The Tamil Nadu Government passed an amendment to the Factories Act permitting employees to have 12 hours work day for 4 days with 3 days leave in a week on April 21st. The trade unions opposed it and announced a strike. The State government immediately invited the Trade Union leaders for a talk with the Chief Secretary, Labour Secretary and 3 ministers. When they could not convince the Trade Union leaders, they agreed to put the amendment on hold. On May Day, the Chief Minister announced that the amendment was totally withdrawn, understanding the sentiments of the people at large.

Eight hours of work is a hard-earned right for which the workers have made great sacrifices. The 12-hour work is only to provide maximum profit to corporates and multinational companies. Spain introduced an 8-hour workday for factory and fortification workers in 1593. After the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Robert Owen raised the demand for a 10-hour day in 1810. By 1817, he came to demand 8-hour work and coined the slogan “Eight Hours Labour, Eight hours recreation and Eight hours rest”. In 1915 Uruguay adopted 8 hours work day. In 1917 after the Soviet Revolution, the USSR introduced 8 hours work day for the workers. In 1919, the International Labour Organisation passed its First Convention—The hours of Work Convention—which brought the ‘Application of the Principle of 8-hour working day or of the 48 hours week’ ratified by 56 countries. British India ratified the Convention on July 14, 1921. 

After a hundred years, the Union government wants to change this and a few states have already amended Acts, forcing more working hours on the labour force to help large industries both local and international.

The Union government proposed a 12 hours work day in November 2020 through rules under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code 2020. Following this, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat immediately amended their Factories Act. Karnataka has also amended the same. Tamil Nadu has withdrawn the amendment after listening to the voice of the people.

A sensible Union government should do the same and reverse the four labour codes against which there has been widespread agitation.

The Union government has to reverse the privatisation of the public sector so that the youth get decent employment. The Union government has to stop privatisation of banks to enable the common people to get bank loans at reasonable interest rates. The Union government needs to accede to the demands of crores of farmers. It has to provide free and compulsory education to children up to class 12; it has to stop contractualisation of jobs and outsourcing which deprives youth of regular jobs and save women from Micro Finance Institutions by providing decent bank loans. It’s the responsibility of the Union government to bring communal harmony instead of hatred. 

These are the demands of the majority of people. A sensible government should listen to the voice of the people.

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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