Modified labor welfare measures for special economic zone & implications.

AuthorParwez, Sazzad


India's labor policy is based mainly on labor welfare measures and legislations. The labor legislations in India after Independence owe their derivation, stimulation and strength mainly to the thoughts expressed by important nationalist leaders during the days of national freedom struggle, partly from the discussions in the Assembly, partly from the provisions of the Indian Constitution and the international labor conventions and recommendations. The labor legislations and reform policies were also affected by the important human rights, conventions, and standards that have developed over the years. These fundamental rights include right to work of one's choice, right against discrimination, prohibition of child labor, humane conditions of work, social security, reasonable wages, redress of grievances, right to organize and form trade unions, collective bargaining and participation in management (Indian Labor Conference, 2003).

Labor welfare has never been defined properly, especially in the Indian context, it has never been taken to another level, it has been always been limited to welfare legislation. At present, there are over 150 state and central laws in India, which govern various aspects of labor welfare (Budhwar & Khatri, 2001; Venkata Ratnam, 1995). Unfortunately, while there is a proliferation of legislation, the implementation has been lacklustre and weak.

Under the Constitution of India, labor is a subject in the concurrent list where both the Central and state governments have the right to enact legislations. A number of labor laws have been enacted catering to different aspects of labor namely, occupational health, safety, employment, training of apprentices, fixation, review and revision of minimum wages, mode of payment of wages, payment of compensation to workmen who suffer injuries as a result of accidents or causing death or disablement, bonded labor, contract labor, women labor and child labor, resolution and adjudication of industrial disputes, provision of social security such as provident fund, employees' state insurance, gratuity, provision for payment of bonus, regulating the working conditions of certain specific categories of workmen such as plantation labor, beedi workers etc (Ghosh, 2004; Babu, 2009).

As expected, the influence of labor welfare measures on the development of human resource is significant, as it helps in raising employees' standards of living, encourages workers to put more effort towards work, which enhances their productivity and nurture better industrial relations, develop organizations visibility and popularity. Although in percentage terms unions in India are in decline, in absolute terms there is an increase in union membership. Indian labor welfare measures are now playing a more co-operative role and are less militant adverse. With the strong implementation of labor welfare measures with political support workers get opportunities to develop themselves and open various kinds of employment opportunities. The educational and vocational training set-up is the important institution which influences Indian labor welfare system.

Labor Welfare & Special Economic Zone (SEZ)

In contemporary India, the structural reform lists the prevailing labor law as a serious ongoing concern. The Economic Survey (2007-08) calls for a review of labor laws citing "an imperative need to facilitate the growth of labor-intensive industries, especially by reviewing labor laws and labor market regulations". The policy brief goes on to suggest that reforms such as the "reduction in the stringency of employment protection" would "remove an important barrier to the expansion of smaller firms and would increase employment, productivity, real wages and the number of social benefit recipients, as well as facilitating the movement of labor out of agriculture to more productive areas" but they forgot how Should it be implemented and realized.

Given the craving for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to push for labor-intensive export oriented consumer goods, the entire enterprise is probably working between the perimeter of the formal and informal sectors, attracting the workers from the informal and agricultural sectors. At this location, establishment of SEZ generates a dilemma because the workers are drawn from the informal and agricultural sectors. If this continues, it would raise perceived labor costs, which would presumably increase the price of the produce and it will lead to a negative sentiment for investment (Anant et al., 2006). Given the location of the labor involved, the solution to this dilemma has been to change enforcement of law in a manner which reduces the coverage of labor legislation without actually changing the law, a relatively smooth step, given the nature of Indian labor law as well as the framework of the law associated with SEZs (Singh, 2008) but further it will enlarge the scope of labor exploitation.

Though the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 overrides certain other laws (particularly granting fiscal benefits to firms located in a SEZ), the Act maintains that in relation to labor, general labor laws are to continue to be operational in the SEZs premises. While there is no change in the labor laws, the implementation of labor law is shifted from the control of the Labor Commissioner to the newly created position of Development Commissioner of the SEZ, a figure who is authorized with considerable power over all aspects of governance of the SEZ. Furthermore, the ability of workers to organize strikes is curtailed by labeling the economic activity within the premises of a SEZ as a 'public utility service'. The Indian law considers strikes in the SEZ units entirely an illegal activity. All these factors taken together render that labor laws and welfare measures, though, are supposed to be functional in a SEZ, but they are almost absent in practice.

SEZ Law & Labor

Empirical studies covering SEZs in India report a trend that trade union activity is widely discouraged and almost absent in the zones. Workers are not paid minimum wages and working durations are of longer hours to complete stringent targets as norms. Workers are being fired from the jobs without justification or compensation...

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