Tamil Nadu relaxes labour norms to permit 12-hour work per day

Govt cites industry demand; oppn up in arms
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu Assembly on Friday passed the Factories (Amendment) Act 2023 providing flexible working hours for employees, including the option for employers to increase the per-day working hours of their staff to 12 hours from the current eight-hours-per-day schedule, in factories across the state.

The bill was passed amid protests and walkout by members of various parties, including DMK allies CPI, CPM and VCK. Speaking to reporters later at the secretariat, industries minister Thangam Thenarasu said the total working hours in a week would remain unchanged at 48 hours and the consent of workers is mandatory for extending the working hours.

He said the amendment would give workers the option to work for four days in a week and avail three days leave. “This would immensely benefit women workers,” he said. Earlier, tabling the bill in the Assembly, labour welfare minister C V Ganesan said the state is a hub of major manufacturing companies and has the highest number of factories and industrial workers in the country.

“Representations were received from many industries and industry associations by the state government to bring out working hour reforms by making statutory provision for flexible working hours, citing the number of benefits it could bring for workers, especially women employees, industry and the economy as a whole,” he said. Addressing reporters along with Thenarasu, Ganesan said,

“The remaining three days would be paid-leave and the existing rules on leaves, overtime, and salaries would remain unchanged. Action would be taken against factories that coerce employees to work against their will.” The most strident opposition to the bill in the Assembly came from DMK’s allies which said the bill should not be passed and it must be sent to a select committee of the legislature for further deliberations.

This pro-corporate, anti-worker bill should be withdrawn: Unions

While CPM legislator VP Nagai Maali said the amendment would favour corporates, CPI MLA T Ramachandran said the amendment, if implemented, would tear down the hard-won rights of workers, particularly wage hike and job permanency. VCK member Sinthanai Selvan said, “This anti-worker Act would lead to exploitation of workers”.

The bill passed on Friday amended the Factories Act, 1948 by introducing a new section (section 65A) which enables the state government to exempt any factory from restrictions relating to weekly hours, holidays, daily working hours, intervals of rest, spread over and prohibition of overlapping shifts.
As per the statement of objects of the bill, Section 127 of central code enabled the state government by notification to provide, among other things, flexible working hours. It said the state government has decided to amend the Factories Act of 1948 (Central Act 63 of 1948) for its application to Tamil Nadu as the said central code has not been brought into force.

Meanwhile, members of various trade unions affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) on Friday staged protests in Tiruchy and Thanjavur against the bill. The protesters said the amendment would increase the daily working hours and deprive the rights of the working class. They pointed out that in India, eight-hour work per day was first implemented in erstwhile Madras. “Even before the union government implemented its four anti-worker labour codes, the state government has passed the bill with the provisions of the labour codes. The bill has been drafted and passed without holding consultation with trade unions and without a tripartite meeting of officials, industrialists and trade unions. The pro-corporate and anti-labour bill must be withdrawn immediately, they said.

Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO) president A Sakthivel termed it as “historical labour reform” that will help the CM’s vision of making Tamil Nadu a trillion-dollar economy. “Flexible working hours bring in number of benefits to the state and workers, especially women. This initiative will help in creating large employment opportunities,” Sakthivel said.

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