Law and Social Justice
Markets everywhere tend to be exploitative of people – whether as workers, consumers or producers. To protect people from such exploitation, the government makes certain laws. These laws try to ensure that the unfair practices are kept at a minimum in the markets.
Private companies, contractors, businesspersons normally want to make as much profit as they can.
In the drive for profits, they might deny workers their rights and not pay them wages. In the eyes of the law it is illegal or wrong to deny workers their wages.
Similarly, there is a law on minimum wages, to ensure that workers are not underpaid, or are paid fairly. A worker has to be paid not less than the minimum wage by the employer. The minimum wages are revised upwards every few years.
As with the law on minimum wages, which is meant to protect workers, there are also laws that protect the interests of producers and consumers in the market. These laws ensure that the relations between these three parties – the worker, consumer and producer – are governed in a manner that is not exploitative.
Through making, enforcing and upholding these laws, the government can control the activities of individuals or private companies so as to ensure social justice. Many of these laws have their basis in the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. For instance, the Right against Exploitation says that no one can be forced to work for low wages or under bondage. Similarly, the Constitution lays down no child below the age of 14 shall be employed to work in any factory or mines or any other hazardous employment.
Cheap labour is one of the reasons, many foreign companies come to India. Wages in their home country is way higher than in India. Indian workers willingly agree to work for longer hours for lower wages. Moreover, these companies do not have to spend on housing facilities for workers in India. So, they can make big savings and earn higher profits.
The worth of a worker in India is seen as very low. There is huge unemployment. So, many workers are willing to work in unsafe conditions. One worker can easily replace another. Employers exploit worker's vulnerability. So, employers often ignore safety at workplaces.
To understand the safety issue, let us take the example of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. This devastating tragedy happened in 1984, killing and maiming hundreds of people. But we still get reports of accidents at construction sites, mines or factories. Most of these accidents happen because of carelessness of employers.
Enforcement of Safety Laws
The government is lawmaker as well as enforcer of laws. So, the government is supposed to ensure proper implementation of safety laws at workplaces. It is also the duty of the government to ensure that the Right to Life is not violated.
With increased pace of industrialisation, there is a greater need for stronger laws to protect workers' rights. A better enforcement of these laws is also required.
New Laws to Protect the Environment
When the Bhopal Gas Tragedy happened in 1984, there were very few laws on environmental protection. Whatever laws were there, they were never enforced. People treated environment as a FREE entity. Any industry was free to pollute air and water without fearing for punishment. We can say that there was utter disregard for the environment.
The Bhopal disaster was an eye opener. It brought the issue of environment to the forefront. This disaster affected even those who were not directly associated with the factory. People could realise that existing laws provided some protection to workers but there was nothing for general public who may get the burnt of an industrial accident.
After pressure from environmental activists and others, the government introduced new laws on the environment. After that, the polluter was to be held accountable for the damage to the environment.
Laws are necessary in many situations, whether this be the market, office or factory so as to protect people from unfair practices. In order to make higher profits, private companies, contractors, business persons, resort to unfair practices such as paying workers low wages, employing children for work, ignoring the conditions of work, ignoring the damage to the environment, etc.
Therefore, a major role of the government is to control the activities of private companies. This is done by making, enforcing and upholding laws. It is necessary to prevent unfair practices and ensure social justice. This means that the government has to make appropriate laws and also has to enforce the laws. Laws that are weak and poorly enforced can cause serious harm, as the Bhopal gas tragedy showed.