Interns and Labour Laws.

This Blog discusses the lack of protection afforded to interns (especially in fields like law and engineering) despite the existence of a number of legislations falling under labour laws in India and the risks that it imposes.

In an increasingly saturated job market, in just about every sector one can think of, fresh graduates are now tasked with not only accumulating educational qualifications but also job experience before they can get a job. As paradoxical as it sounds, this is not just an invisible requirement by employers but sanctioned by statutory bodies like the University Grants Commission (Minimum of one-month or three months internships) and All India Council for Technical Education (minimum period of three months).

Thus a considerable number of interns are in the system, yet there are no laws in India that protect or govern them. Labour Laws generally pertain to physical work done in exchange for wages covering Industrial relations, workplace safety and employment standards (e.g. holidays, wages etc). These are a body of laws, administrative rulings and precedent which is binding on working people and their organizations. Firstly, labour laws address the three-way relationship between employer, employee and union and secondly, these laws are concerned with the employee’s rights at work. Both the Central and the State government are competent to enact legislation in this regard.

Labour Laws may be classified under the following heads:

I. Laws related to Industrial Relations such as:

1. Trade Unions Act, 1926

2. Industrial Employment Standing Order Act, 1946.

3. Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

II. Laws related to Wages such as:

4. Payment of Wages Act, 1936

5. Minimum Wages Act, 1948

6. Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.

7. Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958

III. Laws related to Working Hours, Conditions of Service and Employment such as:

8. Factories Act, 1987.

9. Plantation Labour Act, 1951.

10. Mines Act, 1952.

11. Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees’ (Conditions of Service

and Misc. Provisions) Act, 1955.

12. Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.

13. Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961.

14. Beedi & Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966.

15. Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970.

16. Sales Promotion Employees Act, 1976.

17. Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979.

18. Dock Workers (Safety, Health & Welfare) Act, 1986.

19. Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.

20. Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996

21. Cine-Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981

22. Dangerous Machines (Regulation) Act, 1983

23. Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1948

24. Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) (Inapplicability to Major Ports)Act, 1997

25. Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

26. Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946

27. Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation Act, 1957

28. Plantation Labour Act, 1951

29. Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005

IV. Laws related to Equality and Empowerment of Women such as:

30. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017

31. Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.

V. Laws related to Deprived and Disadvantaged Sections of the Society such as:

32. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

33. Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986

34. Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933

VI. Laws related to Social Security such as:

35. Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923.

36. Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948.

37. Employees’ Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.

38. Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

39. Employers’ Liability Act, 1938

40. Beedi Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1976

41. Beedi Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1976

42. Cine workers Welfare Cess Act, 1981

43. Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981

44. Fatal Accidents Act, 1855

45. Iron Ore Mines, Manganese Ore Mines and Chrome Ore Mines Labour Welfare Cess Act, 1976

46. Iron Ore Mines, Manganese Ore Mines and Chrome Ore Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1976

47. Limestone and Dolomite Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1972

48. Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1946

49. Personal Injuries (Compensation Insurance) Act, 1963

50. Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1962

51. Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008

None of the above provisions apply to interns working in the service sector.

The first International Labour Conference had adopted certain international labour conventions which pertained to working hours, unemployment, minimum age as well as night work for women and young person’s. However these conventions would not apply to interns as there is no statutory provision for the same. Apprentices Act, 1961 is meant to provide practical training to technically qualified persons in various trades with the objective of promoting new skilled manpower extending to engineers and diploma holders but only applies to areas and industries as notified by Central government and does not allow ‘apprentices’ any legal recourse, bonuses or incentives during the training period. [Section 1(4)]. The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946 mentions apprentices but applies only to industrial establishments that employ 100 or more workers. This Act includes legal redressal related to removal from service etc., however, all the laws that apply to permanent workers do not apply to apprentices.

There is no clarity on whether The Factories Act, 1987 applies to interns as the act says that “a person employed directly or by or through any agency […] whether for remuneration or not in any manufacturing process, or in cleaning any part of the machinery or premises used for a manufacturing process, or in any other kind of work incidental to, or connected with the manufacturing process, or the subject of the manufacturing process…”

Unpaid internships not illegal in India unlike the U.K., USA, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador – all have some form of statutory legislation in this regard, but before they did, most interns were compensated hence legal cases were not filed. Even The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 does not apply to interns as it mainly covers the unorganised primary sector.

Internships inherently are a good idea as theoretical knowledge can be applied to practical experience, and it is a learning experience that imbibes professionalism thus even unpaid internships seem worth it. However, making them mandatory without such remuneration is especially problematic for students who need to stay in big cities for several months to get valuable internships and finance their transport, food and housing. It makes getting the requisite experience a rich person’s game and creates a class divide. Because internships are so important in shaping one’s career, it is in need of better regulation. The Compulsory Notification of Vacancies Act meant to enable fair recruitment and work opportunities state that “All establishments in the public sector and such establishments in private sector excluding agriculture, where ordinarily 25 or more persons are employed are required to notify all vacancies (other than those exempted) to the appropriate Employment Exchange.” However, recruiters fail to follow this rule even in case of jobs and most internships are acquired through requests or ‘contacts’. There are no provisions that protect interns from workplace harassment, lack of safety, non-existent wages, over-working or ensure a minimum quality of training. Interns are not only expected to work for free but also pay for their own travelling costs, accommodation costs, and food, making internships highly exploitative in nature. Unpaid internships can be harmful to both interns (the financial costs involved in gaining experience) and their employers as there is no accountability of the quality of work received and risk involved in sharing matters of confidentiality. While it is admittedly difficult to implement laws for interns under advocates or start-ups, there is no reason why they can't be implemented in big firms and companies.

That internships offer college students an edge is widely acknowledged; the question now being asked is—should they be paid or not? One side argues that the real-world experiences these opportunities offer are invaluable in themselves. Some, however, believe it’s only ethical to offer a stipend, and maintain paid internships tend to be taken more seriously.

Do you think interns have sufficient rights? Have you faced any problems because of the lack of regulation and laws regarding internships?