House panel for expansion of EPF/ESIC net for migrant workers

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Published: July 7, 2020 4:30 AM

The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, is applicable to establishments employing 10 or more people earning up to Rs 21,000 a month.

India has an estimated 100 million migrant workers who move to industrious states for work. Of them around 30 lakh work in various industrial clusters.

The parliamentary standing committee vetting the labour code on social security may make a strong pitch for the government’s effective intervention to ensure coverage of Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) to an estimated 30 lakh migrant workers.

After reaching a consensus among the committee members, the proposal is likely to find place in the committee’s report, which will be submitted to the Lok Sabha secretariat this month, said committee chairman Bhartruhari Mahtab.

“Migrant workers, who are under contract and work for longer terms in different industrial clusters, should be given EPFO and ESIC benefits,” Mahtab said.

Of course, the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, is applicable to establishments employing 10 or more people earning up to Rs 21,000 a month. The EPFO is applicable to all units employing up to 20 workers. The Employees’ Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, makes it mandatory for all establishments having 20 or more employees earning less than `15,000 monthly wage to join the EPF scheme. Others can also join in the scheme voluntarily. The house panel will ask for ways to ensure that these rules are indeed complied with and a much larger population of migrant workers are covered under these schemes.

India has an estimated 100 million migrant workers who move to industrious states for work. Of them around 30 lakh work in various industrial clusters, estimates XLRI professor and labour economist KR Shyam Sundar.

There are two types of migrant workers – one whose works are seasonal in nature, say for two-three three months and then they come back to their place of origin like those who work in the construction sector or those who pluck Tendu leaves in Odisha and then, there are some who work in a specific area of industry for years together. They mostly work on contract in industries such as textiles, diamond polishing and the like.

Initially, the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed to universalise social security for all sets of workers, but the Bill it introduced in Lok Sabha in December last year proposed to form a National Social Security Board that would recommend the Centre suitable schemes for the different sections of unorganised workers.

The Bill also proposes to empower the Centre to constitute a social security fund for unorgansied workers, platform workers or gig workers or any such class of workers.

Trade unions have also demanded that the scope of the code on social security should encompass all in the unorganised sector; however, the government is not inclined to make much changes from its stand. The standing committee is not in agreement with the proposal.

“Why can’t the sending and receiving states have an agreement? The receiving states should identify migrant workers and see if the employers provide them with social security. The union government should oversee the whole process. Already Odisha has forged such an agreement with Telengana,” Mahtab said.

Sundar said the issue of informal economy workers in general and migrant and construction workers in particular need to be integrally addressed by the labour code on occupational safety, health & working conditions and the code on social security as the issues overlap.

“A minimum social protection framework fully-funded by the state concerning the vulnerably-placed segment of informal workers is expected from the lawmakers, but to extend few crumbs of conditional social security to a minority segment of millions of migrants is shocking to see the least,” Sundar said.

What the lawmakers could do is to extend the workers under existing social security schemes to workers in eligible enterprises by tweaking those laws like EPF, ESIC and cover others under the unorganised workers’ social security provisions. This will be a holistic approach.

The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, is applicable to establishments employing 10 or more people earning up to Rs 21,000 a month. EPFO is applicable to all units employing upto 20 workers. The Employees’ Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 makes it mandatory for all establishments having 20 or more employees earning less than Rs 15,000 monthly wage to join the EPF scheme. Others can also join in the scheme voluntarily.

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