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Labour Politics

Labour ‘Reforms’ more for “Ease of doing Business” than labour rights

Sushmita 29 Jul 2019

Various unions allege no consultation by the government on the Bills.Image result for Labour ‘Reforms’ more for “Ease of doing Business” than labour rights
Image Courtesy: theprint.in

On Tuesday, July 23, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government moved two bills in Lok Sabha apparently to “reduce the compliance and administration ‘burden’ emanating from multiple legislations.”Some government-‘supportive’ media websites define these as “integration of labour regulations, minimise anomalies of contradictions thereby reducing litigation interpretation of statutes.”

While the Code on Wages 2019 (WC) seeks to combine four laws covering minimum wages, payment of wages, bonus and equal remuneration, the Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Code 2019 combines 13 laws which include the Factories Act, the Contract Labour Act, the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act and specific laws covering beedi workers, cinema workers, journalists, construction workers, dock workers, plantation workers and motor transport workers, sales promotion employees and others.

The intent and objective of the WC bill says that this will lead to facilitation for ease of compliance of labour laws will promote setting up of more enterprises. The vocal discussion around the WC attempts to make it look like technology used in its enforcement will reduce violations, however, the bill’s use of technology appears actually be only to transform the entire system of labour inspection.

Besides, the long standing demand of established trade unions, to make the non-payment of minimum wages and such other basic violation of human rights cognisable offences, have been ignored. Worse, the bill has increased minimum wage by a laughable Rs. 2.

Now, apart from the definition of employee and worker running into each other, there is a creation of an additional authority- appellate authority. The appellate authority has been given all the powers of a civil court under the Civil Procedure, 1908, for the purpose of “taking evidence and of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documents, and every such authority or appellate authority shall be deemed to be a civil court for all the purposes of section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.” This appears to open up a murky terrain as it’s yet unclear how this authority will function. Moreover, matters or grievances that could earlier under the law, be taken to courts of law, with independent functioning and well-tested procedures, will be taken to an “authority”, which, in all possibilities, may not either function independently or take real or effective steps to address issues.

There appears legitimisation of the contractor and contract labour. By diluting or taking away the role or responsibility of the principal employer for the payment of wages and other benefits, including bonus, there is a legitimisation of the contractor.While defining "contract labour" the WC says that it means a worker who shall be deemed to be employed in or in connection with the work of an establishment when he is hired in or in connection with such work by or through a contractor, “with or without the knowledge of the principal employer”. The “with or without principal employer” aspect gains importance here, because in effect it means the principal employer isn’t responsible for the labour that is hired in their organisation or industry if it is sub-contracted out .

The introduction of combined labour contract licenses for all tasks in an establishment removesthe possibility of identifying for contract license, a perennial task from a non-perennial task. This takes away from core principles of Contract Labour Act and will provide employers a legal cover to hire contract workers in a perennial and core tasks.

On similar lines, the amendment of motor vehicle act provides no safety but makes provisions for large companies to enter. There are excessive penalties on the driver. Role of conductor has been omitted.

Reactions to this move by the Modi 2.0 government have been sharp.

Ashok Singh, Vice President of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) said, “To ‘reform’ the labour laws, labour itself hasn’t been consulted. It’s pro-capital. Public sector is being privatised and poor are being pushed out of things.”

The WC bill also is conspicuously silent on gender related issues. It doesn’t contain any provisions to protect workers against discrimination. It’s a violation of constitutional provisions of equality of opportunities and international standards and guidelines such as the ILO Convention on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958, ratified by India. A statement by Ajeevika bureau said, “Unlike Equal remuneration Act, 1976, it talks only of wage inequality but is blind to discrimination in recruitment, promotions, transfers and trainings.” It’s a well-known fact the people from marginalised backgrounds, especially backward castes, religious minorities and those from discriminated genders, have to bear the brunt of their background at each step of the employment cycle. Hence no explicit mention of these forms of discriminations leaves the room wide open for interpretation and work place harassment of marginalised people.

Vasudevan Nambiar from the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) said, “The WC combines existing laws into few codes. How does it arrive at that conclusion? The objective [of the bill] has been to facilitate more exploitation, provide cheap labour, hire and fire and more such cosmetic changes. The employers are free to do what they want just because they employed someone.”

On the aspect of accountability he said, “The system of supervision and inspection has been taken away.” In the WC, the aspect of inspection is being aided by a “facilitator”. The role of a facilitator is again, subject to actual circumstances and doesn’t strengthen a robust inspection process.

Nambiar added, “Because the employment itself is coming with an expiry date, the scope of unionisation has become very limited.”He added, “On the one hand they say “Make India great”, “Freedom for investment”, on the other they are rapidly enforcing these changes already at many places. These just remain words on paper with hardly any relief for workers.”

