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Published on: April 24, 2023, 12:42 p.m.
Tamil Nadu scores a point
  • The move is likely to benefit IT, electronics, textile and non-leather footwear sectors

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

Tamil Nadu is the hub of major manufacturing companies and has the highest number of factories and industrial workers in the country. Though the state government has been alternately controlled by the DMK and the AIADMK in the past, the policies impacting industrial development have been mostly flexible and progressive. Many states have held TN as an exemplar of good policy making. The latest move to amend the Factories Act, 1948, which extends the daily working hours from 8 to 12 for factory workers, is the latest instance of the state responding to the needs of the industry.

The DMK-led government is going ahead with the move, though a similar provision enshrined in the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (enacted by the Modi government in September 2020, to provide for flexible working hours) has yet to be notified. The much-vaunted code been put in the cold storage for fear of political backlash. There have also been reports that Centre has decided to delay nationwide roll-out of this reform and three other labour codes, which were supposed to constitute substantive labour reforms, till after the 2024 general elections.

The move is likely to benefit sectors such as information technology, electronics, textile and non-leather footwear sectors. This may also suit Apple contractors such as Foxconn, Pegatron, and Wistron. Moving to India was part of the strategy by the global majors to become less reliant on manufacturing in China. Reports say Apple was looking to move at least a quarter of its manufacturing to India by 2025.

Pushed ahead despite resistance

The TN Factories Act, 2023, is being pushed despite the fact that it has run into resistance from the Left parties and the Congress, which are otherwise allies of the DMK government led by M.K. Stalin. However, C.V. Ganesan, minister for labour welfare and skill development, says, “Representations were received from many industries and industry associations by the state government to bring out working hour reforms by making statutory provision for flexible working hours, citing the number of benefits it could bring for workers, especially women employees, industry and the economy as a whole.” 

Thangam Thennarasu, industries minister, feels that the total working hours in a week would remain unchanged for the workers, who would now have the option to work for four days in a week and avail three days leave. “This would immensely benefit women workers,” he claimed.

“The remaining three days would be paid leave and the existing rules on leaves, overtime, salaries, etc, would remain unchanged,” Ganesan added. To allay concerns voiced by critics, he adds that action would be taken against factories, which coerced their employees to work against their wishes.

As per the proposed bill, to be introduced in the TN assembly shortly. Section 127 of the Central code enabled the state government by notification to provide among others flexible working hours including overtime and spread over hours inclusive of rest intervals, subject to such conditions and restrictions and for such period as deemed fit in relation to any factory or class of factories.

  • This is not an anti-worker Act. It will be treated as a special case to firms, and the government will implement it only after scrutiny

The state government has decided to amend the Factories Act of 1948 (Central Act 63 of 1948) for its application to Tamil Nadu, as the said central code has not been brought into force, it said.

“As per the amendment, factories seeking exemption should obtain the employees’ consent to extend the working hours and this should not affect the employees’ well-being,” Ganesan says. There would be no change in the total number of 48 hours of work in a week and this amendment would apply only to factories or establishments where their staff opt. “This is not an anti-worker Act. It will be treated as a special case to firms, and the government will implement it only after scrutiny,” he adds.

Interestingly, though the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, has been enacted by Modi government in September 2020, it is yet to be brought into force through notification. Section 127 of the Code enables the State government (when notified) to provide for flexible working hours, including overtime and spread-over hours, inclusive of rest intervals, subject to such conditions and restrictions as applicable to any factory or class of factories. The Code subsumes 13 labour enactments, including the Factories Act, 1948, relating to the occupation, safety, health and working conditions of workers.

“The said Central Code having not yet been brought into force by the Government of India, in the interest of workers and the industries, with a view to providing flexible working hours in factories, the State government has decided to amend the Factories Act, 1948, in its application to this state. The bill seeks to give effect to the above decision,” the proposal explains.

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