The Centre seems to have halted its plans to notify the four labour codes, for now, and instead has embarked on a mission to sensitise workers in the informal sector about the benefits of the laws, keeping in mind the upcoming assembly elections next year.
According to Livemint, while the ministries of labour, information and broadcasting have come out with a 30-page document titled New Labour Code for New India which will be used in the campaign, officials of all ministries and departments are being given lowdown on the salient features of the four labour codes.
The Labour Ministry has consolidated 29 central labour laws into four labour codes:
- Code on Wages
- Code on Social Security
- Industrial Relations Code
- Occupational, Safety, Health and Working Condition Code
The Parliament passed the Code on Wages in 2019 and the rest a year later. While the Labour Ministry was slated to finalize and notify the rules by April this year, the same has been delayed due to delay by states in notifying rules that would be implemented in their domains. The rules under the codes have to be notified both by the Centre and the state governments to be implemented.
The codes, which have been dubbed a major reform by many in the industry, however, have faced stiff opposition from trade unions and employees’ organisations who have called it “anti-labour”.
The government says the document – New Labour Code for New India – seeks to dispel all myths around the codes. Divided into eight chapters, it breaks downs the new laws and explains how they will benefit the working class and ensure security of workers “along with respect, health, and other welfare measures with ease”.
“The labour reforms undertaken by the government will have far-reaching implication on both workers and industries. But it is largely perceived as anti-worker and that perception must change, the 30-32 page document gives a detailed view on workers and how they will benefit. All the ministries are getting copies of it and political parties will also take them to the grassroots,” an official told Livemint.
The official said that the government during the awareness campaign will also share more details about certain sections in the code that are being criticized by the labour unions.
“They already know what they are criticizing. Our effort is to give details about which critics are either ignoring or underplaying,” the official said.
Reformative or regressive?
The labour codes, which are expected to bring a new wave reforms in the industrial sectors are said to provide social security to employees in the organized sector as well as to gig and platform workers who earlier didn’t avail the benefit. A major change in the definition of “wage” would change the take-home pay of employees, but increase their share of gratuity (50 per cent of the wages), a feature that employers have protested.
Trade unions and employees’ organisations say that the new codes will bring more than 74 per cent of the industrial workers and 70 per cent of industrial establishments under the “hire and fire” policy, making workers vulnerable to summary sacking at the will of the employer. They allege the new laws do not recognise trade unions and would diminish these organisations to muzzle the voices of the labourers; a ban on workers’ right to strike is also likely, they say.
Workers say that the Industrial Code prohibits employment of contractual workers in any core activities, and limits their ambit to a few non-core services like canteen, security, and sanitation. The legislations also do not specify certain norms related to social security schemes, health and safety standards while leaving these aspects to the state governments to decide.
The Opposition has alleged that both the Houses passed the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, the Industrial Relations Code and the Code on Social Security in the absence of Opposition leaders.
In view of the widespread criticism against the labour codes, while several state governments, mainly those headed for polls next year, have dragged their feet on notifying the rules, the Centre too has not specified a date yet even though it had earlier set a deadline of April 2021 for the same.
With the states of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh going to polls next year, the governments fear notifying the rules, especially in the midst of a raging farmers’ protests may dent their prospects of a return to power. The Centre, on the other hand, believes an outreach programme on the new codes may help it dispel the ‘myths’ about the bills and prepare the ground for the polls next year.