labour law

This article is written by Shiwangi Singh, a law student from Banasthali University. This article deals with the evolution and history of labour jurisprudence in our country, the challenges it faced, and the factors that led to its growth.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


We are living in a dynamic, ever-changing world. This world has always been regulated by some laws and rules, and as the needs of society grow due to technological, economic and social changes, it calls for an immediate action for the formation of new laws. Every sector needs some laws to work and these laws must be removed and formed according to the new society. “Life and Laws have moved together in history and they must do so in future.” Law is like a citadel which requires regular repairs, revamping and replacement. A plethora of labour laws were introduced for the betterment of the livelihood of the workmen.

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What is labour legislation

‘Labour legislation’ is a body of law formed for the working class of people to provide them with legal rights, and also restrict them with rules and regulations. It defines the rights and obligations of the working class. Labour law covers several areas-

  • Certification of Labour Unions – The Labour Union is issued with a formal document which ensures them the right to represent on behalf of all the labourers. This Union acts as an exclusive bargaining agent.
  • Collective Bargaining – The workers through their unions put demands before their employers, like the terms of their employment, payment, leave, health and safety policies and the number of working hours.
  • Labour-Management Relations – The head of any working organisation has to resolve conflict among his labourers because any misunderstanding between his employees will create a downfall in his work progress.
  • Workplace health and safety – It ensures that the employees are getting a safe environment to work in and are not physically or mentally abused by the work culture because in the end a better environment will only make them work with all their might.
  • Employment standards – It includes annual holidays, working hours, unfair means of dismissal of labourers, and compensation provided to the labourers who got terminated or have left the job.

Principles of labour legislation

There are various principles of labour legislation-

  • Principle of Social Justice – It ensures social equality for people and ensures that opportunities aren’t denied to them on the basis of religion, caste or any other prejudicial grounds. No matter whichever place they come from they must be provided with equal opportunities to work. Their social status should not be considered a ground for anything and they should be treated in a well-mannered way. The profits earned by a company must be distributed on fair grounds between the workers and the owner.
  • Social Equity – It mentions that the maintenance of labour is based on social equity of labour. As the time and circumstances keep changing it demands new laws and rules to suit workers’ needs accordingly. This intervention of the government in bringing new Acts and amendments according to the situation prevailing is based upon social equity. ‘Equity’ means to be fair and impartial. Social equity means to form equal working standards for the people with the help of provisions and obligations to do so. Laws should be flexible enough to meet the demands of the industrial society.
  • International Uniformity – International Labour Organisation (ILO) plays an important role by creating agreements with different countries and providing its recommendations on general conditions of employment, wages, hours of work, the health of the labourers and women etc.
  • National Economy – While forming any labour law it is crucial to assess the general economic condition of the country under consideration because the national economy directly affects labour legislation.
  • Social Security – It mentions that the state must protect every citizen who contributes their efforts towards the promotion of the country and for the welfare of the state. This would make the workers more hard-working and efficient and increase our industrial power and potential.

Objectives of labour legislation

  • Establishment of all kinds of justice for the working people – social, economic, and political.
  • The availability of equal opportunities to all workers, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and beliefs for their overall personality development.
  • Protection of weaker sections of workers who are not financially well off to protect themselves.
  • Maintenance of industrial peace.
  • Protection and improvement of living standards of the labourers.
  • Protection of workers from all sorts of exploitation – mentally or physically and creating a better working environment.
  • Grant rights to workmen to unite and form their unions so that they could bargain collectively with their owners for the betterment of their livelihood.
  • Keep checks on the government about their active participation in the working areas for social well-being.
  • Ensures human rights and human dignity.

History and development of labour legislation 

The roots of labour legislation lie in the relentless struggle faced by the workers at their master’s work. There was inequality between two classes of people. The contract between labour and capital could never be struck on equitable terms. Such practices required a change, and this need became the basis for the formation of labour laws.

The Industrial Revolution was an epoch-making event. It transformed the agricultural-based society into an industrial and materialistic one. It gave a great opportunity to the masters to get the best work from their workers. They exploited them excessively for larger profits and greater outcomes.

At that time the laws were of no relief for the workers. Most of the contracts were made verbally and in case of breach, the workers were severely punished and imprisoned. Exploitation was at a large scale long hours of duty, extremely low wages, ill-treatment, and no safety or welfare provisions. The State never interfered in these matters, so the employers took the most advantage of it and exploited the workers vigorously.

The Industrial Revolution indeed made a great shift in society but it created political and economical gaps, and it became the responsibility of the society to fill those gaps. It took the help of social devices to take care of the gaps which resulted in the formation of labour laws. Labour legislation could be called the natural children of the Industrial Revolution.

