fewer wages; long working hours; exploitation of women and child labor and forced labor was rampant and unchecked. The need for changing the working and living conditions of labor was focused and answered. Change was of two types: continuous or evolutionary and discontinuous or revolutionary. The industrial revolution in India germinated very late. Some of the worst features of industrialism marked the history of the early factory system of India. From 1852 to 1880, the working class in the factories set up by the British and their Indian agents have exploited these labor classes most inhumanly and without pity [Bardhan, 1986], The British and others irrespective of their religion, nationality, language or country saw bleeding men, women and children in these slaughter houses of capital. The origin of the Indian labor movement lay in the deplorable working conditions and the association of children and women in the factories, coupled with the government attitude of complete indifference with regard to the protection of labor from such evils. The doctrine of laissez-faire at that time dominated the outlook of the government to such an extent that its main anxiety seemed 'to have been to protect the social system from the workmen, rather than to protect the workmen from the social system'.

The Pre -Independence Era

The Indian Factories Act of 1881 was a breakthrough in India and it became instrumental in bringing consciousness in the factory workers of Bombay. Later, the year 1890 saw the formation of the Bombay Mill Hand's Association, the first trade union in India. The World War I laid the foundations for a strong trade union movement in India. In the year 1920, for the first time the necessity to grant legal status to the trade unions and protection of their members and executives against criminal and civil suits in cases of strikes was realized. The event which focused attention on this problem was the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Case in which the union leader was prosecuted and put under injunction for conducting a strike, which allegedly induced the workers to break the contract with the employers. The decision of the Madras High Court was a rude shock and an eye opener for the people of India. After a few years the Trades Unions Act, 1926 was passed. The Act gave immunity to registered trade unions from civil and criminal liability and also granted legal recognition to the existence of the trade unions.

The formation of the International Labor Organization [ILO] in 1919 further strengthened the cause of labor in India. The period of early thirties till the day of Independence marked the enactment of crucial labor legislations in India dealing with social security, freedom of association of workers, regulation of payment of wages, child labor regulation and the laws relating to the regulation of employment and defining the service conditions. After the Independence the country witnessed the enactment of consolidated version of the Factories Act, 1948 and a reformative legislation in the field of social security for the industrial workers namely the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 and also the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.

The Foundations of ILO--War & Work

The ILO was set up in the year 1919 to promote the cause of social justice. It is close to celebrate hundred years of existence. The need for international action in this field had been promoted, at the end of World War 1, with three main considerations: the conviction that universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice; the demands of justice and humanity; and the desire to ensure that international competition did not prevent or hamper the promotion of social progress at the national level. The ILO's contribution to the rule of law and to the international protection of human rights may be considered in relation to: (i) the establishment of the ILO and the effect of introducing a quasi-legislative function into the international community, particularly in the field of human rights; (ii) through its work the ILO has shown both feasibility and the importance of laying down rights in binding international instruments based on constitutional principles and as amplified by case law and (iii) by means of its standard setting roles. The ILO had built up a form of international common law covering large sectors of human rights relevant to economic and social rights as well as to civil and political rights. Finally, the machinery that the ILO has developed for implementing these rights at the international level is still one of the most advanced of its kind. The main objectives of the ILO outlines the development and deployment of the human resources and skills necessary to match the need and rising expectations with production; the more equitable distribution of wealth and welfare by measures including policies in regard to wages and earnings; hours and other conditions of work calculated to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all; the extension of social security measures to provide a basic income to...

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