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Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar  (ANI)
Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar (ANI)

Amid Opposition's protests, govt introduces three labour codes in Lok Sabha

Companies having not less than 300 workers will soon be allowed to hire and fire workers without seeking prior govt permission, a three-fold jump in threshold

New Delhi: The union government Saturday introduced three labour codes afresh on social security, industrial relations and occupational safety in the Lok Sabha, amid criticism from opposition parties that the government was overlooking parliamentary process in bringing them afresh hurriedly, and the bills may face “judicial scrutiny".

While the Industrial Relation Code Bill 2019, Occupational Safety, Health And Working Conditions Code, 2020 and the Code On Social Security, 2020 will accelerate labour reform and improve ease of doing business, opposition political parties blamed the government for bringing three new and important labour bills on a single day without any stakeholders’ consultations.

Once it becomes a law, the Industrial Relation Code will allow companies with up to 300 workers to fire workers without prior approval of the government, a three-fold jump in threshold. It was on the table and being discussed for past six years.

Currently, only those industrial establishments with less than 100 employees are permitted to hire and fire their staff without permission of the government.

“We have included 174 out of 233 of the recommendations of the standing committee on labour across three codes and they are being introduced again as they have undergone substantial changes," Labour and employment minister Santosh Gangwar said in Lok Sabha while introducing the bills.

Gangwar said even the preamble of the Social Security Code has undergone changes in the fresh bill when compared with the bill which was earlier in the Lok Sabha but was withdrawn on Saturday. “The government has held nine tripartite consultations, and 10 inter-ministerial consultations during the drafting stage of the codes," the minister said.

Once enacted, the codes will give flexibility to firms in hiring and firing, in closing units, reduce trade union influence in companies, and pave way for state level labour reforms. This will also expand the social security net for a segment of the informal workers, especially the gig and platform workers. Interestingly, the labour ministry withdrew all the three codes it had introduced last year and tabled fresh bills on Saturday.

Opposition leaders like Congress parliamentarians Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) of Kerala parliamentarian N.K. Premachandran objected to the introduction of these bills and underlined that the since government has introduced new bills, they should have gone for fresh consultations with all stakeholders before introducing them in the House.

Tewari said as per the pre-consultative process, when a bill is introduced, at least it should be put in public domain for 30 days. This should have been followed as the codes have gone through substantial changes, he said in the Lok Sabha.

Tharoor objected to the introduction of new bills underlining how mandatory two days of time should have been given to the House to study the bills, and said it was given to the members just two hours early. He urged the government to consider the standing committee reports on labour codes in full and bring the bills back to the house. “The alternative would be to face constitutional challenge in the court…does he wants a judicial scrutiny again," Tharoor said after sharing over a dozen point objections in the house.

Tewari said the bills have left too many issues to be decided by the executive during the rule making process and also claimed that the social security bill is discriminatory in nature. He said “notwithstanding the government's avowed objectives in order to consolidate the labor laws, you will still have multiple paradigms, which will continue to exist, which will defeat the entire purpose of the exercise, which has been attempted by this codification".

“Labour rights are…fundamental freedoms, which have a struggle of hundred or 200 years behind them…these fundamental freedoms, cannot be left to the vagaries of the executive or delegated legislation," the Congress MP said.

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