The labour legislation is the product of the Industrial Revolution. It was made to stabilise the abnormality caused due to some circumstances. Unlike other laws, it was made to rectify specific labour conditions, therefore they are specific and not general in orientation, philosophy and concept.

Factors influencing labour legislation

  • Impact of contemporary events
  1. Along with the Industrial Revolution, the revolutionary thinking of people like Rousseau, J.S Mill, Hegel, Marx and Engels impacted labour jurisprudence. The French and the Russian Revolution greatly influenced the thought process of the public and set the pace of labour jurisprudence. 
  2. The World Wars also made the labourers realise their core importance, that unless they sweat, it would be hard for the nation to fight and win the rough battles, therefore it is important for the masters to provide a quality of life to their workers.
  3. The development in the field of science, technology, communication and telecommunication brought the people of different parts of the world closer. This made the people who lived in underdeveloped countries aware of the treatment given to workers in the different parts which created an urge in them to fight for their well-deserved rights.
  • Gradually, the labourers got the right to vote in political elections for their representative who would in turn support their demands and worked for the legislation to get passed, this is how the workers used their political powers for the betterment of their lives.
  • Karl Marx, in his analysis of capitalism, mentioned that the exploitation of the workers was inherent in the capitalist economic system. Therefore, he advocated the overthrow of the capitalist system. There were echoes of slogans like “the workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains,” which created fear in the capitalist world and they were left with no choice rather than agreeing to protective labour legislation. There was formation of communist and socialist parties which strengthened the trend for progressive labour legislation.
  • Philanthropists, humanitarians like Hume, Place, and Shaftesbury, and other social reformers influenced the shape of labour legislation.
  • The establishment of the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O) was a very potent force in the formation of labour laws all over the world. The acceptance of the principle that “labour is not a commodity” and the slogan that “Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere,” have influenced the course of labour legislation in all the countries.
  1. It has initiated proposals for labour legislation, had elaborate discussions about it and adopted Conventions and Recommendations.
  2. I.L.O has tried very much to form uniform labour standards despite diverse and uneven economic conditions in different parts of the world. It has done singular service in the field of labour legislation.

Factors specific to India

  • Early labour legislation came into being because of the pressure from the manufacturers of Lancashire and Birmingham, because the labour employed in factories and mills in India were paid very less in comparison to their British counterparts.
  • The workers got immense support from the freedom fighters and nationalist leaders who made tireless efforts to get protective labour legislation enacted. Many laws were formed because of the pressure from the freedom struggle.
  • The leaders of the National Movement promised to enact better labour laws and provide equal justice to everyone after independence, which was even included in the Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy of the Indian Constitution. The leaders made sure that the workers will no longer be treated as a commodity.

Elements of Labour Law

  • In our country, general legislation considers individuals as citizens but labour legislation considers them as workers. For a very long time, the labourers have faced unjust situations. In order to safeguard their interests and demand labour legislation is entirely bent towards them, it doesn’t think of general justice it thinks of social justice. It is completely designed for the labourers.
  • Labour legislation is focused on the problems that arise in the work environment of the workmen which include the number of hours of working, wages provided, industrial disputes, and working conditions of the people. Labour legislation is mainly targeted toward workers and employers; others are least affected by labour legislation.

For example- laws based on wages, compensation for injury or women’s employment affect an individual as a worker whereas laws based on marriages, property, and sales tax affect an individual as a citizen. Different roles of people lead to the formation of different laws, it is ‘role-relation’ that determines whether particular legislation falls under labour legislation, social legislation or general legislation.

  • Labour legislation aims at equality, and security of the labourers. They work in creating a better living environment for them, and also in promoting the work culture so that profit is earned in abundance which would be beneficial for them also.
  • Unlike other general legislation, labour legislations need frequent revisions and improvements, otherwise, they would hold no importance and would become outdated. Absence of frequent revisions would create a gap with current industrial requirements.

Labour laws in India 

Apprentices Act, 1961

The main aim of the Act is to provide practical training to skilled workers under the supervision of their instructors. It promotes new skilled manpower. It is also for engineers and diploma holders.

Obligations of the employer

  • If the employer himself is not qualified in his work field he must ensure that the apprentice gets a well-qualified trainer for his learning experience.
  • The employer must provide adequate instructional staff who would give him both practical and theoretical knowledge to learn about the work.
  • The employer could only hire apprentices in prescribed ratios in his different work fields.
  • Employers will pay prescribed stipends to the apprentices.
  • The Employer will make proper arrangements for practical training of the apprentice.

          Obligations of the apprentice

  • To learn his work skills diligently and become skilled in his work before the expiry of the training period.
  • To attend his all practical and theoretical classes regularly.
  • To abide by all the rules given by his seniors or the employer during his training period.
  • To follow all the obligations prescribed in his contract of apprenticeship.

