Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right to form and join unions and bargain collectively, although there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In the state of Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.
The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. For instance, in export processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designations as “public utilities.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity.
Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed violations because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such violations. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.
Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the large, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties. According to the Ministry of Labor and Employment, there were 121 strikes and lockouts in 2014. State and local authorities occasionally used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Membership-based organizations, such as the Self Employed Women’s Association, successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.
On March 22, police detained the president of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union in Gurgaon, Haryana, for leading a February 19 protest following an attack on a Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India employee by his supervisor, allegedly for refusing to work overtime. The union president was released from police custody in April.
On September 2, Haryana police detained 12 workers of Maruti Suzuki for distributing leaflets that urged workers to join the September 5 national strike. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and they established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from being established. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.
On June 2, Karnataka police arrested Karnataka Police Association president Shashidhar Venugopal and Working Police Families Welfare Committee member Basavaraj Koravankar. The men were organizing a law enforcement strike to protest low wages and poor working conditions. The men were charged with sedition as well as various sections of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and Police Acts. The arrested were yet to be released on bail at the time of reporting.
On September 2, more than 100 million workers across the country participated in a one-day strike in support of 12 demands that included increasing the minimum wage and a rollback of the federal government’s decision to privatize the defense and railroad sectors.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but this problem, including bonded child labor (see section 7.c.), remained widespread.
Estimates of the number of bonded laborers varied widely, although some NGOs placed the number in the tens of millions. Most bonded labor occurred in agriculture. Nonagricultural sectors with a high incidence of bonded labor were stone quarries, brick kilns, rice mills, construction, embroidery factories, and beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes) production.
Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. The government generally did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate prosecution, and a lack of prioritization sometimes resulted in acquittals. Prosecutions were rare. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, police registered 92 cases nationwide under this law in 2015.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment continued to work with the International Labor Organization to combat bonded labor, including through the “convergence program” in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha to target workers vulnerable to bonded labor.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported the federally funded, state-run Centrally Sponsored Scheme allowed the release of 2,216 bonded laborers during the period April 2015 through March 2016. Some NGOs reported delays in obtaining release certificates for rescued bonded laborers that were required to certify employers held them in bondage and entitles them to compensation under the law. The distribution of rehabilitation funds was uneven across states. In May, the government revised its bonded labor rehabilitation program and increased the compensation for victims from 19,000 rupees ($285) to 98,000 rupees ($1,470) for male victims, 196,000 rupees ($2,940) for women and child victims, and 294,000 rupees ($4,410) for sexually exploited women and child victims.
Bonded labor, particularly in brick kilns, continued to be a concern in several states. On March 2, Tamil Nadu authorities, with assistance from an NGO, rescued more than 550 bonded laborers from a brick kiln in Tiruvallur. On May 28, authorities worked with an NGO to rescue 328 persons, including 88 children, from another Tiruvallur brick kiln.
In May an NGO, working in partnership with law enforcement officials and the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, rescued 207 bonded laborers from brick kilns in Uttar Pradesh.
SC and ST members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. Although the central government abolished Sulung servitude in 1964, the social group remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation in Arunachal Pradesh.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government amended the Child Labor (Abolition) Act in August to ban employment of children below the age of 14. The amended law permits employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18, except in mines. Children are prohibited from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the Indian Factories Act. The law, however, permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises after school hours.
State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nevertheless, violations were common. The amended law establishes a penalty in the range of 20,000 rupees ($300) to 50,000 rupees ($750) per child employed in hazardous industries. Such fines were often insufficient to deter violations, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment coordinated its efforts with states to raise awareness about child labor by funding various outreach events such as plays and community activities. In June children’s rights NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan and local government officials rescued 52 children from roadside eateries, grocery shops, and vehicle repairs shops in Ranchi, Jharkand.
On May 19, the Delhi government, in collaboration with the Justice Ventures International, rescued eight children from a bindi (a traditional forehead decoration) manufacturing establishment in Khajuri Khas, a North Delhi neighborhood.
Child labor remained widespread. UNICEF estimated there were 29 million child laborers between the ages of five and 18. Some NGOs estimated the number to be significantly higher. According to the national census of 2011, there were 4.5 million child laborers between the ages of five and 14. The majority of child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, in particular in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food service establishments. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).
Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, or social status. The law does not prohibit discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS or other communicable diseases, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship. The government effectively enforced those laws and regulations within the formal sector. The law and regulations, however, do not protect those working within the informal sector, who comprised an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.
Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous people, and persons with disabilities. Legal protections are the same for all, but gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the protection of labor laws available to workers who are Indian nationals.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Federal law sets safety and health standards, but state government laws set minimum wages, hours of work, and safety and health standards. The daily minimum wage (with local cost of living allowance included) varied from 197 rupees ($2.89) in Bihar to 447 rupees ($6.57) in Delhi. The officially estimated poverty income level was less than 27 rupees ($0.43) per day. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers.
Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.
The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek, as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, but it does not limit the amount of overtime a worker can work. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.
State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages, hours of work, and safety and health standards. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector but also in some formal sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards range from a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,600) to imprisonment of up to two years, but they were not sufficient to deter violations.
Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector (industries and/or establishments that do not fall under the purview of the Factories Act), which employed an estimated 90 percent of the workforce. Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
On August 13, three untrained and unskilled sanitation workers who entered a 25-foot manhole in Hyderabad died from exposure to poisonous gases. They were reportedly not provided with proper protective gear. A passerby who tried to rescue the workers also reportedly died of asphyxiation.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, although the Supreme Court ordered enforcement of the 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act and banned the manual cleaning of sewage lines, authorities rarely implemented the act and manual scavenging persisted. The commission quoted a Dalit rights activist who asserted that at least 700 deaths in manholes occurred every year.
From January through July, eight laborers reportedly suffocated while cleaning septic tanks and manholes in Tamil Nadu.
Industrial accidents occurred frequently. On May 26, an explosion at a chemical factory killed three workers in Dombivili, near Mumbai. On July 5, an explosion in an aluminum-molding factory killed five workers in Howrah, West Bengal.