Indian labour law refers to laws regulating labour in India. Traditionally, Indian governments at federal and state level have sought to ensure a high degree of protection for workers, but in practice, legislative rights only cover a minority of workers. India is a federal form of government and because labour is a subject in the concurrent list of the Indian Constitution, labour matters are in the jurisdiction of both central and state governments; both central and state governments have enacted laws on labour relations and employment issues. The term ‘labour’ means productive work especially physical work done for wages. Labour law also known as employment law is the body of laws, administrative rulings, and precedents which address the legal rights of, and restrictions on, working people and their organizations. There are two broad categories of labour law. First, collective labour law relates to the tripartite relationship between employee, employer and union. Second, individual labour law concerns employees’ rights at work and through the contract for work.
Generally, labour law covers:
- Industrial relations – certification of unions, labour-management relations, collective bargaining and unfair labour practices;
- Workplace health and safety;
- Employment standards, including general holidays, annual leave, working hours, unfair dismissals, minimum wage, layoff procedures and severance pay.
There are two broad categories of labour law. First, collective labour law relates to the tripartite relationship between employee, employer and union. Second, individual labour law concerns employees’ rights at work and through the contract for work. The labour movement has been instrumental in the enacting of laws protecting labour rights in the 19th and 20th centuries. Labour rights have been integral to the social and economic development since the industrial revolution.
Labour legislation that is adapted to the economic and social challenges of the modern world of work fulfils three crucial roles:
- it establishes a legal system that facilitates productive individual and collective employment relationships, and therefore a productive economy;
- by providing a framework within which employers, workers and their representatives can interact with regard to work-related issues, it serves as an important vehicle for achieving harmonious industrial relations based on workplace democracy;
- it provides a clear and constant reminder and guarantee of fundamental principles and rights at work which have received broad social acceptance and establishes the processes through which these principles and rights can be implemented and enforced.
But experience shows that labour legislation can only fulfills these functions effectively if it is responsive to the conditions on the labour market and the needs of the parties involved. The most efficient way of ensuring that these conditions and needs are taken fully into account is if those concerned are closely involved in the formulation of the legislation through processes of social 6 dialogue. The involvement of stakeholders in this way is of great importance in developing a broad basis of support for labour legislation and in facilitating its application within and beyond the formal structured sectors of the economy.
The earliest Indian statute to regulate the relationship between employer and his workmen was the Trade Dispute Act, 1929 (Act 7 of 1929). Provisions were made in this Act for restraining the rights of strike and lock out but no machinery was provided to take care of disputes. The original colonial legislation underwent substantial modifications in the post-colonial era because independent India called for a clear partnership between labour and capital. The content of this partnership was unanimously approved in a tripartite conference in December 1947 in which it was agreed that labour would be given a fair wage and fair working conditions and in return capital would receive the fullest co-operation of labour for uninterrupted production and higher productivity as part of the strategy for national economic development and that all concerned would observe a truce period of three years free from strikes and lockouts. Ultimately the Industrial Disputes Act (the Act) brought into force on 01.04.1947 repealing the Trade Disputes Act 1929 has since remained on statute book.
The law relating to labour and employment in India is primarily known under the broad category of “Industrial Law”. The prevailing social and economic conditions have been largely influential in shaping the Indian labour legislation, which regulate various aspects of work such as the number of hours of work, wages, social security and facilities provided.
The labour laws of independent India derive their origin, inspiration and strength partly from the views expressed by important nationalist leaders during the days of national freedom struggle, partly from the debates of the Constituent Assembly and partly from the provisions of the Constitution and the International Conventions and Recommendations. The relevance of the dignity of human labour and the need for protecting and safeguarding the interest of labour as human beings has been enshrined in Chapter-III (Articles 16, 19, 23 & 24) and Chapter IV (Articles 39, 41, 42, 43, 43A & 54) of the Constitution of India keeping in line with Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. The Labour Laws were also influenced by important human rights and the conventions and standards that have emerged from the United Nations. These include right to work of one’s choice, right against discrimination, prohibition of child labour, just and humane conditions of work, social security, protection of wages, redress of grievances, right to organize and form trade unions, collective bargaining and participation in management. The labour laws have also been significantly influenced by the deliberations of the various Sessions of the Indian Labour Conference and the International Labour Conference. Labour legislations have also been shaped and influenced by the recommendations of the various National Committees and Commissions such as First National Commission on Labour (1969) under the Chairmanship of Justice Gajendragadkar, National Commission on Rural Labour (1991), Second National Commission on Labour (2002) under the Chairmanship of Shri Ravindra Varma etc. and judicial pronouncements on labour related matters specifically pertaining to minimum wages, bonded labour, child labour, contract labour etc. Under the Constitution of India, Labour is a subject in the concurrent list where both the Central and State Governments are competent to enact legislations. As a result , a large number of labour laws have been enacted catering to different aspects of labour 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 labour, contract labour, women labour and child labour, 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 labour, beedi workers etc.