As part of government’s flagship reforms for labour were passed by the Rajya Sabha today. The opposition, which boycotted both houses since yesterday, had written to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, asking that the contentious bills not be passed “unilaterally”. “It will be a blot on democracy,” wrote the opposition, which has been on the warpath since the Deputy Chairman of the upper house did not allow physical voting for the contentious farm bills on Sunday. Soon after passing the bills, Rajya Sabha was adjourned indefinitely in view of the coronavirus infection, which has hit more than 25 parliamentarians till now.
The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, the Industrial Relations Code 2020 and the Code on Social Security, 2020 were passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday and now only needs President Ram Nath Kovind’s signature.
Introducing the laws in the upper house, junior labour minister Santosh Gangwar said they will provide a “safe environment” for workers. “Social security benefits have also been added. This will be in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resolve for a universal social security,” he added.
MPs of the Congress and like-minded parties held a march from the Gandhi statue to the Ambedkar statue in parliament premises today. They are protesting the “anti-farmers, anti-workers bills that have been rubberstamped in Parliament in the most undemocratic manner by the Modi government,” tweeted Congress’s Jairam Ramesh.
The government claims that bills will bring in reforms to ensure easier compliance with labour standards worldwide. This, in turn, will help bring in foreign investment. Sixteen states have already increased the threshold for closure, lay off and retrenchment in firms with up to 300 workers without government permission, the minister said.
The opposition and labour unions contend that the bills make it easier to lay off workers and put restrictions on their right to protest. The Industrial Relations Code Bill allows companies with up to 300 workers to lay off people without the state government’s approval. So far only companies employing up to 100 people were allowed to do this.
Under the same law, no industrial worker is allowed to go on strike without a 60-day notice. So far such rules were applicable on only those involved in public utility services like water, electricity, natural gas, telephone and other essential services. Workers in essential services are required to give a six-week notice before any strike.
The Code on Social Security Bill extends social security funds only to workers for app-based firms like Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato. But labour unions claim more is needed as these workers continue to remain in a legal grey zone. They are often treated as independent partners who are not covered under most labour regulations.
The proposed bill on health and occupational safety helps only those working in factories, mines and docks and are not universal in nature, contend the labour unions, which have joined hands with the farmers in their protest against the farm sector bills that were passed on Sunday.
Labour organization Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, which is affiliated to the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has opposed the labour code bills. The organization, which has issued a series of demands, contended that the laws were passed in a hurry.
In June last year, the government decided to condense 44 existing labour laws into four codes. The move was expected to help foreign companies do business in India — a process that was crucial in view of the economic downturn. The codes involved social security, occupational safety, health and working conditions and industrial relations. One of the codes, the Code on Wages Bill, 2019, has already been passed.