Central trade unions have warned of further intensifying the agitation at the state level and in industrial belts. (PTI)
Central trade unions have warned of further intensifying the agitation at the state level and in industrial belts. (PTI)

Facing backlash from unions, government likely to go slow on labour reforms

  • The Industrial Relation Code and Social Security Code have been sent to a standing committee
  • Central trade unions went on a nationwide strike on 8 January and have warned of an intensified agitation at the state level and in industrial belts

NEW DELHI : The government has hinted it will go slow on big-ticket labour reforms and will encourage a larger debate on proposed labour codes after a nationwide strike by workers drew millions last week.

The Industrial Relations Code 2019 and the Code on Social Security 2019, introduced in Parliament last month, have been forwarded to the standing committee on labour by the Lok Sabha Speaker for evaluation and suggestion, the ministry of labour and employment announced on Wednesday.

“There is resistance from several quarters and it’s better to go a bit slow and take everyone along in the labour reform process," said a government official separately, not wanting to be named.

Opposition political parties and trade unions have said that the government should not hurry in pushing its labour reform bills without a wide enough debate and discussion in the standing committee.

With Industrial Relations Code and the Code on Social Security now going to the standing committee, three of the proposed four labour codes are up for discussion at the Bhartruhari Mahtab-led parliamentary standing committee. The other bill already with the committee is the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code. The government has merged 44 central laws into four labour codes. Apart from these three, there is a code on wages that has already got parliamentary approval.

“The (standing) committee has decided to invite memoranda containing views/suggestions separately on each code from the public in general and NGOs/ experts/ stakeholders and institutions," the labour ministry said.

The standing committee is expected to submit the report in three months but is not bound to do so and can thus take more time to complete its consultations and give suggestions on what changes can be made in both the laws, said the official mentioned above.

“It means these bills are unlikely to be taken up for passage at least during the budget session which ends on 3 April," another official said. “At a time, when people are unhappy and protests are a regular affair, it’s better to not complicate the situation further through labour codes," the official said.

Central trade unions went on a nationwide strike on 8 January and have warned of an intensified agitation at the state level and in industrial belts. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which is linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, stayed out of the strike but had written on 28 November to the labour ministry accusing it of taking a “casual approach" to labour reforms.

The Industrial Relations Code proposes to make it easier for an employer to engage and disengage workers based on requirement. It promotes contractualization of workforce, proposes to reduce the influence of workers’ unions in collective bargaining and makes it difficult for workers to go on strike, among other things.

“The government feels labour reform is for improving ease-of-doing-business. But where is labour welfare in policy making? If the labour laws ignore the working class, they don’t have any option than to go on strike to make their voice heard," said Amerjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress.

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