Looking beyond the ensuing Wage Code for labor
Tejinder Singh Bedi
Initially introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2017, the draft wage code bill 2017 is reportedly at its final stage in almost a year. The parliamentary standing committee to which it had been referred to for scrutiny is understood to have finalized its report and ready for submission of the same in the ensuing monsoon session of the parliament that might be able to take it up for its passage by both the houses next, according to Santosh Gangwar; the Union Minister for Labor. The best feature of the bill is that hereafter states will not be able to set minimum wages below the benchmark set by the Centre.
By seeking to combine all of the multiple Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Minimum Wages Act, 1949, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, into one code, besides ensuring equal minimum wage for equal work (for same skills and for both the genders — transgenders included too hopefully) across all states, it would rationalize common cut off dates for disbursement of wages on the due dates.
Speaking at the International Labour Day celebrations this May day in New Delhi, Gangwar had said that his ministry wants 38 labor laws to be subsumed into four broad codes — wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational safety and health and working conditions. The code in the offing would address the most important and basic part regulating minimal wage payments.
The rationalization of labor laws will remove many ambiguities often arising due to the multiplicity of definitions for same subjects and appropriate authorities, leading to ease of compliance without compromising wage security and social security to workers.
Introduction of a unified registration form for Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), besides one single electronic challan-cum-return (ECR or return) to facilitate filing of EPFO and ESIC return through a unified process only is another long-pending step towards simplification of procedures to avoid duplicate efforts by employers at multiple windows with different time-lines for filing leading to un necessary paper work, when both the provident fund and the employees state insurance statutory deductions are affected in one common payroll or in very few cases a manual payment of wages register still.
One hopes the other three pending codes on Industrial Relations, Social Security, and Occupational Safety, Health and Working conditions too get finalized soon. The ambit of the Industrial Relations code needs to be broadened to cover Industrial and Employee Relations — as large numbers of employers indulge in many unfair labor and employment practices especially invoking the definition of a Supervisor and statutory conditions of employment provided for them.
Occupational safety needs to consolidate parallel, over-riding or conflicting provisions in the Workmen Compensation Act 1923 and the Employees State Insurance Act 1948 besides other Acts providing for accidental compensation to visitors (other than employees) required to work inside the factories/establishments for on-site jobs, installations, inspections etc. The Health &
Working Conditions Code similarly needs to broaden its scope to cover all aspects of protection of environment beyond conditions of work alone. Most importantly a time limit needs to be fixed for all cases pending in labor courts and tribunals automatically granting decisions favoring the workmen or employees where litigation at all levels put from conciliation to legal remedies has crossed or crosses a period of say 5 years.
The Union and State labor ministries should post all such cases dragging for more than 5 years on their websites and update the same for scrutiny by parliamentary/legislative committees or even the offices of the Prime Minister/Chief Ministers of the states concerned.
While there is no doubt that subsuming the multiplicity of various labor laws and simplification of the process of implementation and compliances thereof is a long pending need, the crux will still lie in the sincere enforcement of the same. Maximum violations are still occurring in religious implementation of The Contract Labor(Abolition & Regulation) Act read with most otherlabor laws — from The Factories Act 1948, The Payment of Wages etc (now to be passed as the proposed Wage Code), The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1936 and for rightful remittances of their Provident Fund deductions, Employees State Insurance premia, compensation in the event of accidents arising and during the course of their employment and this can be achieved only if the PF, ESIC, Labor inspectors and other senior officials can be restrained from hobnobbing with the contractors and the principal employers, who often find it much easier to keep this tribe happy through monthly or yearly bribes than complying with all the provisions of the applicable laws.