Australia’s friendship with India should be aspirational. We are invested in India’s long-term development as a thriving, peaceful democracy.
India’s tangled network of Labor rules stands in the way of it. At both the national and state levels, there are hundreds. Because of the compliance hurdles for law-abiding foreign enterprises, they’ve long been a deterrent to trade and investment.
Domestically, however, those same restrictions are so laxly implemented that shady and illegal Labor conditions abound. Indeed, of India’s 500 million workers, an estimated 450 million Labors in the “informal sector,” which has no minimum wage or other benefits.
As a result, there are compelling reasons for Australia to assist India’s efforts to reduce its Labor rules. However, there are compelling reasons to encourage it to uphold the obligations imposed on both countries by international Labor accords.
The prospect of forcing more Indian workers into slave conditions lurks in the shadows of the goal to expand trade and investment.
450 million Unemployed People
In reality, no one knows how big India’s informal economy is. For work that is described as “disorganized,” statistics are unreliable. India’s COVID-19 response, like that of other countries, has disproportionately impacted workers in low-wage, insecure manual labor. The harshness and speed with which the measures were implemented added to this. Modi’s orders for “total lockdown” on March 24 were issued at 8:58 p.m. and went into effect at midnight. Shops, marketplaces, industries, and construction sites were all forced to close their doors. All public transportation was halted. More than 1.3 billion people in India were urged to stay at home.
139 million migrant workers
But hundreds of thousands first had to come home. The number of “migrant workers” in India is estimated at 139 million. They travel to the richest cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Surat from across India to look for jobs. Building and manufacturing are the most common jobs with an average daily wage of US$4.60. Migrants have been queuing at train and bus stations for weeks for limited services because they have no job or money and fear hunger and coronavirus.
Millions of modern slaves
In a situation when they are forced to work under threat; they are owned or controlled by others; are decriminalized or treated as a commodity and are unable to leave. The Global Slavery Index of 2018 estimates that some 8 million Indians are in a way of modern slavery.
There are approximately 40 million modern slaves worldwide. There are approximately 25 million in forced labor. This could be due to violence or threats, physical or emotional constraints, or bonded labor – also called debt bondage, which forces people to work to pay off the debt.
The most common form of forced labor is debt bondage. 351 of 743 spinning mills in India used so- called “Sumangali” systems to attract new women to the promises of large amounts to be used as adowry in a 2016 investigation into Southern Tamil Nadu (India’s largest producer of cotton yarn).
This has been forbidden since 1976, despite bonded labor, and dowries since 1961.
Labor laws suspended
There is therefore a clear need for work in India on law enforcement. However, in the current situation, the push is even lower. Half a dozen of the 28 states in India have already indicated their wish to suspend labor laws.
For example, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, most legislation including its minimum wage act was suspended briefly. It will retain most suspensions for 3 years, according to reports.
Commitments to support
Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been asked by the International Labor Organization to ensure that India upholds its international commitments and establishes international labor standards. Such rights are universal and apply “for all peoples in all states, regardless of the level of economic development” in India and Australia, signatories to the International Labor Organization Declaration on fundamental principles and working rights.