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Rattled by 72-hour work week, BMS plans nationwide protest on May 20

Announcement comes on heels of similar protests announced by other central trade unions affiliated to Congress, left parties and those not affiliated to any political parties

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh | RSS | Coronavirus

Somesh Jha & Archis Mohan  |  New Delhi 

Labourers unload sacks of wheat from a truck at a godown, on the eve of Labour Day, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown on the outskirts of Amritsar
The BMS has planned to hold conventions on workers’ demands with a call to withdraw proposals to freeze labour laws on May 30 and May 31.

The RSS-affiliated (BMS) announced nationwide protests on Thursday against labour law changes made by various states, including withdrawal of in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. May 20 has been set as the date for the protests.

The state governments of UP, MP and Gujarat are currently run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BMS said it will also protest against the increasing of working hours by the state governments of Rajasthan, Odisha, Goa and Maharashtra. Goa also has a BJP government. Punjab and Assam have also increased the working hour limit to 12 hours from 8 hours in a day which translates into 72 hour a week.

“The working hours have been increased from 8 to 12 hours. It is learnt that many other states are readying to follow the trend. This is unheard of in history and is rare even in the most undemocratic countries,” BMS chief Virjesh Upadhyay said in a statement.

Upadhyay said migrant workers’ issues have aggravated mainly because there is gross violation of migrant labour law by most of the states. “We have been pushed to the wall and there is no other way out except going for agitation,” he said.

The BMS has decided upon a three-phase protest.

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In the first phase, the state units of BMS will send letters to district authorities from May 16 to 18 on local issues of non-payment of wages, job losses, relief measures to unregistered workers, migrant workers, etc.

On May 20, its workers will hold district level protests, and in industrial estates, while conforming to social distancing.

On May 30 and 31, BMS will organise sectoral level conventions on the issue of changes in labour laws, and demand their withdrawal.

The BMS announcement comes on the heels of similar protests earlier announced by other central trade unions affiliated to the Congress, left parties and also trade unions not affiliated to any political parties.

Migrants ride a truck to reach their native places, during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, in Mathura. Photo: PTI

Migrants ride a truck to reach their native places, during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, in Mathura. Photo: PTI

The main issues would be “freezing and increase in working hours in various states, on migrant workers issues, job losses, among others”.

“This (change in labour laws) is unheard of in history and is rare even in most undemocratic countries,” the BMS said in a press statement, adding that it has written to various chief ministers, but only MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has met the trade union leaders so far.

Earlier, trade unions affiliated to Left parties and the Congress had called for a united agitation and countrywide resistance in factories and at the level. The unions had said that they are contemplating lodging a complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the labour law changes by the state governments.

The Uttar Pradesh government has proposed a draft Ordinance for exempting firms in the State from almost all the for the next three years. The Gujarat government has announced that it will follow the footsteps of UP and allow new companies setting up shops in next 1,200 days to be exempt from major labour laws.

The Madhya Pradesh government has notified changes in the labour laws to do away with the need to avail multiple licences for hiring contract workers and setting up factories. It has exempted firms from various welfare provisions under the Factories Act, 1948, along with replacing inspections with third-party certification and giving exemptions from industrial relations laws.

Over the past six years, the BMS has pursued a policy of ‘constructive opposition’ with the BJP government at the Centre, which has meant it boycotted calls by other trade unions for nationwide strikes against the policies of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

The BMS’ threat to protest changes in labour laws is reminiscent of its opposition to the Modi government’s plans to amend the land acquisition act in 2015.

Faced with stiff opposition from affiliates like the BMS, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch, as also Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s jibe of ‘suit boot sarkar’, the government had dropped the bill then.

Upadhyay said the “nationwide agitation” is “in solidarity with the fight against the anti-worker ordinances of UP, MP, Gujarat and also on other labour Issues.

He said the call was taken at a video conference of the BMS’ top leadership on Wednesday, which “strongly condemned the total withdrawal of labour laws in UP, MP and Gujarat”. He said the meeting also decided protests against Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa and Odisha for their decision to increase working hours.

The BMS meeting discussed that in many states contractors/employers did not pay salary or wages for the month of April 2020. In addition, crores of workers have lost their jobs, it said.

First Published: Thu, May 14 2020. 16:18 IST