Introduction to Labour Laws: Scope and Development

By | May 17, 2020
Introduction to Labour Law

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Introduction to Labour Laws: Scope and Development | Overview

Labour law is one of the key foundations that can play a vital role in accomplishing positive developments of outcomes. It serves as the basis for securing essential freedoms, enables in regulating labour quality, method of establishing human skills and capacities.

The relative law, however, suggests that labour laws are not merely a subject of duplicating or acquiring laws, lawful institutions or ideas from different situations or environments in which they may have been related with positive results, in an expectation that they will work comparably in another condition.

It is essential to possess a simple understanding of the history, governmental issues and ‘culture’ of the environment, that is to be created, whether by labour laws or otherwise. Local and national conditions will be basic contemplations in the plan of an administrative framework for labour laws. [1]

Introduction to Labour Laws: Scope and Development

I. Genesis of Labour Laws

In the primitive stage there existed no relationship between master and servant. In the advent of Serfdom stage also known as feudalism, the relationship between the feudal lord and the slaves initiated, as the Lord’s possessed lands for the cultivation. During the handcraft stage, the relationship was considerably blurry. Max Webber, brought forth the idea of working hard and performing one’s duty, which was also one of the significant concepts behind this protestant ethics.

The Industrial Revolution commenced in England which helped in the emergence of the factory system, where the masters developed factories because of which the capitalist economy was created (Philosophy of Laissez-Faire). The workers residing in the rural areas started working under a common employer, under similar conditions, problems and circumstances. This led to the exploitation of labour, as they were made to work in inhumane conditions with little or no rest and forced into toiling throughout the day; this further led to protests against the factory system.

The condition of the workers and especially children in the mines were dreadful and this resulted in the passing of the Mines Act, which restricted the employment of children in coal mines.  There was complete unrest amongst the labourers, which resulted in the breakdown of machinery and resulted in riots. This led to the government passing the notorious combination of laws, which suggested that in case the employees breach a contract, civil and penal action could be taken. The change from ‘Laissez-Faire’ to a ‘Welfare State’ resulted in better working conditions where trade unions began to be established

In the year 1836, the International Movement initiated which further moved from England to Brussels and was reported to be one of the first events of injustice against workers resulting in various international movements and finally led to the formation of ILO (International Labour Organisation). The membership gradually started rising with the dire need and demand for protection of labour and exploitation. In the year 1889, the Second International Movement started havoc again, where the labours lost commitment and started revolting, this gave rise to the Third International which fostered the same cause, the militant social approach was initiated by the Russian Revolution. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of the World War led to the concept of Social Justice under ILO.

More than 70 ILO Conventions were accepted and adopted by nations all throughout the world after which the world experienced a higher rate of employment creation and, in many cases, full and considerable amount of secured employment. The labour market and the economic policy settings were influenced by the Unions. The post-war years were marked as strong output and productivity growth, through the world and there was an increase in the standard of living of the workers in such nations and their families. [2]

II. Components in Labour laws

The essence of Labour Laws revolves around the ambit of ‘Labour protection’ which basically entails protection of workers from being exploited, from the danger of bad or ill health of any kind, protection against irregular or low earnings, from eccentric work routines and for working for a substantially long period of time. It improves the capacity of labourers and their families to seek their material prosperity, in the environment of freedom and respect, monetary security and equal opportunities, and to adjust to changing working and living conditions.[3]

  • Employment of Labour

This concept was comparatively a newer approach in Labour Laws. Before the World War II and Great Depression arose, prominence was given to the avoidance or to minimization the unemployment rather than it being a long-haul work strategy as a component of a thorough plan, to advance monetary steadiness and development. The new methodology, emerging from changes in political viewpoint and contemporary financial ideas, has progressively discovered articulation in legal arrangements that build up the production of business and provides scope to open doors as a general target of strategy.

The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for Fair Globalization suggests two main components of social protection which entails: ‘labour protection’ and ‘social security’. The component of social security was thoroughly discussed in the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in the year 2011. Social Security and Labour Protection was considered interrelated to each other for the protection of workers, along with their families. [4] Legislations has built up the important lawful structure for the determination of work needs of the labour, accessibility and the arrangement of availing the services of the employment.  The other wide subjects would be freedom from forced labour, equal treatment in the tenure of employment, is also considered.

