The Indian Constitution contains important provisions which have a direct bearing on the course of social and labour legislation in the country. These are mainly incorporated in the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.
Fundamental Rights are justiceable. The Directive Principles, though not justiceable, are “fundamental in the governance of the country” and it is “the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws”.
These principles lay down that the state should strive to promote the welfare of people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which social, economic, and political, shall inform all institutions of national life.
The importance and utility of preamble have been pointed out in several decisions of our Supreme Court. Though by itself, it is not enforceable by the Court of Law, the preamble states that objectives, which the Constitution seeks to establish and promote.
The Preamble aims to secure to all its citizens:
- Justice, social, economic, and political.
- Liberty of thought, expressions, belief, faith, and worship.
- Equality of status and of opportunity.
- Fraternity, assures the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
Some of the fundamental rights are as follows:
1. Right to Equality
The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them.
No citizen shall, on these grounds, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction, or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, and places of public entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads, and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds, or dedicated to the use of the public.
However, nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for women and children and for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “untouchability” shall be an offense punishable in accordance with the law.
2. Right to Freedom
All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and to form associations or unions and to
practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business.
3. Right against Exploitation
Traffic in human beings and ‘begar’ and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.
Directive Principles of State Policy
The Directive Principles of State Policy are not enforceable by any court, but they are fundamental in the governance of the country and it is the duty of the state to apply them in making laws [Article 37]. The principles having a bearing on social and labour legislation are as follows:
1). The state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice – social, economic, and political, shall inform all institutions of the national life [Article 38(1)].
2). The state shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing:
- That the citizens, men, and women, equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
- That there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women;
- That the health and strength of workers, men, and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength; and
- That children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment [Article 39].
3). The state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want [Article 41].
4). The state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief [Article 42].
5). The state shall endeavor to secure by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way, to all workers – agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities [Article 43].
6). The state shall take steps, by suitable legislation or in any other way, to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertakings, establishments, or other organisations engaged in any industry [Article 43A].
The above principles have a bearing on both labour and social legislation, but there are some others which are related more to social issues. These are as follows:
1). The state shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years [Article 45].
2). The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation [Article 46].
3). The state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health [Article 47].
Besides the fundamental rights and directive principles, the constitution also distributes the powers to handle labour-related legislations between central and state legislatures. Various legislations can be categorised as follows:
1) Labour laws enacted by the Central Government, where the Central Government has the sole responsibility for enforcement like:
- The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948,
- The Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952,
- The Dock Workers (Safety, Health, and Welfare) Act, 1986,
- The Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1946,
- The Mines Act, 1952, etc.
2) Labour laws enacted by Central Government and enforced both by Central and State Governments like:
- The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986,
- The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970,
- The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976,
- The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947,
- The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, etc.
3) Labour laws enacted by Central Government and enforced by the State Governments like:
- The Employers’ Liability Act, 1938,
- The Factories Act, 1948,
- The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961,
- The Trade Unions Act, 1926,
- The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, etc.
4) Labour laws enacted and enforced by the various State Governments which apply to respective states.