Indian workers in factories supplying the supermarket chains Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and the fashion brand Ralph Lauren, told the BBC they are being subjected to exploitative work conditions.
Legal regulation of working conditions
The workers’ claims indicate a violation of the Factories Act, 1948 which states workers should not work for more than forty-eight hours a week (or sixty hours with overtime). Further, workers should not be made to work for more than nine hours per day.
The Act will soon be replaced by the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020.
Employer and employee of a factory
The Code says that in relation to a factory establishment, the employer is the person who has ultimate control over the affairs of the factory (occupier of the factory). To be considered an establishment, a factory should employ ten or more workers.
An employee is anyone employed by an establishment for wages, to do any skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled, manual, operational, supervisory, managerial, administrative, technical, clerical or any other work.
Duties of an employer
The Code sets out various duties for employers. Among other things, every employer must:
- Ensure that the workplace is free from hazards that can cause injury or occupational disease to the employees.
- Provide free annual health examinations to employees as specified by the government.
- Issue an appointment letter to every employee, with information as stipulated by the government.
- Send a notice to official authorities, if an accident happens anywhere in the establishment and causes death or bodily injury due to which a person is not able to work for 2 or more days.
- Maintain government-specified welfare facilities for employees in the establishment, such as separate and suitable washing facilities for male and female employees.
Rights of an employee
According to the Code, every employee in an establishment has the right to obtain information from the employer about their health and safety at work. If the employee feels that there are not enough resources for protecting work-related safety or health in the workplace, they can tell the employer directly or through a member of the Safety Committee. If the employee is not satisfied after this, they can approach the Inspector-cum-Facilitator.
The Code says that workers should not work for more than eight hours per day. The period of work in each day will be fixed with intervals and spread overs as specified by the government. Every establishment should display and maintain a notice of periods of work, clearly showing the daily periods during which workers may be required to work according to the Code.
No worker should work in an establishment for more than six days in a week.
After getting the consent of a worker, the employer might make them work overtime. For overtime work, the employer should pay wages at twice the rate. The government may specify the total number of hours of overtime.
Punishing employers under the Code
An employer who violates their duties in relation to hazardous processes can be punished with imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of up to Rupees five lakh.
If an employer fails in their duties and this results in serious bodily injury, they can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rupees two lakh to four lakh. If the employer’s violation results in someone’s death, they can be punished with imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine of at least Rupees five lakh.
The court may direct that at least fifty percent of the fine should be given as compensation to the victim or to the legal heirs of the victim (in case of death).