Factories Act, 1948

The main aim of the Act is to formulate safety measures and promote the health and welfare of the workers working at the factories. It also keeps a check on the hazardous growth of the factories by overall checking before the establishment of any factory.

Applicability of the Act

  • It is applicable to the whole of India including Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It is applicable to all manufacturing units that fall under the definition of ‘factory”.
  • It is applicable to all the factories that use power or employ 10 or more workers, and if not using power, employ 20 or more workers on any day of the year.

The Act consists of 120 Sections and 3 Schedules:

Schedule 1 talks about the list of industries that undertake hazardous processes within them.

Schedule 2 talks about the permissible level of certain chemical substances that could be emitted in the work environment.

Schedule 3 talks about the diseases caused due to the effects of work in the industries.

Provisions of the Act

  • The environment in the factories should be kept clean. There should be a proper arrangement for the disposal of wastes, and ventilation. 
  • Reasonable temperature should be maintained for the comfort of the workers.
  • Dust and fumes emitting devices should be checked at regular intervals and should not emit above permissible limits.
  • Overcrowding should be avoided, and an ample number of latrines, urinals and spittoons should be available.
  • Workers should be provided with proper lighting and clean drinking water.
  • Adequate arrangement for washing, sitting, and storing clothes when not worn during working hours. Workers should be provided with resting areas during breaks, and first aid boxes should be available and maintained.
  • In the case of large factories, an ambulance room should be present if 500 or more workers are employed, a canteen if 250 or more workers are employed. The workspace should be well-lit and ventilated.
  • Safety tools for protection of the eyes from dust, gas and fumes should be provided. The workers should also not misuse any appliance and adequate firefighting equipment should be available.
  • No worker is obliged to work for more than 48 hours a week. A weekly holiday is compulsory.
  • If a worker works for more than 9 hours then he should be paid double the wages. A worker cannot work in two factories, there is a restriction on double employment.
  • For women earlier night shifts were not available but later this act was amended to allow night shifts for women workers from 7.00 pm and 6 am.

Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923

The main aim of this Act is to provide workmen or their family some relief in case of an accident that may occur during the course of their employment and cause death or disablement of workmen.

Employer’s liability for compensation

  • If the worker gets injured during the course of his employment which may cause death, permanent total disability, permanent partial disability or temporary disability
  • If the worker gets any disease which occured due to his occupation.

The Trade Unions Act, 1926

This Act provides for registration of trade unions in a lawful manner so that they can initiate collective bargaining. The Act applies to the whole of India and applies to all kinds of associations of workers, and employers.

A trade union is a group formation between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen or between employers and employers who work to regularise and improve labour management relations.

Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986

This Act was formulated to prohibit children below fourteen years of age into factories, mines or any hazardous workstations.

Provisions of the Act

  • No child should be pushed to work for an excessive number of hours. He shall work for a fixed period each day which shall not be more than 3 hours and it should also be made sure that he has taken proper rest.
  • Children should be made to work in safer environments.
  • Children should be provided with a weekly holiday.
  • They should not be made to work in construction areas of railways, slaughterhouses, automobile workshops, mines, plastic units and fibreglass workshops, beedi-making, and several others which are mentioned in part A of the Schedule.
  • Ban on employment of children as domestic servants at hotels, restaurants, resorts, spas, motels, and tea shops.
  • A toll-free number 1098 is available for children in distress and to help them with any sort of problem they might be facing.

Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

This Act ensures that no woman should worry about their rights, income and job while they are looking after their child and spending quality time with them.

  • A woman must be working in an establishment for about 80 days in the past 12 months to ask for maternity benefits.
  • Under Section 11A, a creche facility must be present in establishments which have more than 50 employees.
  • Women are allowed to visit the creche four times a day which also includes an interval for her to rest.
  • The creches should be within 500m from the workplace.
  • Creches are mandatory for firms, companies and consultant companies.

Payment Of Gratuity Act, 1972

This Act provided gratuity to workers engaged in mines, factories, oilfields, plantations and other establishments. ‘Gratuity’ is payment for long service, as a statutory retiral benefit. If an employee has given his contribution to his service for 5 or more than 5 years, then he is entitled to receive gratuity irrespective of his wage. Gratuity is given in the following cases:

  • On his superannuation
  • On his resignation or retirement
  • The maximum amount of gratuity provided could be Rs. 20,00,000.
  • In case of death or disablement due to an accident or disease, the employer will have to pay the amount to his nominee or his legal heir.
  • An eligible employee must apply for his gratuity before 30 days from his payable date.
  • An employer cannot reject an application for gratuity even if it is applied after 30 days for a valid reason.
  • If an employee feels that he has received less amount of gratuity than he deserved then he can file a complaint case.

Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The main aim of this Act is to fix minimum rates of wages in certain occupations. The provision of minimum rate of wages is prescribed by the Government which means the owner must pay his workers’ wages as fixed by the Government.