Similarly, the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1955says the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947’s provisions apply to journalists. In case of retrenchment, however, lawyers state that the Working Journalists Act enhances the protections for journalists above and beyond the protections the Industrial Disputes Act offers to workers in other sectors. 

While the Industrial Disputes Act Section 25F gives only one month notice period in case of retrenchment of a workman, the current legal protections are that if one wishes to retrench a journalist, one has to give three months’ notice, and if the person is at the level of an editor, then one has to give six months’ notice. This, as per lawyers and experts, has been done to protect “free speech and the independence of journalists, insulating them from political pressure on media owners”. However, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill, 2019 which subsumed the Working Journalists Act, has omitted these provisions. What was required was that the friendly provisions of the 1955 Act should have been extended to digital media. Instead the new Bill disregards these provisions.

A statement released by left groups highlighted, “Contrary to the government claims, these codes would enhance the process of exclusion of workers from the benefits they accrue from the existing laws, by simply raising the threshold level of number of workers for application of these laws.”

The trade unions affiliated to left groups have also alleged that while determining the minimum wage, there was no participation from left groups. “The wage code has denied the agreed formula of wage calculation as per 15th Indian Labour conference, and add on 25% as directed by Supreme Court judgment in the Raptakos case and which was repeatedly and unanimously accepted by 45th and 46th ILC. The Expert Committee appointed by the Central Government, which excluded any participation from the Trade Unions, to determine the methodology to determine the National Minimum Wage also went against those recommendations. But to top it all the Labour Minister, on 10.07.2019 unilaterally announced the National Minimum Wage as Rs. 4628/-pm, when even the 7th CPC recommends Rs.18000/-pm as the minimum wages w.e.f. 1.01.2016.”

The statement also said that the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions bill will exclude 90 percent of the workforce, especially from the unorganised and informal sector, outsourced on contract out of the purview of the code.

“By repealing all these Acts and selectively picking up the provisions advantageous to employers only from these Acts for incorporation of the Code Bill and grossly diluting and/or tampering all the provisions pertaining to rights and protection of the workers in general, the Govt. seeks to drastically curtail the workers’ rights, in their most obedient services of their corporate masters.”

In a labour market where there is a diverse workforce, with specific needs of each sector, this seems like a move intended to benefit the market more than the labourers themselves.

More rigorous debate and discussion needs to take place on public platforms around these issues.
 

Labour ‘Reforms’ more for “Ease of doing Business” than labour rights

Various unions allege no consultation by the government on the Bills.Image result for Labour ‘Reforms’ more for “Ease of doing Business” than labour rights
Image Courtesy: theprint.in

On Tuesday, July 23, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government moved two bills in Lok Sabha apparently to “reduce the compliance and administration ‘burden’ emanating from multiple legislations.”Some government-‘supportive’ media websites define these as “integration of labour regulations, minimise anomalies of contradictions thereby reducing litigation interpretation of statutes.”

While the Code on Wages 2019 (WC) seeks to combine four laws covering minimum wages, payment of wages, bonus and equal remuneration, the Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Code 2019 combines 13 laws which include the Factories Act, the Contract Labour Act, the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act and specific laws covering beedi workers, cinema workers, journalists, construction workers, dock workers, plantation workers and motor transport workers, sales promotion employees and others.

The intent and objective of the WC bill says that this will lead to facilitation for ease of compliance of labour laws will promote setting up of more enterprises. The vocal discussion around the WC attempts to make it look like technology used in its enforcement will reduce violations, however, the bill’s use of technology appears actually be only to transform the entire system of labour inspection.

Besides, the long standing demand of established trade unions, to make the non-payment of minimum wages and such other basic violation of human rights cognisable offences, have been ignored. Worse, the bill has increased minimum wage by a laughable Rs. 2.

Now, apart from the definition of employee and worker running into each other, there is a creation of an additional authority- appellate authority. The appellate authority has been given all the powers of a civil court under the Civil Procedure, 1908, for the purpose of “taking evidence and of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documents, and every such authority or appellate authority shall be deemed to be a civil court for all the purposes of section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.” This appears to open up a murky terrain as it’s yet unclear how this authority will function. Moreover, matters or grievances that could earlier under the law, be taken to courts of law, with independent functioning and well-tested procedures, will be taken to an “authority”, which, in all possibilities, may not either function independently or take real or effective steps to address issues.

There appears legitimisation of the contractor and contract labour. By diluting or taking away the role or responsibility of the principal employer for the payment of wages and other benefits, including bonus, there is a legitimisation of the contractor.While defining "contract labour" the WC says that it means a worker who shall be deemed to be employed in or in connection with the work of an establishment when he is hired in or in connection with such work by or through a contractor, “with or without the knowledge of the principal employer”. The “with or without principal employer” aspect gains importance here, because in effect it means the principal employer isn’t responsible for the labour that is hired in their organisation or industry if it is sub-contracted out .