  •  Health conditions and safety of workers

The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, 2008, reaffirmed the significance of the targets that is to be established by ILO and focused on the need to create and improve proportions or conditions with regards to labour protection, including “healthy and safe working conditions; and policies in regard to wages and earning hours and other conditions of work, designed to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all and a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection”[5]

ILO in one of its discussion focused on the four policy areas – policies in relation to wage, working time allotments, safety and health required in the occupation and maternity protection.[6] However not all countries are considerate of the same. It was found out in this article that four countries who had incorporated laws for the protection of the workers, yet failed to implement the same. Pregnant women were continuously facing abuse and discrimination in the garment industry. Forced abortions, working overtime yet providing low income, inadequate working conditions and benefits proved massively detrimental to the health conditions of not only the mother but also the unborn child. [7]

  • Conditions of Work

Labour Protection is grounded and deeply rooted in the Constitution and values of ILO, that labour is not an item or commodity and that improving working conditions, is vital to social equity and nations success. [8] The informal economy is consistently enormous, especially in developing nations. The unpredictability and variability in relation to the income and working hours, low pay income, limited protection against diseases or work-related sicknesses and injuries, a prohibition from standardized savings are considered to be imbibed in a large share of the workforce.

Regardless of gigantic advancement in the decrease of working poverty in the previous decade, the range of 319 million working ladies and men approximately, are as yet incapable to earn enough to keep themselves and their families over the US$1.25 per day extreme poverty line.[9] Labour migration is also creating a huge challenge in terms of protection of labours, with a huge number of international migrants worldwide of an estimate of 232 million in 2013.[10]

  • Wage and Remuneration Factor

During the 1980s and 1990s, support in relation to minimum wage policies weakened. High inflation and the shift from import-substitution industrialization to export-led development policies, led numerous parts of developing world to discontinue with the concept of minimum wage prompting a fall in their genuine worth. This eventually led to decline in the standing of the minimum wage as a mechanism of labour protection. [11] The decrease in unionization and collective bargaining was weighed down by globalisation, rising financial markets and blooming new technology cornered out the workers’ and weakened their ability to bargain for high wages.

Inequality in income across labourers is emphatically connected with disparity of education, training and aptitudes. Educational accomplishment is the absolute most significant indicator of individual work wages. Strategies that expand the training and education of the poor can dramatically affect wage imbalance. Educational inequality present in Brazil continues to exceed that in the Republic of Korea and explains more than one-fourth of the much greater earnings inequality there.[12] In both Malaysia and Costa Rica access to increased education led to sharp decreases in wage imbalance.

Disparity can show massive steadiness across ages, as the advantages of physical and educational resources and places are transmitted from guardians to youngsters, and social standards that propagate imbalance become embedded in economic systems.

III. Labour Laws Developments

A. United States

  • Child Labour

All through the mid-1900s, the working conditions for the normal American worker were genuinely troubling. Child Labour was very much prevalent. Discrimination was considered normal. Lax safety regulations permitted unsafe working conditions to persist.  Also, an absence of government security for associations, made it difficult for labourers to bargain for better conditions which was extremely hard for labourers.

Congress passes the Keating- Owen Child Labour Act, which was the first Child Labour Bill. This enactment prohibited to purchase sale of products which were exclusively manufactured by labours under the age of 14 and restricted labour for the youngsters, under the age of 16. This Act was overturned in the year 1918 by the Supreme Court. Later the Child Labour Tax came into picture which also held unconstitutional.

The FLSA (Fair Labour Standards Act) in the year 1938 came into existence for the permanent federal protection for children. The provisions were similar to that of Keating Owen Bill, which restricted children under the age of 18 to work in industries, limiting the working hours for youngsters under 16, and complete restriction or rather banning children under 14 years for most of the work. FLSA has a significant impact on the U.S. education system, the compulsory attendance made students to attend classes and finishing high school which led to creation of better educated workforce. School enrolment and high school completion became compulsory due to FLSA. This law is prevalent even today and considered to be remarkable in labour laws. [13]

  • Equal Pay

One of the dramatic changes in American labour force in the past 100 years is the role of women. In early American society, the were relatively lesser women entering the labour segment. The concept of “equal pay for equal pay” was not prevalent until, The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 which was the first US Legislation targeted to eradicating gender- based pay inequalities, helped in fostering gender equality in workplace. Mandating that both men and women, engaging in the same work should by given the same salaries, incentives and benefits.  [14]

B. India

  • Employment Injury, Health and Maternity Benefit

The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923 secured all the instances of mishap recuperation of the employees over the span of work. The measure of the recovery relies on the measure of injury. In cases of tragedy such as death, his significant other/dependant would be given compensation. In Employers Insurance Act the employer needed to contribute a little amount of their wages to an insurance corporation which runs clinics so that in future or at the hour of crisis they could get free test and medications, in instances of mishaps.

The Maternity Benefit Act, a recent development in the Indian Labour law system, where a pregnant female employee can get 90 days of paid leave. Initially, in the absence of this Act, the salaries of these pregnant female employees used to get reduced due to the need for leave or they got terminated from the job due to their condition.

