Pre- and Post-Independence Employee / Labour Welfare in India

19/10/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

During the early period of industrial development, efforts towards workers’ welfare was made largely by social workers, philanthropists and other religious leaders, mostly on humanitarian grounds. Before the introduction of welfare and other legislation in India, the conditions of labour were miserable. Exploitation of child labour, long hours of work, bad sanitation, absence of safety measures etc., were the regular features of the factory life. The earliest legislative approach could be tracked back to the passing of the Apprentices Act of 1850. This act was enacted with the objective of helping poor and orphaned children to learn various trades and crafts. The next act was the Fatal Accidents Act of 1853 which aimed at providing compensation to the families of workmen who lost their life as a result of “actionable wrong”. Earlier attempts at legislation in this country were mainly aimed at regulation of employment.

Pre- Independence Era

The movement to improve the working conditions of Indian labour started with the passing of the first Indian Factories Act in 1881. The deplorable conditions in which labour worked in the textile mills in Bombay during those days, as testified by the factory commission of 1875 was the immediate cause for the passing of the Act. Adult labour, however, was not protected in any manner. It was found inadequate in many respects. Any how, it recognized the right of the government to safeguard the interests of the workers by means of a suitable legislation. Therefore, the Mulock Commission was appointed by the Government of Bombay in 1884 to review the working of the Factories Act of 1881.

The Factories (Amendment) Act 1891 applied to all factories employing 50 persons or more. Provisions relating to better ventilation, cleanliness and for preventing over crowding in factories were also made. The hours of work for children were reduced to six per day. Employment of women between 7.00 pm and 5.00 am was prohibited. Women were allowed to work for eleven hours in a day with one and a half hours rest. Certain provisions were also made for the health and safety of the Industrial workers.

The outbreak of First World War in 1914 let to a number of new developments. During the war years (1914 to 1918) the number of factories and the number of persons employed wherein increased. Wages did not keep pace with the rising prices and profits. The establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919 was another important land mark in the history of Labour Welfare Movement in our Country. The formation of AITUC (1920), the first central trade union organization in our country, also helped in furthering the cause of welfare movement.

Another milestone in the field of labour welfare was reached with the appointment of Labour Investigation Committee (Rege Committee) in 1944. The committee was asked to investigate problems relating to wages and earnings, employment, housing and social conditions of workers. It covered different areas in labour welfare such as housing policy, rest and recreation, occupational diseases, relief in the case of old age and death, crushes, canteens, medical aid, washing and bathing facilities , educational facilities etc. For the first time in India, this committee highlighted the importance of welfare measures for workers in improving their social and economic life.

Post Independence Period

After independence, the labour welfare movement acquired new dimensions. It was realized that labour welfare had a positive role to play in the increasing productivity and reducing industrial tensions. The emergence of different central trade union organizations – INTUC (1947), HMS (1943), BMS (1955), CITU (1970), NLO etc. gave a further fillip to the growth of labour welfare movement. Mainly on the basis of the recommendations of the Rege Committee, the Government of India enacted the Factories Act 1948. To draft this important piece of legislation the services of Sir Wilfred Garrett were utilized. Thus, the Factories Act of 1948 came into effect from 1st April 1949.

Various Labour Welfare Activities were incorporated in different five year plans. The First Five Year plan (1951 to 1956) paid considerable attention to the welfare of working classes. It laid emphasis on the development of welfare facilities, for avoidance of Industrial Disputes and for creating mutual goodwill and understanding. During this period, the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, the Mines Act, 1951, and the Employees’ Provident Fund Act, 1952 were enacted.

The Second Five Year plan (1956 to 1961) saw further developments in the field of labour welfare. New enactments were made to cover seamen and motor transport workers. A comprehensive scheme known as Dock Workers (safety health and welfare) scheme was drawn up in 1951. In 1959, the Government of Assam passed an Act called The Assam Tea Plantations Employees’ Welfare Fund Act. This period also saw number of enactments in the field of industrial housing by various state governments.

The Third Five Year plan (1961 to 1966) stressed the need for effective implementation of various statutory welfare provisions. It recommended improvement in working conditions and emphasized greater productivity on the part of workers. Some of the legislative measures during this period include the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, Apprentices Act 1961, and Payment of Bonus Act 1965.

The Fifth five year plan (1974 to 1979) also laid down programmes for labour welfare. For promoting industrial safety in increasing measure, the plan provided for setting up of safety cells in various states. An amount of Rs.57 crores was provided for labour welfare including craftsmen training and employment service.

The Sixth Five Year plan (1980 to 1985) decided to promote special programmes which would also need to be undertaken by the state governments for the benefit of Agricultural Labour, Artisans, Handloom Weavers, Fishermen, Leather workers and other unorganized workers in the rural and urban areas. An outlay of Rs.161.7 crores was proposed for the labour welfare programmes during this year.

In spite of all these efforts, the welfare work in India is still considerably below the standard setup in other countries. However, it has come to stay as an accepted feature of employment conditions and is bound to make rapid progress in the years to come, especially when the Indian Republic is wedded to the ideal of a welfare state with socialistic objectives.