The NDA government’s move to amend the Factories Act, 1948 has run into opposition from an unexpected quarter — the BJP government in Goa.
The state government, in a specific intervention before a Parliamentary panel, has flagged its reservation against a proposal in the Factories Amendment Bill 2014 that seeks to remove the definition of ‘hazardous process’ as contained in Section 2 of the principal Act, along with a list of some 29 such processes. Instead, a new sub-section 2(cc) has been introduced in the Amendment Bill that substitutes the term ‘hazardous process’ with a list of ‘hazardous substance’.
The Bill, which is currently being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, has come in for flak from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, who have voiced the need for retaining the schedule that specifies the list of ‘hazardous processes’ and have objected to the deletion of the schedule is not in the interest of the workers.
Among them, the government of Goa, in its intervention before the parliamentary panel, is learnt to have suggested that the Schedule containing the list of ‘hazardous processes’ “need not be deleted” and instead “be made more specific in regard to the hazardous process in different types of industries”, officials involved in the exercise said.
The contention by those opposed to the proposed amendment to the definition of hazardous process vide Clause 2 of the Bill, whereby the ministry of labour has proposed to delete the First Schedule of the Act that contains the list of hazardous processes, is that an industrial process could be hazardous for workers or the general public even without the use of hazardous substances.
The labour ministry’s response to the question raised by the panel on the pressing need to dilute the definition of ‘hazardous process’ is that the issue has been repeatedly discussed in the Conferences of Chief Inspector of Factories from various States and that “by removing the list of only 29 (hazardous) processes and substituting it with the name of the hazardous ‘substance’ will make this more stringent”. Unconvinced with the Centre’s assertion, the Parliament panel is learnt to have lent weight to those opposing the move by questioning the government on “whether it was not a fact that there were certain hazardous processes in certain industries where substance was not involved always?” This is despite the labour ministry’s assertion that Section 87 of the Bill has a provision that delves on ‘dangerous operation’.
The changes in the Factories Act is part of the labour reforms initiated by the NDA government in its efforts to boost manufacturing and create jobs in the country. The Union government has already passed two labour laws — Apprentices (Amendment) bill and the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Amendment Bill, while the Factories Amendment Bill is still pending before the parliamentary panel.
Among the other proposals in the Factories Amendment Bill, a revision in the definition of a factory that effectively doubling the threshold of the number of workers employed in such a unit has also come in for flak as it exempts more than half the country’s factories from the restrictive provisions applicable under the current legislative framework.
At present, units where power is used for manufacturing must employ 10 workers or more in a year to be identified as a factory, while units that do not use power must employ at least 20 workers in a year.
Under the amendment, the minimum number of workers in a factory is sought to be doubled to 20 for units with power and 40 for non-power units. State governments will be empowered to prescribe the number of workers up to this limit that a unit must employ to be defined as a factory. As per data from the Annual Survey of Industries, about 1 lakh, or 58 per cent, of the 1,75,710 factories reported to be operating in the country in 2011-12 employed up to 30 workers. While 63,568 units employed 0-14 workers, another 18,763 factories employed 15-19 workers and 20,541 units had 20-29 workers on their payrolls.