The history of labour legislation in India is naturally interwoven with the history of British colonialism. Considerations of British political economy were naturally paramount in shaping some of these early laws. In the beginning it was difficult to get enough regular Indian workers to run British establishments and hence laws for indenturing workers became necessary. This was obviously labour legislation in order to protect the interests of British employers.
Then came the Factories Act. It is well known that Indian textile goods offered stiff competition to British textiles in the export market and hence in order to make India labour costlier the Factories Act was first introduced in 1883 because of the pressure brought on the British parliament by the textile magnates of Manchester and Lancashire. Thus we received the first stipulation of eight hours of work, the abolition of child labour, and the restriction of women in night employment, and the introduction of overtime wages for work beyond eight hours. While the impact of this measure was clearly welfarist the real motivation was undoubtedly protectionist! To date, India has ratified 39 International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions of which 37 are in force. Of the ILO’s eight fundamental conventions, India has ratified four - Forced Labour 1930, Abolition of Forced Labour 1957, Equal Remuneration 1951, and Discrimination (employment and occupation) 1958.