Right to work in India

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From time immemorial, many economists and activists have taken the initiative to write informative and revolutionary articles and papers on the ever-controversial topic of Right to Work in India. Although written and structured in a way which instilled even the minds of the laymen, the administrative system is still not successful in regulating the provisions concerning the Right to Work in the most effective and honest way. The right was incorporated in the Constitution of India by the then learned men of the country to facilitate every citizen with the bare essentials to have a basic standard of living.

The pure intentions of the makers of the Constitution have been instilled with the impurities of corruption, greed, inhumanity, etc. The evidence being the latest news of the just 30 lakh workers being provided the long-yearned jobs under the MGNREGA Act amidst the lockdown due to the coronavirus. This is one of the uncountable news headlines shining over the news channels glorifying the acts of our know-it-all government. The returning migrant workers and the hunger-driven daily wagers showcase the ground level condition of the real India.

The judicial system of our country has been trying its best to save this quintessential right of the citizens. As a result, it also gave some landmark judgements with ratio decidendi and obiter dictum of golden words. Even after the body-wrecking work of the judiciary, it failed to save the right in its true sense. This article covers the constitutional aspect and salient features of the Right to Work. Moreover, it incorporates the landmark judgements regarding the right and scrutinizes its status in the current times.

Constitutional aspect of the right

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has crystallized the right to work as a basic human right and regards this as State’s duty to safeguard it under Article 23 and Article 6 respectively. However, the Indian Constitution does not recognize it as a fundamental right in an explicit manner. It has been incorporated in Part IV of the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 41. This makes it a right unenforceable in the court of law.

Apart from the Directive Principles of State Policy and the Fundamental Rights, the Preamble, with Socio, Economic and Political justice enshrined in it, makes it possible to believe the right to employment to be a reality. The word ‘socialist’ was incorporated into the Preamble in 1976 with the motive of achieving the meaning of the word ‘socialism’ i.e., the eradication of the inequality of income and the standard of living. Thus, the legal framework of the country should aim at a nation with economic democracy.

The Articles being enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy, are unable to provide the enforceability to the right. Article 41 deals with the effective provisions to be adopted by the State regarding the opportunity of jobs and employment, Article 42 confirms the implementation of the provisions regarding the humane conditions of the workplace for every wager. Article 43 of the Constitution ensures the secured daily wages of the workers and a decent standard of living. As regards the rights provided to the workers, two provisions of the Part III of the Constitution consists the enforceable fundamental rights including the provisions against discrimination and the equal treatment of workers in public employment.

Hence, the provisions regarding the right to work have been properly enshrined in the Constitution of India and as it is the supreme authority, the state and all the functioning bodies must perform the duty to mold such concept and convert it to reality.

Salient features

The right to work and employment, being a basic human right, has enclosed within itself some salient features, necessary for the implementation of the right. Some of its salient features are: –

  1. Equal pay for equal work – The presence of the opportunity of equal pay for equal work is a necessary element to validate the honest and pure implementation of the provisions of the right. The importance of the feature has been brought out in the case Supreme Court Employees Welfare vs. Union of India.
  • Right to an adequate standard of living – The duty and responsibility of any nation to provide the conditions of basic standard of living to its citizens are watched by the international authorities who further support the country in other important matters. Thus, it is quintessential for every country to maintain its citizens under a decent standard of living both because of its reputation internationally and humane reasons. This has been gracefully given importance in the case Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation.
  • Labor laws – The necessity of labor laws in India is reflected from the poor living conditions of the daily wagers and labors. The laws ensure the good maintenance of the labors and safeguarding their interests in the best prevailing means. The enforcement of such laws has been proved in the case Chief Regional Manager, United India Insurance Company Limited v. Siraj Uddin Khan
  • Fair remuneration – The right to have a fair remuneration in a prevailing condition should be a basic right needing no special mention. This feature encompasses the common right of every citizen to have a remuneration after either a transfer of goods or business of property. The case of Workmen Represented by Secretary vs. Management Of Reptakos Brett.And CO. Ltd. precisely highlights the importance of such right.

