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Book on Labour Laws and Governance Reforms

26th August, 2019

The book co-authored by Dr. K.R. Shyam Sundar, XLRI and Dr. Rahul Sakpal, Maharashtra National Law University,provides critical analyses of developments in labour laws reforms and labour statistics during the post-reform period

Dr. K.R. Shyam Sundar, Eminent Labour Economist & Professor, Human Resources Management Area at XLRI - Xavier School of Management recentlyreleased the book - ‘Labour Laws and Governance Reforms in the Post-Reform Period in India: Missing the Middle Ground?' in Chennai. He dedicated the book to his mentor Prof. K.P. Chellaswamy, Retired Professor, Post-Graduate Department of Economics, Guru Nanak College, Madras University.

The book co-authored by Dr. K.R. Shyam Sundar, XLRI and Dr. Rahul Sakpal, Maharashtra National Law University comprises essays providing critical analyses on the developments relating to labour market reforms, annual Union Budgets, labour statistics, etc. during the post-reform period; it also includes a special analytical chapter on the recently published Periodic Labour Force Survey, 2017-18. It is published by a well-known publisher, Synergy Books, India.

Talking about the book released, Dr. K. R. Shyam Sundar said, "Ever since the introduction of economic reforms in 1991 in India, employers and critics of labour regulation have argued for the introduction of reforms of the labour laws and the inspection system. They demand codification of labour laws and introduction of employer-friendly reforms in the process. The Central government irrespective of the parties in power is committed to labour laws reforms, more so the NDA government. On the other hand, the trade unions have stridently argued that in the era of globalization job losses have become rampant, the quality of jobs has deteriorated considerably and hence demand that labour laws need to be universalized and be effectively implemented. The NDA government has enacted recently the Wage Code 2019 and three remaining Codes will be taken up for enactment in the forthcoming Parliamentary sessions. There are considerable tensions in the labour market."

"Our book argues for the need of a strong and sustainable institutional framework at all levels in the industrial relations system, that is built on five core institutional principles, viz. sustained and effective social dialogue, balance between firm's competitiveness and labour rights, an abiding respect for labour institutions, decent work and employment, and a comprehensive and universal social protection for workers. This, the authors believe, will lead the stakeholders to adopt the currently missing ‘middle ground' in their reform efforts. In a sense, our book is a celebration and reiteration of the principles and perspectives inherent in ILO's Conventions and Recommendations and its ‘decent work' paradigm", he said.

He further added that, "Policy making in a pluralistic democratic system like India must compulsorily depend on social dialogue and India cannot become China which lacking as it does democratic and consultative institutions can impose any policies on the society. Even in China, since the mid-2000s significant reforms have been introduced as a policy correction to restore equilibrium in the labour market as aggressive labour flexibility policies introduced during 1985-2000 had caused considerable social and labour unrest. These reforms strive to establish social harmony and impose stricter regulations on terminations and temporary contracts. In fact, Chinese laws have in 2013 imposed tougher restrictions on the operation of the temping agencies similar to contract labour system in India)." He further argued that, "It is a myth to say that Chinese employers enjoy considerable labour market flexibility. In fact, real wages have risen considerably during the 2000s and the recent decade as a result of high and rising labour unrest and increasing instances of genuine collective and social bargaining."

At a formal function held on August 25, the book was released by Prof. Kamala Sankaran (Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirappalli) in the presence of Prof. K.P. Chellaswamy (Retired Professor, PG Department of Economics, Guru Nanak College, Madras University), Prof. K. Jothi Sivagnanam (Professor and Head, Department of Economics, Madras University), Ms. Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan (Eminent Labour Lawyer and an ILO Consultant, Chennai), Dr. Thomas Franco (International Steering Committee Member, Global Labour University), eminent trade union leaders, academics and the authors.

While releasing the book, Prof. Kamala Sankaran (Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirappalli) commented, "I welcome this timely book on the changes in the labour law and labour policy in recent decades. The book will help focus attention on the condition of workers in the present economic scenario and bring back a labour-centric analysis that has been missing in the discourse for some time now." Professor Sankaran also highlighted the multidisciplinary approach that the authors have used in the book while analysing the economic, legal and political changes in the laws, as well as the questions of how changes in labour law and the role of the State impact employment, workers' rights, trade unions and social dialogue in India.

Prof. K. Jothi Sivagnanam (Professor and Head, Department of Economics, Madras University) stressed on the relevance of the book in the context of rising marketization of the economy and spoke of the need for ‘regulation' of the market forces for arriving at optimal solutions. He said, "Asymmetry of information and lack of governance have led to major financial frauds in the country. In that sense regulation assumes greater importance in the market economy and the essays in the book stresses the role of regulation in the factor market, such as the labour market."

Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan (Eminent Labour Lawyer and an ILO Consultant, Chennai) observed, "The essays in the book discuss in-depth the arguments advanced for and against the current labour law reform process and also the draft Code on Wages, Code on Occupational Safety and Health and Working Conditions, the Code on Industrial Relations and the Code on Social Security. The essays throw light on the possible implications of the Codes and the challenges of implementing them. The book rues the absence of a middle ground, that is, a balanced perspective in the entire reform process and advocates for a middle ground based on the decent work paradigm of the ILO. It is a very useful book for anyone who wishes to have a good understanding of the labour law reform process in India."

Dr. Thomas Franco (International Steering Committee Member, Global Labour University) commented that "In this year of 100 years of ILO, where the discussions are on the Future of Work, this book is highly essential for practitioners, trade union leaders, NGOs, and academics." He further added that the introductory chapter and the 64-odd essays cover variety of topics concerning reforms and also provides a history of the evolution of industrial relations in the country, "They are timely and make easy reading; the book's coverage of ‘precarious labour' is especially significant. Also, the emphasis on ‘social dialogue' by the book is very appropriate as this is quite lacking in the policy making sphere. The Chapter on the recent Wage Code clearly exposes the shortcomings of it."

All the speakers repeatedly congratulated Prof. Shyam Sundar for dedicating the book in honour of his PG Professor, his first mentor, who taught him during 1978-83, as this kind of a gesture is rare in these modern times when teachers' role in the Society and on the students is easily even surely forgotten.

Dr. Rahul Sapkal (Asst. Professor, Maharashtra National Law University), the co-author of the book, while responding to the panelists' comments observed that jobs are increasingly becoming precarious in the post-reform period and the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data confirms not only the highest level of unemployment but also rising precarity of conditions of labour which is a huge social concern for the policy-makers.

On this occasion Prof. K.P. Chellaswamy was felicitated by his ex-colleagues and students. While responding to the felicitations and speeches on the book Prof. Chellaswamy spoke of the multi-disciplinary nature of Economics and especially the issues relating to the study of Labour. He added that Keynesian Economics is grounded on empirical realities and is increasingly becoming relevant in the globalized economic environment.