The story so far: The Code on Wages (passed in Parliament in August, 2019), the Industrial Relations Code, the Code on Social Security, and the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (all passed on September 22 and 23, 2020 in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha) have not yet been implemented. The Centre claims that the four codes are a major step in the process of labour reforms. The central trade unions (CTUs) have held three general strikes against the codes so far, alleging that the codes will result in taking away whatever little social and economic security is left in the employment sector. The farmers’ organisations had also supported the trade unions in their protests. The employers’ associations, too, had mixed feeling towards the codes, but had generally welcomed them.
Where does it stand?
The government says the delay in implementation is due to the delay in framing rules by the States. As labour is a concurrent subject, both the States and the Centre will have to prepare rules for the codes. The Centre had also offered help to the States so that the codes can be implemented from July 1, 2022.
Union Minister for Labour, Bhupender Yadav, recently said that only a few States have not yet framed the rules. According to a recent report, 24 States have so far published draft rules to all four codes.
What is the process?
The States are publishing draft rules and inviting comments from stakeholders on those draft rules. The Centre had also published draft rules for certain sections of the four codes. The trade unions have been asking the Centre to stop this piecemeal approach and release the complete rules of four codes.
Since the four labour codes are an amalgamation of 29 Central laws and about 100 State laws that are similar to various Central laws, drafting, publishing and holding consultations with stakeholders is taking considerable time. There are also complaints by the Opposition-ruled States that the codes are “poorly drafted”.
The Opposition had objected to the way the three codes were passed in Parliament in just two days without much discussion. Recently, Kerala Labour Minister V. Sivankutti said in the Kerala Assembly that the State prepared the draft rules hesitantly as most of the provisions in the codes are “anti-worker.”
What the Centre wants to do?
The Centre intends to implement the four codes together. “Our effort will be to implement the codes in 2022. The Labour Minister has offered discussions with trade unions and representatives of employers to iron out differences, if any,” an official said.
The SP Mukherjee committee, which is working towards the issue of minimum wages, is yet to complete its task. Setting a national minimum wage is important in the implementation of the Code on Wages. The Centre had recently said that the ambit of Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) will be expanded to all districts within two years.
Social security for unorganised workers is a promise in the Code on Social Security and expansion of ESIC network is an unavoidable step for this purpose.
What are some of the concerns?
The central trade unions in the Opposition camp are opposed to all the four codes. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-supported trade union, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), is opposed to the Industrial Relations Code and certain provisions of the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions.
According to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, one of the central trade unions said the exercise “is aimed at pushing out a large section of the workforce out of the coverage of all labour laws through increasing the threshold level of employment in an establishment and repealing of a big number of labour laws meant for certain specific sections of employees/workers viz., sales promotion employees, working journalists, etc.”
The BMS has been maintaining that the codes should not be implemented at one go. “The differences must be resolved by mutual dialogue. We have our concerns about the code on Industrial Relations, specifically on the provisions for the registration and working of central trade unions. Our advice to the government is that it should implement only those sections and codes where there is a larger unanimity among the workers, employers and the government,” said BMS general secretary Binoy Kumar Sinha.
The employers’ associations like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had expressed reservation on the proposal for increasing the minimum wages and expanding the social security network by involving the employers too.
What lies ahead?
The trade unions are warning about more protests if the codes are implemented. They say that the Centre will have to repeal it the way it repealed the three farm laws.
The Centre, too, is worried about the political fallout of its implementation and thus, this could also be a possible reason for the delay. The employers are worried that further increase in the salary bill will hamper their profits in a recession-hit economy and they expect the government to hold more discussions.