The framers of the Constitution have included a few Articles targeting to enhance the socio-economic status of workers. The Directive Principles of State Policy (‘DPSP’) was therefore introduced to promote the prosperity and well-being of the people. These are state principles that call for constructive action and directives to legislators and the administration to secure and develop the socio-economic wellbeing of the public. The actual idea of the constitution is brought to life through Directive Principles of State Policy and the Fundamental Rights. The idea of the welfare of the workers is also pointed out in the Preamble as “Justice, social, economic and political”. The importance of preserving and defending the dignity of human labour has been codified in Chapter III of the Constitution dealing with Fundamental Rights (Articles 16, 19, 23 and 24) and Chapter IV dealing with Directive Principles of State Policy (Articles 39, 41, 42, 43, 43A and 54).
Articles 42 and 43 show deep concerns for the welfare of the workers, wherein, Article 42 states “The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.” And Article 43 states “The State shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organization 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 and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas.”
Even if the courts are unable to implement the Direct Principles of State Policies, they must interpret them to protect workers’ welfare. In many cases, Article 42 serves as the foundation for a plethora of labour laws. For example, in the case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi V. Female Workers (muster roll), maternity leave was granted to regular female workers, but not to muster roll female workers because their service had not been regularized. As a result, they were not eligible for such leave. Hence, the honourable Supreme Court invoked Article 42 and the concept of social justice conceded the demand of these female workers for maternity leave.
Mirroring the judgment, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 has aimed to ensure that women employees including birth mothers, commissioning and adoptive mothers have been provided with maternity benefits. The Maternity Benefit Act is also extended to cases of miscarriage, termination of pregnancy, tubectomy, etc.
Similarly, Article 43 is founded on the revolutionary idea that employees are entitled to certain benefits as a matter of right including, significantly, minimum wage. In Article 43, the term “Living Wage” plays a significant part. The “Living Wage” is not the same as the “Minimum Wage.” The minimum wage is adequate to meet a worker’s and his family’s basic physical necessities, whereas living wages or fair wages must be determined in light of the industry’s ability to pay. In addition to the essential needs of life, such as food, shelter, and clothes, the notion of a living wage includes provisions for children’s education and insurance, as well as various leisure activities and social and cultural upliftment. Thus, in the case of All India Reserve Bank Employees V. Reserve Bank, the honourable Supreme Court held that the political aim is Living Wages for workers.
Thus, the payment of the statutory minimum bonus even when the management suffers a loss is one of the best instances of enabling the Living Wages. Likewise, the pension programme not only compensates service performed in the past of the worker, but it also serves as a social welfare mechanism to ensure social justice by giving financial stability in later life when one is forced to rely on savings. The same was held in the case of D.V. Kapoor V. Union of India by the honourable Supreme Court. Also, in the landmark judgment of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the court went through a similar process, using Articles 21 and 42, and establishing standards for legally solving the problems of sexual harassment of women at work.
Thus, in the wake of the Vishaka judgment, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed highlighting the welfare provisions like setting up of the Internal Complaints Committee for redressal of complaints of sexual harassment in a confidential and speedy manner.
Further, by the Forty second Amendment Act, 1976, Article 43A was inserted where the State was required to ensure the participation of employees in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organizations engaged in any industry. It was a notable step towards the welfare of the employees, and it helped the employees to express their demands to the management. Similarly, invoking Article 43A of the Constitution of India, Section 9-C of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 was inserted in the year 1982 where every industrial establishment with twenty or more workers must have one or more grievance redressal committees (GRC) made up of representatives of management and workers in an equal proportion. This GRC would deal with the individual grievances against company rules and procedures, the nature of work, co-workers or company authorities, and payment issues.
Though the Directive Principles of State Policies have influenced labour laws and the emerging labour laws have ensured that employees have a decent standard of living, it must be noted that these benefits are not available to those in the unorganized sector. As things stand, therefore, the unorganized sector is not able to take advantage of the benefits guaranteed to them.