Landmark judgements

To what started as a fight and struggle against the extermination of the huts and slum areas of the under-developed India ended with the Supreme Court formulating verdicts of landmark judgements paving the path of success for the right to work. These judgements unraveled the misinterpretations and clarified the restrictions to be enforced while dealing with such laws.

The most rousing and moving case was the Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation, wherein the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court interpreted that the word ‘life’ in ‘right to life’ also incorporated the ‘right to livelihood’. The case was introduced as a writ petition against the respondents for wrecking the slums and near-by areas. The petitioners had the case presented under the violation of the ‘right to livelihood’ and under Article 19 (e)(g). The court very beautifully explained the point of ‘right of livelihood’ by stating that if the ‘right to livelihood’ is not considered to be mandatory and to be provided than the simplest way of depriving someone of his right to live would be to bereave him of all the means of living a decent life.

The next case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India introduced the court with the inhumane conditions of the workers and the treatment they suffered in the workplace. A PIL was filed by the organization Bandhua Mukti Morcha, wherein it noticed some of the wagers working in ‘barbarous and intolerable conditions.’ The court in its verdict, laid down the measures to build a rejuvenated and complementary environment at workplaces to support the mental and physical health of the workers. It also reminded the State about its constitutional obligation to look out for individuals with poor backgrounds and help them build a decent standard of living.

Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan brought under its cover the condition of a workplace which should ideally persist. The blood-curdling case of Bhanwari Devi, a social activist in a village in Rajasthan, involved the gang rape of the women as a grave consequence for trying to stop a child marriage. The court in its judgement gave guidelines, famously known as the Vishaka guidelines, for the employees to follow to maintain a peaceful and supportive environment for the women workforce. After this case, the court also introduced clarity in the term ‘sexual harassment’ and mentioned all types in which it can be conducted, with punishment for all of them.

The cases mentioned above brought a change in the laws of the right to work, in the environment of the workplace and more importantly in the minds of the people. They had an ever-lasting impact on the cruel thinking of the criminals, enabling the wagers, male or female, to earn their part titled to them peacefully.

Critical analysis in the current times

Driving back to the current situation of Covid-19 prevailing in the country, the most affected section of the country is the economy, especially the daily wagers and workers. With every factory coming at a halt, the workers who used to feed their family with the everyday earned money are now on footpath, dying out of hunger. Amidst all this, the right of poorest workers, who are not even fully aware of the rights they hold, are being infringed at a rate more than ever. The International Labour Organization has warned that it is likely for half of the workforce to lose their employment. All these grave consequences faced by the poor of the country are the result of the lack of proper provisions in the labour laws or other laws relating to the right to work. The measures in the mentioned laws do not consist situations such as pandemics under its purview. Due to the lack of which, the migrant workers are forced to return to their homeland by walking.

Equipping the workers with an environment supportive of a healthy mental state is the duty of the citizens and the administration. Especially at times like this, when there is a fight for life, the doctors, the sweepers, the police officers, who are risking their lives and saving ours, are being treated in the most horrible manner ever. The recent coarseness of the respect of the nurses and the disruption of humanity has left the country speechless. Even the workers who are pushing companies to look after them are being treated brutally by the officials. Moreover, not satisfied with ill-treatment of the workers, they are being body sprayed with disinfectant, containing destructive chemicals extremely harmful for their health.

The over-all analysis of the status of the right to work and laws related to it is detrimental to the extreme level. The condition of the workers is melancholic and the treatment they are suffering through is worse than that given to an animal and is not decent enough to be commented upon.


Regulation of full employment and a decent wage is the first priority and a dream of every worker of our country. The insistence on the right to employment calls or a legal framework whereby the government becomes bound to provide each and every citizen the opportunity to a standard way of living. This measure would lead to the workers surviving in times like these, where in the present condition they are crying out for food and barely surviving.

The idea of a country with hundred percent employment is not utopian, indeed well embedded in the Constitution, the supreme law of the nation. The government should make every citizen eligible enough to survive through times like these, otherwise this act of neglect would cost them a fortune. The various laws protecting the right to work must be amended from time to time to suit the present times and work accordingly.

Author: Kirti Sharma from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

Editor: Akshat Mehta from Institute of Law, Nirma University.