  • Wages should be paid in cash.
  • For fixation of wages, that occupation must be mentioned in the schedule originally or should get added to the schedule.
  • Every employer should maintain a register of wages at the workplace specifying the minimum rate of wages payable, the number of days overworked by the worker, the gross wages, and the date of the payment.

Recent amendments to the Labour laws in India 

Codes On Wages, 2019

The Code on Wages got passed in the year 2019. Its main aim was to amend and make the previous laws related to wages stronger. It replaced the laws like the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.

Issues related to this Act are

  • The State government usually fixes minimum wages above the binding floor price, rather than fixing a binding floor wage, the Government should fix a binding minimum wage rate so that there is no dual wage rate.
  • The Code states any dispute arising will be looked over by a Gazetted Officer. The concern was how would an officer who has not much legal knowledge will get to hear complicated questions of law.
  • Earlier by the order of a Judicial Magistrate, a person below the rank of secretary was not allowed to impose a penalty. This provision violates Article 50 of the Constitution which demands a separation of the judiciary from the executive.
  • Section 56 of the Code provides ease for the employer in the case when his employee has committed any offence. The employer would not be held liable for such offence of his employee if he proves that he had taken all the care of his work with diligence and that the offence happened without his consent, knowledge or will to get involved in any sort of illegal acts. 

Code On Occupational Safety, Health And Working Conditions, 2020

This Act received Presidential assent in September 2020 which replaced 13 central Labour Laws. Its main aim is to amend and consolidate the laws relating to occupational health, and working conditions of persons employed in different work sectors.

Issues related to this Act are

  • It says that a journalist cannot work for more than 144 hours in four weeks, and also provides additional leaves to employees of Sales Promotion which seems to be discriminatory to the workers of other fields.
  • This Law does not include charitable or non-profit-based establishments.

Invisible labour 

When someone works with all their might and completes their everyday work but is unpaid and unrecognised, then it is called Invisible Labour. Jobs like household work, childcare, and looking after the elder members of a family are unpaid and are a form of Invisible Labour. Women form the biggest part about 90 percent of this Invisible Labour. It goes unnoticed and unrecognised due to which no regulations are present for such kinds of works. No new laws talk about this zone, which has the most tedious work profile, with no weekend offs, no limited working hours, and no vacations. The worst part is, it owns no recognition and does not get any thankful chores.

Important case laws in relation to labour legislation

Indian Hume Pipe Co. Ltd. v. their Workmen AIR 1960 SC 251, The Court stated that ‘Gratuity’ should be considered as an amount paid as an embracement towards the employer. It should not be connected to any contract or given as a consideration or compensation that is paid in unusual circumstances. It should be paid to praise the worker for being a part of the trade of his owner for such a long time. One gives all his hard work and efforts towards his master for which he should be respected at the end for his loyalty to the service. Whenever a worker spends a long span in a work field he expects appreciation from his employer and gracious financial assistance to cope with the post-retiral difficulties.

Bombay Gas Public Ltd. Co. v. Papa Akbar and Anr 1990, Gratuity is provided at the termination of service. The employer had to provide gratuity to his workers even though his company suffered a loss because the workers went on strike. The workers cannot be denied the gratuity they deserve.


The evolution of labour jurisprudence is the outcome of the relentless struggle done by workers all over the world for their well-deserved rights as well as lives. They fought for their security and the betterment of their livelihood. Labour legislation is dynamic and it holds a special place in the law society. It has special features that are inclined towards the workers. No other legislation had such a history for which all the workers around the world united to fight for, it was indeed a historic journey to comprehend from the stepping blocks to the top of the mountain of ‘Labour Jurisprudence’.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Who declares minimum wages?

In India, wages are declared by the Central Government for industries where the Central Government is the appropriate authority.

  1. Is the Minimum Wages Act applicable to daily wage workers and casual employees?

Minimum wages are fixed on the basis of employees; it doesn’t matter whether they are casual, rated, temporary or permanent.

  1. Which employees become eligible for gratuity?

Gratuity is applicable to a permanent employee who has completed 5 years of continuous service with any organisation.

  1. Can an employee claim gratuity even before the completion of 5 years?

Yes, one can claim it before 5 years, in case of death or disability.

  1. What are the maternity benefits a woman is entitled to?
  • Under the said Act, an employee can request maternity leave, which can extend up to 12 weeks. Out of the 12 weeks of maternity leave, a  maximum of six weeks’ time period of leave can be taken before the expected date of delivery.
  • The woman must have worked at the establishment for no less than 80 days in the 12 months prior to the expected date of delivery.
  • Pay the employee a medical bonus in case of prenatal confinement and also in postnatal care. 
  • Even if a notice is not issued by the employee, the employer has to arrange for the payment of maternity benefit to the employee in any case.


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