Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The protection given to children by the Factories Act of 1934, as amended by the Factories (Amendment) Act of 1940 has been reinforced by the provisions of the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act of 1933, the Employment of Children Act of 1938 and the Employment of Children (Amendment) Act of 1939.
The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act is designed to stop the mal-practice of pledging of labour of young children by their parents to employers which was found by the Royal Commission to be prevalent in carpet factories in Amritsar and in the. cotton mills in Ahmedabad. No cases of pledging child labour came to notice in these centres, but a few cases were found in bidi workshops in Madras City, Vellore and in Mysore State.
The object of the Employment of Children Act is to raise the minimum age of child employed in the handling of goods on railways and at ports to 15 years. The Royal Commission found that some children below 12 (which was the minimum age of employment under and Act) were employed in the coaling of ships in one port and recommended that the minimum age be raised from 12 to 14 years. We did not come across any instance of a child under 15 employed in the handling of goods on railways or at ports.
The Employment of Children (Amendment) Act prescribes that no child who has not completed his 12th year shall be employed in any of the following, 10 occupations mentioned in the schedule:—
(i) bidi-making, (2) carpet-making, (3) cement manufacture (bagging of cement), (4) Cloth printing, dyeing and weaving (5) manufacture of matches, explosives and fire works, (6) Mica cutting and splitting, (7) Shellac manufacture, (8) Soap manufacture, (9) tanning and (10) wool cleaning.
Our ad hoc surveys covered five of the above industries. Although the employment of children has gone down in 6idi workshops since the time of the Royal Commission, a fairly large number of them are employed in South India, Bengal and in some parts of the Bombay Province. Children below 12 were not found in any carpet factory in British India and this may be due to their finding more lucrative employment elsewhere in war time. In cement manufacture also, no instances of the infringement of the Act came to our notice. The Employment of children below 12 was specially noticeable in several match factories in the Ramnad district. The Act is flagrantly disregarded in the mica cutting and splitting workshops, in the smaller tanneries and in shellac factories. Surprising though it may seem, child labour was found even in the Government mica factory at Pachemba in Bihar.
The names of children are not always shown in the registers and they make themselves scarce as soon as an outsider comes to the factory. In some of the match factories in the Ramnad district, young children of about the age of 8 or 10, particularly girls, were seen running helter-skelter with trays on their heads when one of our colleagues visited these factories. It transpired that these youngsters were all uncertified children and were trained to pretend on the appearance of the Factory Inspector or any other visitor that they were only carrying the trays for the work to be done by the elders at homes. Apart from the fact that the inspectorate, whether regular or ex-officio, is too inadequate to check the infringement of the Act, the parents themselves who like to take their children to work with them in these establishments in order to augment their meagre earnings, actively assist in the breach of the law. The employers, too, like to engage child labour as it is cheap. The extension of educational and other facilities for children is one of the pre-requisite of the successful control of their employment.
Apart from the industries to which the Act applies, it may be necessary to extend it to certain others. For instance, we found that small children were employed in the bangle manufacture section of the glass industry at Ferozabad. They were found working near the chulas in dingy workshops and their health and general physical development were extremely unsatisfactory. Several children were found with burns and cuts on their bodies which were covered with bandages. They were made to work in spite of such handicaps, often as a result of an understanding between employers and parents.
As a result of the Royal Commission's recommendations legislative measures have been taken in the last decade for protecting the wages of industrial workers from attachment, preventing besetting of industrial workers and for liquidating their debts. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the wages of labourers were, and" are, exempt from attachment. In 1937, the Code was amended so as to exempt from attachment any salary to the extent of the first hundred rupees and one half of the remainder of such salary, although the Royal Commission had recommended (Report p. 232) that the salary and wages of workmen receiving less than Rs. 300 a month should be entirely exempted from attachment.
F.N. 1 1-4 Lab./56
The Royal Commission found that there were "many-money lenders who prey upon workers and depend upon the threat of violence rather than of the processes of law. The lathi is the only court to which they appeal, and they may be seen waiting outside the factory gate on pay-day ready to pounce on their debtors as they emerge."1 This position has not materially changed even today'. The Government of India" decided that no central legislation was called for to deal with besetting of industrial establishments. But at their suggestion, the Bengal Workmen's Protection Act was passed in 1935. It provides that whoever loiters HI or near any mine, dock, railway station or factory with a view to recovering any debt from any workmen employed therein shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine or with both. The Act applies, in the first instance, to Calcutta and the three surrounding districts but can be extended to other areas. The Act was amended in 1940 to prevent besetting more effectively and to bring any workmen employed by local authority or in public utility service and seamen within its protection. Another Act of the same character was passed in the C. P. called C. P. Protection of Debtors Act, 1937. These Acts do not appear to have had any tangible effect.
The Royal Commission further recommended legislation to liquidate unsecured debts due from workmen and suggested that the assistance of the law should be restricted to the recovery of such sums as the borrower can reasonably pay in limited period of time. The Government of India have taken no action and the only legislative action taken oh this recommendation is the C. P. Adjustment and Liquidation of Industrial Worker's Debt Act, 1936. The debts of an industrial worker whose average income does not exceed Rs. 50 a month can be adjusted under this Act to this repaying capacity if they exceed his assets plus three months' average Income. The interest charges are reduced in accordance, with the principle of dam-dupat (i.e., the aggregate of unpaid interest may not exceed the principal of the debt). The amount of the wages which he may be required to pay in, any one month varies from 1/6th to 1/3rd and payments, cannot extent beyond, 36 months. It appears that very little advantage is taken by workers of this Act though action was taken in that province to bring its provisions pointed to the notice of workers organisations.
It is very desirable that other provincial Governments should adopt as soon as possible legislation to prevent besetting and to liquidate the debts of industrial workers. It is needless to say that such action will go far in improving the lot of workers whose sufferings are not to a small extent due to their indebtedness.