Labour law and the future of work

April 29, 2021

The world of work has witnessed significant changes in the last decade in terms of: the nature of work, the shifting of workplaces, the fragmentation of the employer-employee relationship, and the increasing influence of digital infrastructure in the way wage work is organised. However, the issues that labour law seeks to address in employment relations remain – imbalances of power, poor income levels and job security, vulnerability and precariousness, the lack of social security, and the possibility of collective organisation.

COVID Impact

The COVID pandemic has thrown into greater clarity the issues within different areas of work, particularly informal work that cannot claim the benefits of formal recognition, leading to increased vulnerability to contingencies, low wages and unsafe working conditions. It also highlighted the absence of these workers’ issues from the discussions around labour laws, which focuses frequently on their relative ‘rigidity’ or ‘flexibility and ease of compliance. Thus, it is important to think about labour regulations, both within and outside the existing framework of labour law and policy, that are able to better capture the upcoming challenges in the area of labour and the future of work. NLSIU’s focus at the Centre for Labour Studies is to explore these possibilities.

Focus Areas

Our research focuses on consistent and meaningful involvement with stakeholders and communities, facilitating a feedback loop within labour lawyers, academics, state agencies, workers and employers, and organisations in rapidly evolving interpretations of work. To this end, we have engaged with workers, trade unions and lawyers in the area of garment work, which presents an interesting area of research in the gendered practices in formal workplaces.

(a) Initiatives:

In Tamil Nadu, we framed policy guidelines for new recruitment in textile mills in Tirupur and surrounding regions, in participation with trade unions and labour lawyers in the State. We also engaged with trade unions in Karnataka to raise issues of minimum wage, workplace grievances and occupational health. Two of our recent studies that have emerged from this work are on:

Minimum wage and expenditure of garment workers supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), comparing garment workers in the NCR and Karnataka; and
Feminisation of work and health care, which looks at occupational health needs and access to the ESI Corporation for Karnataka garment workers.

(b) Categorisation of work:

Our focus is also on developing strong theoretical foundations for analysing conceptual and normative understandings of work, especially in areas where the discourse on categorisations is not yet settled. Illustratively, the Centre’s study on forced labour in formal and informal work (commissioned by the ILO) expanded on the understanding of forced labour by making important connections to migration and vulnerability.

(c) Gig & Platform Economy:

More recently, CLS has also worked on emerging areas of work in gig and platform economy. At the request of the Karnataka State Labour Department, a preliminary study about platform work in the food delivery category has been made public, titled, ‘Is Platform Work Decent Work? A Case of Food Delivery Workers in Karnataka’.

The Centre for Labour Studies also provides input on the education programme at NLSIU, particularly the Master’s Programme in Public Policy (MPP).