Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The first organised industry in India which attracted legislative control was the Plantation industry in Assam. The recruitment of labour from distant places to Assam by arkattis or professional recruiters led to disastrous results and several Acts were passed, both by the Bengal and Central Government, from 1863 onwards to regulate the recruitment. The first Factories Act and the Mines Act were passed in 1881 and 1901 respectively. The early labour legislation was thus in connection with specific industries, but the tendency from the twenties has been to enact special legislation for the general class of industrial workers, e.g., in respect of workmen's compensation, trade unionism, trade disputes, etc.
The experience of World War I influenced a great deal the attitude of Government and of employers towards labour. The principle of State intervention in industrial matters was extended and there was a keener realisation of the value of a contended labour force and of the advantages of collective action on the part of employers and workers respectively. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles brought into existence the International Labour Organisation with the object of ameliorating labour conditions throughout the world. Participation by the Government of India, employers and employees at the annual conferences of this organisation has had an immense educative effect and there is no doubt that this has given a great fillip to labour legislation "in India. India has so far ratified 14 out of the 63 I. L. 0. Conventions.
In the 'twenties labour legislation took great strides. The law relating to factories was consolidated in the Factories Act, 1922, and many new and important Acts were passed, viz; the Indian Mines Act, 1923, the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923, the Indian Trade Unions Act 1926 and the Trade Disputes Act, 1929. In 1931, the Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India was published and it contained a series of valuable recommendations for the enactment and administration of labour laws. As result the Tea Districts Emigrant Labour Act was passed in 1932, the Factories Act was thoroughly overhauled in 1934, the Trade Disputes Act was amended and permanently placed on the Statute Book in 1934 and the Payment of Wages Act was passed in 1936. The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act was passed in 1933 and the Indian Dock Labourers Act in 1934. Most of the Commission's recommendations in respect of the Workmen's Compensation Act have also been implemented. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, was amended in 1933 enabling a company to acquire land compulsory for erecting dwelling houses for its workmen for the provision of amenities connected with them. Maternity Benefit legislation was in existence only in Bombay and the Central Provinces before the Report of the Commission was published.
Similar legislation was enacted in most of the other Provinces and the Central Government also passed the Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941 for all mining industries.
Though legislative powers in the Labour field were held jointly by the Central and Provincial Governments before the Government of India Act of 1935 came into force, the Provincial output was small. It consisted mainly of the Maternity Benefit Acts in Bombay (1929), the Central Provinces (1930) and Madras (1935), the Bombay Trade Disputes Conciliation Act, 1934, the Bengal Workmen's Protection Act, 1935, the Central Provinces Adjustment and Liquidation of Industrial Worker's Debt Act, 1936, the Central Provinces Unregulated Factories Act, 1937, and the Central Provinces Protection of Debtor's Act, 1937. After the Government of India Act, 1935, which conceded Provincial Autonomy and which came into force in 1937, the popular Ministries undertook labour legislation more enthusiastically. The Congress Ministries were guided by the labour policy of the Congress which was to "secure to the industrial workers a decent standard of living, hours of work and conditions of labour in conformity, as far as the economic conditions in the country permit, with international standards, suitable machinery for the settlement of disputes between employers and workmen, protection against the economic consequences of old age, sickness and unemployment and the right of workers to form unions and to strike for the protection of their interests".
The Governments of Bombay, C. P., U. P. and Bihar appointed committees for enquiring into conditions of labour. In November 1939 the Congress Ministries resigned before the recommendations of these committees could be fully implemented. The Non-Congress Ministries also took keen interest in the labour problems. Several Provinces appointed Labour Commissioners for dealing with labour problems in their areas and there are today Labour Commissioners in all the industrially important Provinces. The most important piece of Provincial Labour Legislation during this regime was the Industrial Disputes Act, 1938, the only one of its kind in the provincial field seeking to provide for peaceful settlement of trade disputes. Another notable legislative measure was the Bombay Shops and Establishments Act 1939. The Maternity Benefit Act in Bengal, United Provinces, Punjab, Assam and Sind, and the Shops and Establishments Acts in Bengal and Sind and the Trade Employees Act in the Punjab may be cited and illustrations of the zeal of the popular Ministries for improving labour conditions.
In spite of this progress, however, there was some lack of co-ordination in regard to the measures adopted and their administration. To remedy this, the Government of India have convened Labour Ministers Conferences since 1940. At the third Conference in January 1942, a tripartite machinery was suggested by the Hon'ble the Labour Member to advise Government on labour problems and the first Tripartite Labour Conference was held in August 1942. A Standing Labour Committee was also constituted to examine questions referred to it by the Plenary Conference or by the Central Government. This development has been in conformity with the Royal Commission'
recommendation for the setting up of an Industrial Council and has had a perceptible effect in expediting labour legislation and is expected to bring about greater uniformity in labour legislation and administration throughout India.
Labour Legislation has also made considerable progress in the industrially advanced States which have adopted the more important British Indian measures with some variations. It appears; however, that although these Acts have been passed, they are not yet notified in some of the States and hence have not come into operation. There is moreover, some time-lag between British Indian legislation and its adoption by States. The enactment of the Mysore Labour Act, 1942, is a noticeable step in the progress of labour legislation in the Indian States. The Act creates machinery for peaceful and speedy settlement of industrial disputes and seeks generally to promote the welfare of labour. It confers the right of association on labour but, while avoiding rival associations by prescribing a single association for each industrial establishment, prevents the growth of horizontal unions in the same trade. It confers statutory recognition on each association on registration. It may also be mentioned here that the Cochin State alone, in the whole of India has taken action to control labour conditions in plantations by framing plantation labour rules which came into force in May 1937. On the whole, labour legislation in States appears to fall short of the standards in British India. For instance, the mining legislation in Mysore and Baroda which was passed as early as in 1906 and 1908 respectively is designed mainly to provide for the safety of persons working in the mines and does not attempt to regulate the hours of work. Travancore is the only exception where the Mines and Minerals Act of 1928 limits the working days to 6 a week, hours of work to 11 a day and 54 a week overground and 42 a week underground and prohibits employment of women in mines before 6 A.M. and after 6 P.M.
In our General Questionnaire information and views were asked only in respect of four important Acts, namely, the Factories Act, the Payment of Wages Act, the Workmen's Compensation Act and the Maternity Benefit Acts. In our ad hoc survey, however, we have studied the working of some other Labour Acts which were applicable to the industries surveyed. We are thus able to give a brief account of the working of these Acts in the following pages. We have mainly refrained from suggesting definite amendments to the Acts, as this is to be dealt with by the Planning Committee to be appointed later.