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As part of the wage code bill, the Centre will fix the national floor wage keeping in mind the geographic areas. Photo: HT
As part of the wage code bill, the Centre will fix the national floor wage keeping in mind the geographic areas. Photo: HT

Govt introduces in Lok Sabha two labour reform bills merging 17 existing laws

  • The wage code will subsume four existing laws, while the occupational health code will merge 13 related laws
  • The Central government may, before fixing the floor wage, obtain the opinion of an advisory board or state governments

The Union government breathed life into the stalled labour reform process on Tuesday by introducing two labour code bills—merging 17 existing laws related to wage and occupational safety of workers.

While the Code on Wages Bill, 2019, aims to simplify the wage and bonus payments rules, besides mandating a national minimum wage, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, aims to improve the working condition of workers across all establishments with 10 or more employees.

The wage code will subsume four existing laws, while the occupational health code will merge 13 related laws.

According to the wage code bill tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the Central government shall fix the national floor wage keeping in mind the geographic areas. Thus, instead of one national minimum wage, the government may go for several floor rates, a suggestion that had initially come from a government panel in March. The Economic Survey 2019, released earlier this month, had also talked about such a possibility.

Also Read | Follow Rajasthan's model for labour reforms: CEA to other states

“The minimum rates of wages fixed by the appropriate government under Section 6 shall not be less than the floor wage and, if the minimum rates of wages fixed by the appropriate government earlier is more than the floor wage, then the appropriate government shall not reduce such minimum rates of wages fixed by it earlier," the bill stated.

The Central government may, before fixing the floor wage, obtain the opinion of an advisory board or state governments.

The minimum wage shall be reviewed and revised every five years, it added.

Both bills faced resistance from Opposition parties, which sought more consultation. “What is the compulsion of clubbing four bills together in the wage code? Who among the trade unions have asked for a code on wages? This is being done to benefit the employers and the voice of the labourers will not be heard," Saugata Roy, senior Trinamool Congress leader, said in the Lok Sabha.

The bill on occupational safety should be sent to a parliamentary standing committee as it has a vast ambit, including trade unions, tribunals, employers and employees, said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress legislature party.

“I would like to oppose the two bills. The convention of the House on labour-related bills is tripartite consultation and no consensus has emerged till now…this is against the precedents of the House. The second bill should be sent to a standing committee and exhaustive tripartite consultations should be held," said N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

Labour minister Santosh Gangwar defended the bill saying his ministry has held “widespread consultations with 13 trade unions, state governments and employers". Gangwar, however, conceded that he will support what the majority of the members decide.

The labour ministry also said that the occupational health code will benefit millions and facilitate ease of doing business. “The bill proposes one registration for an establishment instead of multiple registrations. At present, six labour Acts out of 13 provide for separate registration of the establishment. This (the bill) will create a centralized data base and promote ease of doing business," the ministry said in an email.

Read Also | Time to simplify India’s archaic labour laws

As part of the code, employers will conduct free annual health checks-up for employees, the ministry said, adding that it was needed to improve productivity.

On wage code, the ministry claimed that it would “universalize the provisions of minimum wages and (ensure) timely payment of wages to all employees irrespective of the sector and wage ceiling". However, the bill did not prescribe the national floor rate of 178 per day, as had been said earlier, to avoid controversy. An internal labour ministry committee had suggested that the minimum wage be fixed at 375 per day, plus a monthly housing allowance.

Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha on Tuesday also discussed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019.

The bill to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was introduced in the Lower House by Union home minister Amit Shah on 8 July. It proposes special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, and individuals and groups that foster terrorism in India.

Shaswati Das contributed to this story.

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