Labour safety code revised to address PMO concerns

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Published: June 12, 2020 3:30 AM

This requires withdrawal of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in July last year and introduction of the modified version in Parliament.

Introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019, the OSHWC code was referred to the Parliamentary standing committee on labour.

The labour ministry has redrafted the Code on occupational safety, health and working conditions (OSHWC) and sent it to the Cabinet seeking its approval. This requires withdrawal of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in July last year and introduction of the modified version in Parliament.

Though it was not immediately known what changes have been made in the new draft, sources said redrafting the Bill was necessitated after objections were raised by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on a proposal that would make it mandatory for employers to provide free-of-cost annual health check-up for employees above a prescribed age.

The PMO is learnt to have suggested dropping the plan as it is of the view that the mandatory free health check-up provision might make it an expensive proposition for employers. Instead, healthcare facilities available with the Employees’ State Insurance Corporations could be tapped for the same.

Introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019, the OSHWC code was referred to the Parliamentary standing committee on labour. The committee submitted its report on February 11, 2020. Following this, the note for withdrawal of the OSH Code 2019 and introduction of the OSH Code 2020 was sent to the Cabinet secretariat on April 13, 2020 by the labour ministry, a source said. The OSH Code amalgamates 13 extant central Acts.

The House panel, headed by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, has also raised objections to the Centre’s bid to arrogate to itself the power to fix the wage floor for inter-state migrant workers in the name of uniformity across the country. If any state government wants to set minimum wages higher than prescribed by the Centre for inter-state migrant workers, it should be free to do so, the committee said.

The standing committee’s views are not binding on the Centre, but may still carry considerable weight as several state governments also hold the same view. The panel also proposed that a separate chapter be included in the Code for migrant workers, as against the proposal of merging the sections related to them with those for contract workers, to have greater clarity on health and safety aspects of such workers.

During the discussion stage, there were disagreements between employers and employees on the applicability of the Code to all establishments employing 10 or more workers, except in mines and docks, where it is applicable on even one worker. The labour ministry justified the proposal saying it would help striking a balance between rights of workers’ and interest of small businesses.

The proposed OSH Code, 2019 also proposed to make it a must for every employer to ensure that a workplace is free from hazards which cause or are likely to cause injury or occupational disease to employees. It also makes them comply with the occupational safety and health standards made under the Code, which proposes to allow women to work in night shifts.

At present, different applicability thresholds exist in different Acts for welfare provisions like creche, canteen, first-aid, etc. The 2019 Code envisaged a uniform threshold for welfare provisions for all establishments as far as feasible.

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