Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Panel asks labour ministry to rework amendments to Factories Act

Amendments include doubling overtime for industrial workers and allowing women to work in night shifts

New Delhi: The centre’s efforts to amend the Factories Act, 1948, to ease the process of doing business has faced its first hurdle: a parliamentary panel has asked the labour ministry to rework the proposed provisions including doubling overtime for industrial workers and allowing women to work in night shifts.

The parliamentary standing committee headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian Virendra Singh has said that looking at the incidence of crime against women, the ministry cannot take the safety of female employees lightly. As for doubling the number of overtime hours, it has suggested that such a move may lead to less job creation, a point that trade unions, too, have been making for the last six months. The committee is of the “considered opinion that increasing the overtime hours across the factories would certainly have an adverse impact on employment generation".

“They, (committee members) therefore, desire the Ministry to distinguish those industries/seasonal factories where increasing the overtime hours is inevitable and make necessary amendments in the related clause with adequate safeguards so that unemployment problem is not aggravated further," said the committee report, available on the Lok Sabha website.

The committee said that it has received several suggestions from stakeholders opposing the amendment, as “it would aggravate the unemployment problem".

The central government introduced the Factories Amendment Bill 2014 in the Lok Sabha on 7 August. It was later referred to the labour-related standing committee.

The proposed changes centre on several key points such as doubling the provision of overtime from 50 hours a quarter to 100 hours in some cases and from 75 hours to 125 hours in others involving work of public interest; relaxing the norms of female participation in certain industry segments; and reducing to 90 from 240 the number of days that an employee needs to work before becoming eligible for benefits like leave with pay.

On women’s safety, the panel warned the labour ministry not to take things lightly. “In view of a spate of events all over the country where women working at odd hours have been subjected to physical harassment and brutality as well as mental trauma, the committee would like to caution the ministry not to undermine the import of safety provisions and leave any loopholes in the safeguard and protective Clauses for such vulnerable women workers," said the report.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau, India reported a whopping 309,546 cases of crime against women in 2013 as against 244,270 cases in 2012. The so-called industrial and developed states are not immune to such crimes. For example, in 2013, Andhra Pradesh reported 32,809 cases, Maharashtra 24,895 cases, Gujarat 12,283 cases and Delhi 12,888 cases.

The committee also asked the ministry to revisit the proposal to delete Section 2 of the Act relating to definition of “hazardous process".

“The Committee finds that the said Schedule has specified the list of industries involving in hazardous process and they feel that the proposed deletion of the Schedule will have adverse ramification on the workers as well as the public in general," it said.

The panel advocated that instead of deleting the First Schedule, the centre should review the list of hazardous industries as contained in the schedule from time to time, depending on the change in the production scenario so as to make the industries accountable. The panel was also critical of the centre’s proposal to increase the work spread of working time from 10 hours 30 minutes to 12 hours per day. Work spread includes real working hours, fatigue hours and rest time.

“The Committee apprehends that such a proposal might lead to the harassment of the workers on being compelled to stay in the workplace for a longer period without adequate compensation," the committee said, asking the ministry to “revisit the proposed amendment prudently".

Shyam Sunder, professor of industrial relations at XLRI, Jamshedpur, said that economists may disagree but in an Indian context, increasing overtime hours will lead to reduction in employment and may lead to exploitation of workers.

“Currently, regular workers get due emoluments for overtime but the same cannot be said about contractual workers. Other than exploitation, it will also reduce not only the number of permanent workers but shall affect the casual workers’ population, too," he said.

“Increasing the worktime spread may be aimed at reducing the number of shifts in a day but that too is not a great situation," he said, adding that instead of deleting the “hazardous process" schedule of the Act, provisions should be made to update it regularly so that the definitions stay in sync with changing times.

A labour ministry official said the ministry had presented its case in front of the committee but looking at the recommendations “they would take due action".

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