New Labour Laws: Daily Factory Work Limit To Go Up For Five-Day Week Jobs
A worker smoothes the edges of metal casing at the company factory of Larsen and Toubro Ltd. Heavy Engineering Division in Mumbai, India (Photographer Santosh Verma/Bloomberg).

New Labour Laws: Daily Factory Work Limit To Go Up For Five-Day Week Jobs

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The central government may bring in some changes to the proposed rules related to working hours under the new labour laws.

The Labour Ministry had proposed increasing the maximum time workers will be allowed to be in a factory at one-go (technically known as spread-over hours) by one-and-a-half hours. According to the draft Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (Central) Rules, 2020 made public in November, the period of work will have to be arranged by firms in such a way that workers are in a factory for not more than 12 hours in a day, including the intervals of rest. The current limit is set at 10 and a half hours.

“There have been some concerns raised over the 12 hours of spread-over-time (proposed in the draft rules) from the (labour) unions… We will take care of it in the final rules,” Labour and Employment Secretary Apurva Chandra told BloombergQuint in an interview last week.

A top government official on the condition of anonymity said in the final rules, the time cap for workers to remain within the factory premises will be set at 12 hours if they are employed for five days in a week and it will remain at 10-and-a-half hours if they work for six days a week.

The government has held consultations on the draft rules with the industry and trade unions earlier this month and will firm up the final norms in the coming days.

Also read: The Unprecedented Changes To India’s Labour Laws = Social Chaos?

When a national lockdown was imposed in March last year, states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Haryana temporarily relaxed the rules related to “spread-over hours” for factory workers, pushing them to 13 hours in a bid to compensate for a loss of production.

Labour economist and XLRI professor KR Shyam Sundar said the move to increase the work hour limit was advisable during or immediately after the lockdown due to shortage of labour and strict operating procedures.

“However, it will prove to be counter-productive in normal times. The per-day leisure for workers is more important than two days of free time for a working person, especially in tough shop floors like steel mills. It will lead to fatigue and employers will resort to hiring a lesser number of workers with longer working hours,” Sundar said. The move to increase the daily work limit will give incentive to companies to opt for two work shifts instead of three, thereby reducing employment opportunities, he said.

In its submission to the central government, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh had demanded the removal of the concept of ‘spread-over’ hours, which was introduced in the law during the British rule. “The BMS demands scrapping of the spread-over time of 12 hours (in a day in a factory). Majority of countries do not have the provision of spread-over hours. Only overtime with double wages should be provided,” it had said.

The trade unions were also apprehensive about a clause in the Code on Wages (Central) Rules 2020 which talked about the spread-over time of 16 hours in a day.

The labour secretary, however, has clarified to the unions that the extended working limit of up to 16 hours “is an emergency provision with the objective to provide flexibility” to companies, according to minutes of a meeting chaired by Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar on the new labour laws on Dec. 24.

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