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The Champion Of Tripartism

Ambedkar–the Architect of India’s Labour Laws

Saji Narayanan C K

In August 1936, Ambedkar founded a new political party called the Independent Labour Party. He drafted an action programme to address the grievances of the landless, poor tenants, farmers and workers. In the initial election itself, fifteen out of seventeen candidates put up by the party succeeded including Dr Ambedkar. He got established as a reputed labour leader.

In 1938, the Congress Government presented the Industrial Disputes Bill with many anti-worker clauses in the Bombay Legislative Assembly. Dr Ambedkar accused the bill as “bad, bloody and bloodthirsty” since it restricted the right of the labourer to strike and made the strike illegal as well as impossible.

The bill also enabled the employer not to disclose his budget and sought to use police force against the workers. Still, the Congress Government went forward with the bill. As a part of the campaign against the law, a one- day strike was also held.

Dr Ambedkar took over the Labour portfolio as the Labour Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in 1942. In a reception, he said in humility that the high office held no charm for him and that he would be the first to quit if his efforts as Labour Member were unsuccessful in improving the conditions of workers of the country. Regarding the Government’s commitment to labour, Dr Ambedkar based his views on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, 1930 and the various Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Dr Ambedkar was the Champion of real tripartism in India. In 1942, he called the 4th Tripartite Indian Labour Conference (ILC) in New Delhi. Before that, only the Government representatives were there in the ILC. In his address, Dr Ambedkar said: “It is for the first time in the history of these labour conferences that the representatives of the employers and employees have been brought face to face within the ambit of a joint conference”.

The objects of the ILC 1942 were the formulating of a procedure for the settlement of industrial disputes and the discussion of matters of all-India importance as between Labour and Capital. Joint discussions in the ILCs brought fundamental changes in the outlook of the Government, employers and employees on labour issues.

Dr Ambedkar for the first time brought in the 8-hour working per day to India, bringing it down from 14 hours. He brought it in the 4th session of Indian Labour Conference held in New Delhi in 1942. He proposed holidays with pay for factory workers. He followed the English pattern of working hours of 48 hours per week in India.

For fixing minimum wages for labour, Dr Ambedkar drafted the ‘Minimum Wages Act’ in 1942 though it was enacted into law in 1948. Dr Ambedkar moved the Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill in1944. ‘Dearness Allowance’ (DA), ‘Leave Benefit’, ‘Revision of Scale of Pay’, extra payment for Overtime, subsidised food etc. are the contributions of Dr Ambedkar.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar formed an Advisory Committee to advise on matters arising out of the Labour Welfare under B P Agarkar. As a labour Minister, he invited Mr V V Giri, the then president of the AITUC, to head the commission on ‘Forced labour’. Among East Asian countries, India was the first nation to bring insurance for the well-being of employees through the Employees State Insurance (ESI) Act.

The first document on social insurance was ‘Report on Health Insurance’ submitted to the ILC of 1942. Dr Ambedkar has contributed the ‘Coal and Mica Mines Provident Fund’ and the ‘Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund, 1946’. He has also contributed to the making of Employees Provident Fund Law. He brought an amendment to the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1923. In 1944, Dr Ambedkar initiated the amendment to the Factories Act of 1934 with several modifications. It was Ambedkar again, who introduced canteen and medical facilities inside the factory etc.

Before coal mines maternity law was presented, Dr Ambedkar, as a Labour Member, went to the coalfields in Dhanbad to study the working conditions. He inspected both surface and underground conditions of work and went 400 feet underground.

It is because of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar that workers can go on strike for their rights. In 1943, Dr Ambedkar introduced the ‘Indian Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill’ for compulsory recognition of trade unions. The Industrial Disputes Act, which is the basic labour law of the country, was passed in 1947 and ESI Act passed in 1948; but was introduced in the Viceroy’s Council by Dr Ambedkar years back.

Chief Labour Commissioner, Provincial Labour Commissioners, Labour Inspectors etc. were first appointed during his tenure. The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Bill was introduced in the central assembly by Dr Ambedkar and came into force on April 23, 1946. ‘Employment Exchanges’ were created by Dr Ambedkar in the name of ‘National Employment Agency’.

Ambedkar was instrumental in the establishment of the Reserve Bank of India in 1935. His ‘Industrial Statistical Act, 1942’ was enacted for assessing labour statistics in the matters of labour disputes, wage rates, income, inflation, debt, housing, employment, deposits and other funds.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar initiated many laws for women workers in India. They include ‘Mines Maternity Benefit Act’, ‘Women Labour Welfare Fund’, ‘Women and Child Labour Protection Act’, ‘Maternity leave Benefit for Women Labour’, as well as ‘Restoration of Ban on Employment of Women on Underground Work in Coal Mines’’.

Dr Ambedkar took steps to amend the Maternity Benefit Act. When the maternity benefit bill was introduced in the House, he said: “I believe that it is in the interest of the nation that the mother ought to get a certain amount of rest during the prenatal period and also subsequently, and this Bill is based entirely on that principle”. He advocated for equal pay for equal work, and he got success in the field of coal mines.

Ambedkar was a pioneer in India’s skill development initiatives. He was instrumental in setting up the best Technical Training Scheme for Workers in India. On August 24, 1944 while in Calcutta he said: “This is the age of the Machine and it is only those countries in which technical and scientific training has risen to the highest pitch that will survive in the struggle... The Technical Training Scheme not only maintained but extended all over the country and became a permanent part of the country’s educational system”. The current draft New Educational Policy also gives thrust to vocational education.

Dr Ambedkar has shown his brilliance by including Philosophy of social justice and labour rights in the Constitution. Dr Ambedkar wanted the subject of labour to be in the Union list as he stressed the need for uniformity of labour laws. But it could not be achieved.

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Vol 55, No. 13, Sep 25 - Oct 1, 2022