The attempts by some state governments to bring in sweeping changes in their labour laws, including extension of work time to beyond eight hours a day and suspend key labour laws for three years or more will not be entertained by the Centre, the labour ministry has told the relevant parliamentary standing committee on Monday.
“The labour ministry has said that extension of working hours beyond eight hours is illegal and can’t be allowed to happen. All states will have to adhere to the provisions of the labour codes which would be before Parliament in the monsoon season,” BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahatab, who heads the committee, told FE.
To lure investment and make operations of business viable amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have announced sweeping changes in labour laws, either through the ordinance route or executive orders, including scrapping of some provisions of the relevant laws for three years or more.
Under Section 5 of the Factories Act, during a public emergency that is threatening the security of the country or any part of it, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbances, a state government may by issue notification to exempt any factory or class of factories from all or any provision of the Act, except section 67 (related to working hours) for a maximum of three months.
Since labour is in the concurrent list of the Constitution, any changes that states propose to bring in the relevant laws even if they remain within the parameters of the central law, have to secure the President’s ascent. Any such proposal from the state first comes to the ministry of home affairs which then forwards the proposal to department of justice and the designated ministry for vetting before making up its views.
The parliamentary standing committee had asked the government to desist the states from making such sweeping changes in the labour laws.
In 2014, the Modi 1.0 government announced a plan to amalgamate 44 central labour Acts into four codes; in 2020, the plan is still hanging fire. Only the code on wages, which proposes universalisation of minimum wages, has been passed by Parliament so far, and even the Code is not under implementation as the relevant rules haven’t yet been finally notified.
The three other codes — on industrial relations (which contains reform proposals including easier hiring and retrenchment freedom for employers and redefining of trade unions’ role), social security and operational safety, health & working conditions (OSH) — have been introduced in the lower House, though none of them could be passed. The OSH code has been lately redrafted and the modified version is to be taken up by the Cabinet for introduction in Parliament again.
Having come under pressure from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and a clutch of trade unions, the Union labour ministry is understood to have written to a few state governments that have made attempts to rewrite their labour laws, to desist from taking steps that are beyond their authority and could run into conflict with India’s international commitments in the arena.
On the issue of migrant workers, the parliamentary committee expressed its displeasure on the treatment meted out to them.
“There is no definite number of migrant workers. Whatever figure is given to us has a number of loopholes and can’t be relied upon. It is not fully correct; the committee suggested that migrant workers should be issued a unique social security number which is to be linked to Aadhaar so that they can be identified and doled out social security benefits easily,” the committee said.