The introduction of combined labour contract licenses for all tasks in an establishment removesthe possibility of identifying for contract license, a perennial task from a non-perennial task. This takes away from core principles of Contract Labour Act and will provide employers a legal cover to hire contract workers in a perennial and core tasks.

On similar lines, the amendment of motor vehicle act provides no safety but makes provisions for large companies to enter. There are excessive penalties on the driver. Role of conductor has been omitted.

Reactions to this move by the Modi 2.0 government have been sharp.

Ashok Singh, Vice President of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) said, “To ‘reform’ the labour laws, labour itself hasn’t been consulted. It’s pro-capital. Public sector is being privatised and poor are being pushed out of things.”

The WC bill also is conspicuously silent on gender related issues. It doesn’t contain any provisions to protect workers against discrimination. It’s a violation of constitutional provisions of equality of opportunities and international standards and guidelines such as the ILO Convention on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958, ratified by India. A statement by Ajeevika bureau said, “Unlike Equal remuneration Act, 1976, it talks only of wage inequality but is blind to discrimination in recruitment, promotions, transfers and trainings.” It’s a well-known fact the people from marginalised backgrounds, especially backward castes, religious minorities and those from discriminated genders, have to bear the brunt of their background at each step of the employment cycle. Hence no explicit mention of these forms of discriminations leaves the room wide open for interpretation and work place harassment of marginalised people.

Vasudevan Nambiar from the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) said, “The WC combines existing laws into few codes. How does it arrive at that conclusion? The objective [of the bill] has been to facilitate more exploitation, provide cheap labour, hire and fire and more such cosmetic changes. The employers are free to do what they want just because they employed someone.”

On the aspect of accountability he said, “The system of supervision and inspection has been taken away.” In the WC, the aspect of inspection is being aided by a “facilitator”. The role of a facilitator is again, subject to actual circumstances and doesn’t strengthen a robust inspection process.

Nambiar added, “Because the employment itself is coming with an expiry date, the scope of unionisation has become very limited.”He added, “On the one hand they say “Make India great”, “Freedom for investment”, on the other they are rapidly enforcing these changes already at many places. These just remain words on paper with hardly any relief for workers.”

Similarly, the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1955says the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947’s provisions apply to journalists. In case of retrenchment, however, lawyers state that the Working Journalists Act enhances the protections for journalists above and beyond the protections the Industrial Disputes Act offers to workers in other sectors. 

While the Industrial Disputes Act Section 25F gives only one month notice period in case of retrenchment of a workman, the current legal protections are that if one wishes to retrench a journalist, one has to give three months’ notice, and if the person is at the level of an editor, then one has to give six months’ notice. This, as per lawyers and experts, has been done to protect “free speech and the independence of journalists, insulating them from political pressure on media owners”. However, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill, 2019 which subsumed the Working Journalists Act, has omitted these provisions. What was required was that the friendly provisions of the 1955 Act should have been extended to digital media. Instead the new Bill disregards these provisions.

A statement released by left groups highlighted, “Contrary to the government claims, these codes would enhance the process of exclusion of workers from the benefits they accrue from the existing laws, by simply raising the threshold level of number of workers for application of these laws.”

The trade unions affiliated to left groups have also alleged that while determining the minimum wage, there was no participation from left groups. “The wage code has denied the agreed formula of wage calculation as per 15th Indian Labour conference, and add on 25% as directed by Supreme Court judgment in the Raptakos case and which was repeatedly and unanimously accepted by 45th and 46th ILC. The Expert Committee appointed by the Central Government, which excluded any participation from the Trade Unions, to determine the methodology to determine the National Minimum Wage also went against those recommendations. But to top it all the Labour Minister, on 10.07.2019 unilaterally announced the National Minimum Wage as Rs. 4628/-pm, when even the 7th CPC recommends Rs.18000/-pm as the minimum wages w.e.f. 1.01.2016.”

The statement also said that the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions bill will exclude 90 percent of the workforce, especially from the unorganised and informal sector, outsourced on contract out of the purview of the code.

“By repealing all these Acts and selectively picking up the provisions advantageous to employers only from these Acts for incorporation of the Code Bill and grossly diluting and/or tampering all the provisions pertaining to rights and protection of the workers in general, the Govt. seeks to drastically curtail the workers’ rights, in their most obedient services of their corporate masters.”

In a labour market where there is a diverse workforce, with specific needs of each sector, this seems like a move intended to benefit the market more than the labourers themselves.

More rigorous debate and discussion needs to take place on public platforms around these issues.
 

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