In a move that may cause international embarrassment and impact India’s global trade in the aftermath of 13 State governments diluting or doing away with labour laws altogether, all central trade unions, except the RSS-affiliated BMS, have filed a complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) against the Centre and State governments’ alleged anti-labour and worker practices.

The unions said they will provide supplementary evidences against the governments in a day or two.

The complaint, a copy of which has been accessed by BusinessLine, says the recent amendments have undermined various ILO conventions, including Convention 144 on tripartism. The complaint is addressed to Guy Ryder, Director General of ILO, Geneva. If the ILO acts on the complaint, it could adversely impact India’s trade with many countries that have adopted ILO conventions.

Lockdown-led suffering

The trade unions said in the letter that working people in India have been subjected to inhuman sufferings owing to loss of jobs, loss of wages and eviction by landlords amid the lockdown.

“We the trade unions in India have been fighting for the retention of jobs and income support to all those who lost their livelihoods to overcome the present situation,” said the complaint, sent to the ILO on May 14.

“It is unfortunate that the Government of India supports the blanket exemptions to all establishments from the employers’ obligation under all substantive labour laws for a period of three years by the State governments through amendments by executive order or ordinance for a period of three years, empowering the employers to hire and fire workers at their convenience, freezing collective bargaining rights, undoing the rights of occupational safety and health, without the Labour Department’s intervention in the establishments for any inspection of the basic bare minimum needs for decent working conditions, etc during the said period,” it added.

Plight of migrants

The letter further said migrant workers are trapped without support due to the suddenly announced lockdown. As a result, they have been walking for several hundreds of miles on roads, on railway tracks, through fields and jungles to reach their hometowns, with several precious lives lost on the way to hunger, exhaustion and accidents.

“At the same time, eight State governments have enhanced the daily working hours from eight hours to 12 hours through executive order in violation of the Factories Act, taking advantage of the lockdown situation. More State governments are also making a similar move.

“We consider these moves an attack on human rights and labour rights, besides being gross violation of the International Labour Standards and also the internationally accepted norm of eight-hours working day. The ILO Convention 144 in regard to tripartism has also been undermined by the government,” the unions said in their letter.

“We, the 10 central trade unions in India, request the ILO to take immediate cognisance of these extremely precarious and regressive moves for necessary intervention in the interest of the working class of India,” the complaint said.

Supplementary evidences

CITU General Secretary Tapan Sen, one of the complainants, said the initial complaint will be followed by supplementary evidences with details of the “regressive steps” taken by the Centre and State governments. “The ILO follows a process. We will provide all the evidences before the ILO soon,” he added.

The preamble of 144th Convention (year 1976) of the ILO says: “Recalling the terms of existing international labour conventions and recommendations — in particular the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949, and the Consultation (Industrial and National Levels) Recommendation, 1960 — which affirm the right of employers and workers to establish free and independent organisations and call for measures to promote effective consultation at the national level between public authorities and employers’ and workers’ organisations, as well as the provisions of numerous international labour conventions and recommendations which provide for the consultation of employers’ and workers’ organisations on measures to give effect thereto...”