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Union cabinet approves bill to merge 13 labour laws into single code

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Occupational, Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, also known as the OSH Code, that seeks to merge 13 central labour laws into a single code which would apply on all establishments employing 10 or more workers.

The decision was taken at the Union Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, environment and information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said. It’s a clear indication that the Narendra Modi government, in its second term, is ready to push ahead with labour reforms.

The OSH Code is the second major labour reform approved by the government. It cleared the Wage Code last week that contained “provisions of minimum wages and payment of wages to cover employees in both the organised and unorganised sectors”, unlike the current Minimum Wages Act and the Payment of Wages Act that apply only to employees engaged in certain kinds of jobs.

The OSH code will cover 400 million workers in the organised and the unorganised sectors and encompass provisions from around 13 labour laws, including the Factories Act, the Mines Act, the Dock Workers Act, the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees Act, and the Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers Act.

India’s labour laws are complex and cumbersome and the government’s plan is to simplify them into four codes: wages; OSH; industrial relations; and social security. For instance, according to government officials, the OSH Code will ensure that provisions pertaining to 622 sections in 13 laws will now be simplified and covered by just 134 sections.

It will now be mandatory for employers not just to provide a safe working environment, but also to have annual medical examinations for all employees. The code also says that women working in mines should be provided creches for children under the age of six.

The code also suggests showers or bathing places and locker rooms with separate ones for women mine workers. The code empowers every employee to demand information.

“This government increased the maternity leave for women. This code will help increase the number of women in the workforce,” said a person directly involved in the framing of the code who asked not to be identified.

“The biggest difficulty with our labour laws is that the multiplicity of labour laws has been a nightmare for employers and employees. As our economy evolved and the labour force grew, the government kept adding new laws without considering that contradictions might arise with older laws. So 2014-19 saw a repeal of over 10 laws seen as redundant. The remaining 35 or so have been rationalised into four codes. What this attempts to do is fantastic but the devil lies in the details,” said Santosh Mehrotra, a professor of economics at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

First Published:
Jul 11, 2019 01:30 IST

Source: HindustanTimes