Factories Act 1948 – Is There A Need For Reform

INTRODUCTION

Factories Act in India is a legislation which provides regime for the functioning of factory and lays down the provisions for health, safety and welfare of labour force employed in a factory. In 1948 the Factories Act, 1934 was revised and its scope was made wider to cover the ambits of health, cleanliness, over time payments and many more. It was done to ensure the proper working conditions of the workers, health and safety so that they can devote more time and labour in the working process of the factory without the terror of accidents and body strain. To ensure the safe and suitable working conditions of the workers this act was being regularly amended till 1976. By this time because of globalization and modernization many chemical industries involving toxic and hazardous substances were coming into existence and it created more and more problems and hindered every aspect of the workers such as safety, working conditions etc1. By the time government could adapt the latest trends in the industrial sector and developments the world’s biggest industrial disaster, The Bhopal Gas Tragedy occurred killing thousands of innocent people and created many lacunas in the factories act of 1948 as a result this act wanted the latest amendment and later this act was amended in 1987 as a memorial to the victims of Bhopal.

The main objectives of the Indian Factories Act, 1948 are to regulate the working conditions in factories, to regulate health, safety welfare, and annual leave and enact special provision in respect of young persons, women and children who work in the factories. It covers all factories which employ 10 or more persons in any manufacturing process with the use of power and all such factories which employ 20 or more persons in any manufacturing process without the use of power2.

This act only applies to those factories where 10 or more workers are working with the aid of power or 20 or more workers are working without the aid of power. As a result where the number is less than the statutory number as provided in this act are not covered under the Factories Act. For example women in home based work; self employed are not covered under the purview of this act3.

CONCERN AND CRITICISM

Despite the fact that the Indian Factories Act 1948 has experienced numerous changes after it came into drive, the real changes just occurred after the Bhopal Gas disaster which was the greatest modern fiasco ever of world. It stunned the world and because of this occurrence a need for change in the predominant enactment was felt desperately. It demonstrated the lacunas and the backwardness of the enactment amid that time and the ineptness for possibilities like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

In this section, some key criticisms have been highlighted.

  • Amendment of section 2- As of now this act allows state government to make rules on matters like double employment, conditions related to exemptions to certain workers, etc. This bill gives such administer making forces to central government also.
  • The Factories Act came into existence with the primary objective of raising the labour standard and protecting them from exploitation. But the increase of over time limit is contradictory and instead of improving the working conditions of labour it would even lead to some intense health and social problems among the labour class4.
  • In section 65 of the act a proviso will be inserted namely “Provided that the Central Government or the State Government or the Chief Inspector with the prior approval of the State Government, as the case may be, by order, further extend the total number of hours of overtime work in any quarter up to one hundred and twenty-five in the public interest.” But neither the Act nor the bill defines what public interest Therefore the employers can influence the working time as per their own convenience in running the business.
  • In section 64 of the act, the exemption is for 5 years but this 5 year term has been removed by the new bill without mentioning the reason. Even the act did not provide the reason for mentioning 5 years.
  • The ILO Hours of Work (Industry) Convention (No. 1) of 1919 introduced a maximum standard working time of 48 hours per week and eight hours per day as an international norm. In several exceptional cases, working time is allowed to exceed these limits, as long as daily working time remains not higher than ten hours, and weekly working time not higher than 56 hours. The reduction of hours of work is viewed as a tool for achieving two major goals: (i) creating additional workplaces; and (ii) achieving a balance between the work and family lives of employees. But the present amendment of doubling over time in Factories Act 1948 is completely contradictory to the ILO recommendation of 1962.
  • This act says that complaint can be filed only through the inspector. This arrangement should be altered with the goal that individual labourer or his representative or trade union can directly file a complaint in court of law. Inspectors having this right in a way restrict the rights of the labourers regarding their grievances.
  • Increasing threshold limit of the number of workers employed in defining a factory will remarkably decrease coverage of the Act. The factories act defines factory on the basis of number of employees. If a unit uses power for manufacturing, it is considered a factory if it employs more than 10 workers in a year. Units that do not use power for manufacturing are identified as a factory only if they employ at least 20 workers. The amendment bill has proposed to double this number from 10 to 20 and from 20 to 40. If this is done then more than 70 percent of the factory establishments in the Country will be out of the coverage of the Factories Act and workers will be at the mercy of employers in every aspect of their service conditions, rights and protective provisions laid down under the Act.
  • Doubling the over time is not justifiable from the perspective of the health of the workers. Working overtime will also include the increase in number of consumption of alcohol tobacco and this can deteriorate the health of the workers. Karoshi is Japanese word which means death of workers from overtime and this number was about 100 in Japan during the conference. So doing overtime in certain industries could give birth to such kind of activities. Doing overtime can have a adverse effect instead of improving the quality of life 5.

CONCLUSION

Despite several amendments being made to the factories act, it cannot be said that it is perfectly alright since the requirements and conditions of the workers and employers are changing at a rapid stage. Moreover making an alteration in the enactment is an extremely complex process in a nation like our own. Correcting any enactment is a tedious and a long procedure in our nation. Indeed, even after such obstructions, the Industrial facilities Act still keeps on being a fine enactment with regards to ensuring the privileges of the workers.

Increasing overtime could increase profits for some labourers but it would come at the cost of health and way of life of the workers. Moreover increasing overtime is not a sign of industrial developments as it would not lead to any profits and productivity of the factory. It once in a while leaves either organizations or their representatives happier. In this context, the government should take into consideration the criticism and feedback from trade unions, the labour community and civil society and as a first step it should look at giving more benefits to daily wagers and action need to be taken against companies that do not pay the stipulated wages for working overtime.

1 https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/TheFactoriesAct1948.pdf DATE OF ACCESS- 07/10/2019

2 The Factories Act, 1948

3 Ibid

4 https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/labour-min-proposes-changes-in-factories-act-but-not- on-lines-of-rajasthan-114061200382_1.html DATE OF ACCESS- 07/10/2019

5 https://indianexpress.com/article/world/world-news/death-from-overwork-japans-karoshi-culture-killing-youth- 3094832/ DATE OF ACCESS- 07/10/2019

This article is authored by Praharsh Verma, student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai

Also Read – The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016: An Ignis Fatuus

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