The Centre has approved a bill that will merge 13 labour laws in the country into one single code for all workplaces. The new workers safety code along with an act regulating minimum wage is expected to help crores of workers in even small and medium businesses.
The Cabinet has given its approval for the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill to go through parliament.
Minister of State for Labour and Employment Santosh Gangwar is leading the charge for the new code and said he will introduce it formally in parliament in the next two or three days.
The code will subsume the Factories Act, Mines Act, Dock Workers Act, Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees Act and Cine Workers and Cinema Theatres Workers Act.
“The biggest difficulty with our labour laws is that the multiplicity of labour laws has been a nightmare for employers and employees. As our economy evolved and the labour force grew, the government kept adding new laws without considering that contradictions might arise with older laws”, said Santosh Mehrotra, a professor of economics at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, to the Hindustan Times.
India’s new labour code, worker safety, minimum wage laws
The Code on Occupational Safety which will be the sum total of all 13 labour laws in the country will apply to workplaces with at least 10 employees. The government will enforce the code especially in the port and mining sector where businesses with even one employee will need to obey it.
Under the code, the government will have a single licensing regime for staffing firms, Employers will also be mandated to give employees a free, annual medical check up and official appointment letters at their time of joining.
The Wage Code Bill will also increase the national minimum wage to Rs 178. According to Gangwar, some states that have daily minimum wages of Rs 50 to Rs 60 will need to increase it to the new threshold and have the ability to increase it further if they wish.
The new labour code also has women-centric policies. If a woman employee works beyond 7 pm, companies will need to provide security. They will also need to provide créches for women with children below the age of six. Women employees will also only be assigned to night shifts if they give consent to their employers.
Moreover, firms can only assign a maximum 125 hours overtime and must get the employee’s consent before making them work extra hours.
Labour code to help crores of workers
The government says that these two bills will benefit “large sections of the 40-crore workforce” by bringing them under coverage and giving them unarguable workers rights. The code is also aiming at checking exploitation and ensuring that employers follow the letter of the law and treat their employees well.
The code and wage bill are also expected to improve the ease of doing business because tasks like licensing and permit registration will become more streamlined.
However, the Telegraph reports that this labour code including the increased minimum wage will not apply to unskilled labourers in the informal sector or those working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
While the labour code seems like a step in the right direction, labourers from the rural and informal sectors should also be accorded the same benefits and protected by the state equally.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius