Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The most important labour legislation in India relates to factories. The Act which now regulates working conditions in them is the Indian Factories Act, 1934, which thoroughly overhauled the previous legislation on the subject as a result of the Royal Commission's recommendations.
During our ad-hoc surveys we found that so far as the larger industrial establishments were concerned, the Act was, on the whole, being satisfactorily observed, although there was a considerable evasion of its provisions in small and seasonal factories, particularly in respect of hours of work and overtime, employment of children, safety, health and sanitation.
Sometimes, the managers of smaller factories in the mofussil tamper with the clock in order to get more labour out of their work people. Factory Inspections and even surprise visits are of no avail in this matter as the managements generally get advance information about the arrival of the Factory Inspector. Where overlapping shifts are worked, there is also put in of the worker being made to more work and it is difficult for the Factory Inspectors to check this. In some factories we also noticed that overtime work was not being paid for according to the provisions of the Factories Act. This was particularly noticed in some of the potteries in Calcutta and in some match factories in the Central Provinces. In a few cases the managements maintained double registers, one intended for the factory inspector, and another for themselves.
Statistics of Factories published by the Government of India show that the percentage of certified children to the total number of workers employed in factories was 3 in 1929*, 1.23 in 1934*, .54 in 1939, and .51 in. 1943. Although child labour has according to these figures, steadily gone down, our enquiries showed that its employment in contravention of Section 50 of the Act was still wide-spread in match factories in South India, in glass, bidi, and shellac factories in tanneries and in seasonal factories such as cotton ginning and baling and rice mills. In some match factories in South India, it was found that children under 12 years of age were in possession of certificates of fitness.
Evasions of the safety provisions of the Act were noticed in sugar factories, potteries, printing presses, chemical factories, rice mills and cotton ginning and baling factories. In several chemical factories workers were found working without any masks or gloves. It was admitted by the manager of a Chemical concern that there had been a few cases of gas attacks when two years ago it used to manufacture bleaching powder. In another, there are 2 or 3 cases of gas attack every week. The local Union reported that in some cases workers did not regain consciousness even after 24 hours. In several factories though a caution notice is put up against cleaning the machinery while in motion, in practice the workers are often obliged to do so.
So far as provisions in respect of health and sanitation are concerned, latrines and urinals are generally provided in accordance with the prescribed standards but they are kept in a very insanitary condition. Seasonal factories are the worst offenders in this respect. In some cotton and jute mills, cotton ginning and baling factories, rice mills, tea factories, coffee curing works and cement works dust nuisance still prevails. The dust nuisance in tea factories and rice mills was commented upon by the Royal Commission and it is reported that action has been taken in most provinces to implement their recommendations in this connection, but in actual practice, the position is still far from satisfactory.
The evasions of the law are largely due to the fact that factory inspectorates in different provinces are entirely inadequate. The following tables compiled from the statistics of factories, show the extent to which factories remained uninspected in the various provinces in 1939 and 1943.
F.N. These years include figures for Burma also.
Inspection of Factories in 1939.
Inspection of Factories in 1943.
It will appear from the above tables that 11 and 14 per cent of the total number of factories in British India were not inspected in 1938 and 1939 respectively and that this percentage went up to 19 and 16 in 1942 and 1943 respectively. The percentage of uninspected perennial and seasonal factories to the total number of such factories was 8 and 14 in 1938, 10 and 21 in 1939 17 and 26 in 1942 and 14 and 23 in 1943 respectively. It is, however, remarkable that in 1943, 72 per cent of the factories remained uninspected in Orissa, 48 in Assam, 44 in the Punjab and 30 per cent in Bengal. Obviously, it is not sufficient to inspect the factories once a year. Additional visits are necessary particularly in the case of such factories as are situated in remoter parts of the provinces. As rightly pointed out by Sir Atul Chatterjee, "In India, one annual inspection of a factory is of a very limited value for the enforcement of labour laws, since the workers are mostly illiterate or live far away from the Inspector's Office"1. That the present strength of the Inspectorate is inadequate is admitted by almost all the Chief Inspectors and by some of the Provincial Governments. The Madras Government has under consideration a proposal to increase the strength of the factory inspectorate whereby each Inspector will have to inspect about 250 factories a year. The Royal Commission's recommendation about the appointment of women inspectors and medical inspectors has not been implemented except in Bombay and Madras. In connection with the question of increasing the size of the inspectorates, we may refer to the action taken in the Central Provinces (by Act XXXVI of 1939) and the Punjab (by Act VII of 1940) to amend the Factories Act requiring payment of a fee for registration of factories for the purpose of partly defraying the expenditure on the factory inspectorate, Moreover, the tendency in most Provinces is to congregate the inspection staff at headquarters instead of spreading it out at different important industrial centres. We may also state that some of the inspection reports of Factory Inspectors seen by us show that they concentrate more on the technical aspects of factory inspection than on the human aspects such as employment, hours of work, working conditions, etc.
