Two of the three labour codes passed by Lok Sabha on Tuesday give both the Centre and the states power to exempt any establishment from “all or any of the provisions” of the codes “in public interest”. This has caused fears that the workers’ rights and safety and welfare rules could be suspended by the state governments for specific periods citing exigencies. However, labour ministry sources said these are just “saving provisions” and are meant for exigencies; it is highly unlikely that these will be put into effect under normal circumstances, they added.
In fact, one of the Codes —the Code on Industrial Relations (IR Code)— also protects notifications already issued by state governments under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and says that such notification shall “remain in force after such commencement for its remaining period as if the provisions of this Code have not been brought into force…”
The IR Code inter alia deals with trade unions and working conditions. The Occupation, Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code deals with working hours (limited at 8 hours, and any overtime requires workers’ consent and wages have to be doubled), leave and working conditions such as lighting, ventilation, and other welfare facilities such as separate toilets for male, female and transgender employees.
The IR code empowers “the appropriate government’ to exempt any industrial establishment from any of the provisions of the Code in the public interest for the specified period. The Central government is the “appropriate government” for an entity established by a central act; in relation to all other industrial establishment, state government is the “appropriate government”.
The IR code also adds that where the appropriate government is satisfied in relation to any new industrial establishment or new undertaking or class of new industrial establishments or new undertakings that it is necessary in the public interest so to do, it may, by notification, exempt, conditionally or unconditionally, any such new establishment or new undertaking or class of new establishments or new undertakings from all or any of the provisions of this Code for such period, as may be specified in the notification.
The expression “new industrial establishment or new undertaking or class of new industrial establishments or new undertakings” means such industrial establishment or undertaking or class of industrial establishments or undertakings which are established within a period as may be specified in the notification, the code said.
Similarly, under the OSH code, the appropriate government may by notification direct that all or any of the provisions of this code or the rules or the regulations made thereunder shall not apply to or in relation to any establishment or class of establishments.
“Where the state government is satisfied in the public interest that it is necessary to create more economic activities and employment opportunities, it may, by notification, exempt, subject to such conditions as it may think fit, any new factory or class or description of new factories from all or any of the provisions of this code for such period from the date on which such commercial production starts, as may be specified in the notification,” the code said.
It also protects any such notification issued by the states under the Factories Act, 1948 prior to the commencement of this Code to achieve the same purpose.
In case of a public emergency or disaster or pandemic in whole of India or part thereof, the appropriate government may, by notification, exempt any workplace or work activity or class thereof from all or any of the provisions of the OSH Code for a maximum of 12 months.