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Industry fumes as Tamil Nadu hold back bill increasing working hours

The law mandated 48 working hours in a week. It included four days of work and three days off in a week

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Shine Jacob Chennai

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Industry bodies have expressed disappointment over the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to put on hold amendments to the Factories Act, raising fears that it would affect investor confidence, even as unions have welcomed the move and are backing further reduction in working hours.

The Bill, increasing work hours for factory workers from eight to 12 hours, was passed on April 21 ostensibly to woo foreign investors. Industry expected the amendment would benefit sectors such as IT, electronics, textile and non-leather footwear; many saw it as a bid to attract Apple contractors like Foxconn and Pegatron to make further investments in the state.

“It would have given more money to workers as they, too, want 12 hours. Investors also feel disappointed. We would have given enough (work) breaks,” said A Sakthivel, president, Federation of Indian Export Organisations. He urged the government to allow flexible work to export-oriented industries.

The government stalled the Bill on Monday after protests by unions backed by the ruling DMK and its allies. To attract Apple contractors, Karnataka too had passed a Bill in February allowing 12-hour shifts in factories and night-time work for women.

“Other states like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh are having similar rules. It was a win-win situation for both workers and entrepreneurs. This may affect investor sentiments. We are trying to inform the government that this would have been helpful to us in meeting the delivery schedule and do the shipment on time during peak season,” said K M Subramanian, president of Tiruppur Exporters’ Association. In the last financial year, exports from Tiruppur stood at Rs 34,200 crore, up from Rs 33,000 crore in 2021-22.

On the other hand, trade unions said the Bill’s provisions could enable employers to evade statutory obligations concerning workplaces. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has called the Bill “disastrous for workers” and alleged the government of creating “anarchy in industrial relations management”.

The law mandated 48 working hours in a week. It included four days of work and three days off in a week. “According to CITU, no amendment should happen as it goes against the basic rights of workers. This law is anti-labour and a lot of countries are now reducing working time. Such laws are not taking into account their health and family lives,” said E Muthukumar, former Foxconn India Employees’ Union president and a senior CITU leader in Tamil Nadu.

He added that CITU’s demand was to have five working days instead of six and seven hours of work a day instead of eight.

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First Published: Apr 26 2023 | 8:07 PM IST

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