Another chief reason why evasion of the Act are still common is that the offenders are generally punished lightly, especially by mofussil courts. In this connection the Royal Commission observed, "In the majority of the provinces there are numerous cases of inadequate fines, particularly for repeated offences; not infrequently, the fine is smaller than the profit made by the offender out of the offence."2 There has been no improvement in this respect since the time of the Royal Commission as will be clear from the following two tables3 which give the figures of prosecutions, convictions and fines imposed under the Act in each Province in 1939 and 1943.
F.N. In an article on " Federalism aud Ladour Legislation in India " in the International Labour Review, April-May, 1944, p. 21.
F.N. Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India, PP. 73-74. * Compiled from the Chief Inspectors of Factories, Reports for the different Provinces.
Prosecutions, Convictions and Fines 1939.
Prosecutions, Convictions and Fines 1943.
As the above tables show, the average amount of fine imposed per conviction is very small in all Provinces except U. P. and Bihar in 1939, but the position shows some improvement in 1943. The award of light punishments encourages offenders to defy the law instead of having any salutary effect on them. The above tables further show that, as compared with the workers employed, the number of prosecutions was small in Bengal, Bihar and U. P. in 1939 and that the situation, on the whole deteriorated still further in 1943. In Bengal only 12 prosecutions were launched in 1943, though the Province employs nearly 7 lakhs of workers.
As regards exemptions under the Act, the tendency has been generally speaking for Provincial Governments to grant an increasing number of them. We feel that even if the power of granting exemptions is retained, it should be very sparingly used. The Royal Commission also recommended that "if workers are compelled to work in circumstances which involve the grant of an exemption, they should, wherever possible, receive a benefit in a form balancing as closely as possible with the deprivation involved in the exemption."1 Workers however, complain that no compensation is generally extended to them by the employers and urge that there should be stipulation in the Act for the grant of compensatory privileges in lieu of exemptions.
In spite of the Royal Commission's recommendation that a separate Act should be passed relating to workshops, i.e., unregulated factories which do not use power, irrespective of the number of persons employed no action has so far been taken by the Government of India in this connection. The Central Provinces Unregulated Factories Act, 1937, is the only legislation which applies to unregulated factories employing 50 or more persons and engaged in bidi-making, shellac manufacture or leather tanning, the three industries mentioned by the Royal Commission as specially requiring attention. The Act lays down certain minimum standards of health and safety and regulates the working hours of adults and children. The C. P. Government also framed bye-laws in 1941 under the C. P. & Berar Municipalities Act, for the regulation of conditions in bidi factories. Both these measures have not so far been successful mainly for want of adequate enforcement. The Act has also been evaded by several bidi factory owners by splitting up their establishments.
The important unregulated factories in the country are those of bidi, mica, shellac (if power-driven machinery is not used) and carpet-weaving and small tanneries. Though these factories employing 10 or more persons can be brought under the Factories Act for all or any purposes of the Act by a notification under Section 5 (l) no action has been taken so far by any Provincial Government, except Bombay in the case of bidi factories and U. P. in the case of glass factories, presumably because of the difficulty of adequately inspecting such factories. The considered opinion of the Conference of the Chief Inspectors of Factories held in 1944 was that the Factories Act should be applied to all concerns employing 10 or more workers. The workers in unregulated factories, who constitute a considerable proportion of the industrial workers, are thus the least protected and have practically remained outside the influence of legislation.
There is no uniformity in the various Provinces about the grant of exemptions, the application of Section 5 (I) and the Rules made under, the
F.N. Report P. 5
Act with the result that variations in these matters make large inroads on the uniformity of the application of the Act. For instance, in Bombay a creche is required in factories employing over 100 women while in Madras, Bengal and U. P., it is required if more than 50 women are employed. The Bombay and Madras rules require a trained nurse to be in charge of the creche; the Bengal rules require only an experienced woman supervisor while the U. P. rules are silent on the point. The Madras rules require a trained nurse or Ayah for every 30 children while the maximum number of children which can be put in charge of a nurse or other women is not specified in the other Provinces.