  • Equal Pay

The principle of Equal pay for Equal Work in India was established in Kishori Mohanlal Bakshi v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court declared, it not to being capable to be introduced in the court of law. However, in 1987 the concept of equal pay was recognised again in Mackinnon Mackenzie’s case and the rationale was given by the court was in favour of the lady stenographer for equal pay of work. [15]

In the year 2017, in the case of State of Punjab and Ors v Jagjit Singh and Ors, the Supreme Court has held that the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ is to be made applicable to every employee who is engaged as daily wagers, casual and contractual employees who have to perform the same duties regularly and termed the denial of equal pay for equal work as “exploitative enslavement”, “oppressive, suppressive” and “coercive”. The apex court further went on to say that India being a welfare state, the principle is to be extended to the temporary employees as well. Employees who performed the same duties and responsibilities were to be paid equally. [16]

C. United Kingdom

  • Employment Relations Act, 1999

The Employment Relations Act 1999 encompasses provisions to minimize discrimination by employers on the basis of trade union membership or non-membership. The act also provided powers to the Secretary of State to bring forth new regulations to impede the compilation and use of recording workers’ union activities for purposes of recruitment. In addition to this the Act has also increased the limit on compensatory awards for unfair dismissal from £12,000 to £50,000.

  • Health and Safety matters

The Health and Safety matters are currently covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act which was passed in 1974. The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was established by this Act, which helps in imposing statutory requirements on employers, employees and the self-employed to safeguard the maintenance of safety requirements at work.

  • Equal Pay

The Equal Pay Act 1970 was required to ensure that the principle of equal pay of men and women was to be maintained. The act, in addition to this also covers various other terms and conditions of employment. [17]

IV. Conclusion

Labour laws and regulations are fostered and maintained which careful scrutiny, as it enables to promote higher job quality for employees in the developing countries, with large informal economies. It should also be compatible with the search and pursuit of the goals relating to development and reduction of poverty and improved productivity. The human capability approach recommends the need for emphasis on basic freedoms and rights, together with the need for attention to the development of skills.[18]

A few countries are still facing the issues in relation to legislation, in an article, it was suggested that in Bangladesh, the laws should be improved and reformed with respect to provisions related standards that should be followed by employment standards, safety and wellbeing, social welfare and social protection. The provisions in relation to collective bargaining and trade unionism should be nourished and reinforced.

The legislature ought to align and adjust Bangladesh Labour Laws with the standards of the ILO and seek the agenda of decent work. Increased social dialogue between the worker and the employers is necessary to reach the decent work agenda. [19] However a few countries, such as Liberia, has made a significant mark by directly referring to the ILO’s Decent work agenda, which promotes fundamental rights at work, including freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively; the right not to be subject to forced or compulsory labour; the right to equality at work. [20] Hence labours laws are necessary to contribute towards further economic development, particularly by providing the need that an individual may not have the sufficient incentive to pursue and this would further help in the development of human capability.


[1] International Labour Organisation Geneva, Switzerland; Shelley Marshall, John Howe, Colin Fenwick,  “Labour Law and Development: Creating an Enabling Regulatory Environment and Encouraging Formalisation”. Link

[2] International Labour Conference, Report 6, “Labour protection in a transforming world of work”, 104th Session, 2015. Link Here

[3] International labour office, “International labour standards, a global approach”, Committee of Experts on the application of conventions and recommendations. Link

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] International Labour Conference, Report 6, “Labour protection in a transforming world of work”, 104th Session, 2015. Link Here

[7] Barnes, W.D. and Kozar, J.M. (2008), “The exploitation of pregnant workers in apparel production”, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 285-293.

[8] International Labour Conference, Report 6, “Labour protection in a transforming world of work”, 104th Session, 2015. Link Here

[9] ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2015 database.

[10] International Labour Conference, Report 6, “Labour protection in a transforming world of work”, 104th Session, 2015. Link Here

[11] International Labour Conference, Report 6, “Labour protection in a transforming world of work”, 104th Session, 2015. Link Here

[12] World Bank: World Development Report 1995: “Workers in an Integrating World” (Washington, DC, World Bank, 1995)

[13] Graham Boone, “Labor law highlights, 1915–2015,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2015. Link 

[14]Ibid

[15] Megha Sahni, University School of Law and Legal Studies (GGSIPU) Delhi, India, “Equal Pay for Equal Work in India”, 2018 IJLMH | Volume 2, Issue 1 |

[16] Jagjit Singh and ors v. State of Punjab, (2017) 1 SCC 148

[17] Jason Heyes, Leeds University Business School, “Labour administration in the United Kingdom”. Link

[18] International Labour Organisation Geneva, Switzerland; Shelley Marshall, John Howe, Colin Fenwick,  “Labour Law and Development: Creating an Enabling Regulatory Environment and Encouraging Formalisation”. Link

[19] Sharma, V. (2015), “Imperfect work conditions in Bangladesh RMG sector”, International Journal of Law and Management, Vol. 57 No. 1, pp. 28-37

[20]International Labour Organisation, Aeneas Chapinga Chuma, ILO Regional Director for Africa, “Liberia’s new labour law commits to decent work” 24 July 2015. Link


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