In a bid to extend certain relief measures to contractors, the Government of Gujarat vide its order dated 31stDecember, 2020 notified certain amendments to the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) (Gujarat) Rules, 1981 (“Old Rules”). Accordingly, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) (Gujarat) (Amendment) Rules, 2020 (“New Rules”) has been brought into force in exercise of the powers enumerated under section 35 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 (“the Act”).
According to the Act, it is mandatory for contractors to obtain a valid license before they can be allowed to engage in any of the activities stipulated therein. Additionally, provisions have also been made for renewal of licenses. The relevant procedure to be followed in this regard has been set forth in rules 14 and 15 of the Old Rules. By effecting the amendment, however, the Old Rules have been modified to the extent of omission of the said rules.
The amendment has been brought at a time when most of the industries are reeling from the fallout of Covid-19. As such, the New Rules appear to have been enacted to ease the compliance burden for contractors, thereby, ensuring a steady supply of labour to various industries. The New Rules, however, went amiss, leading to the emergence of an anomalous situation. Instead of relaxing the procedural mandates that need observance, the procedure itself has been down away with entirely. With no alternative procedure given, the reasonable inference seems to be that the necessity for contractors to seek renewal of their licences has been altogether forgone.
The amendment is likely to have an impact in the following two situations:
- Existing licenses that are pending renewal under the Old Rules – In this regard, the essential legal framework that governed the relationship between the contractors and the unorganised labour sector, has been dismantled. This implies that the contractors have been given a carte blanche to requisition the services of inter-state migrant workers without any means to regulate their conditions of service. Upon the expiry of licence, migrant workers will be left without any measure of protection against their possible exploitation at the hands of their respective contractors.
- Licenses that will be issued under the New Rules – With respect to this, it remains to be seen that what will be the form of the licenses that are issued under the new regime and whether they will be issued for an indefinite period of time, therefore, foregoing the need for renewal.
Since the imposition of the nationwide lockdown, migrant workers have been scrimping through the little protection that has been afforded to them under law. The unfortunate spate of incidents that has been unfolding ever since, has brought into question the very efficacy of the Act. Undoubtedly, the government shoulders the vital responsibility to facilitate the recovery of businesses impaired by the Covid-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding, it must not lose sight of the balancing role it has to play to ensure the reconciliation of all the conflicting interests.
– Archana Balasubramanian, Partner with assistance from Ms. Simran Jalan (Intern)