Code debate: On new labour Bills

Far-reaching in effect, the new labour codes require greater deliberation

The root of the idea of consolidated labour codes goes back to the June 2002 report of the Second National Commission on Labour. The broad vision has been to give an impetus to economic activity without adversely affecting the interests of workers. Whether this is adequately reflected in the new provisions will be tested by the experience of administering the Codes. A positive feature is that the Social Security Code promises the establishment of social security funds for unorganised workers, as well as gig and platform workers, and also says their welfare would be addressed by the National Social Security Board. A contentious section allows the appropriate government to exempt any new factory from all provisions of the Code on occupational health, safety and working conditions. The threshold for considering any premises as a factory has also been raised from 10 to 20 workers without the use of power, and from 20 to 40 with power. It is significant that almost all major trade unions are opposing the new codes. This reflects a genuine fear that expansive powers of exemption have been conferred on the respective governments and there has been excessive delegation of rule-making powers. The threshold for lay-offs, as well as for various social security schemes can be raised by executive order; safety standards can be changed. There is much reason to fear that conferring wide discretion to the central and State governments may not be conducive to the interests of workers.

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