“Dignity of labour has to be our national duty, it has to be a part of our nature.”
Numerous industry representatives applauded the Indian government’s decision to combine 29 Central labour laws into 4 labour codes because it represented a much-needed step toward simplifying the labour law system and reducing its complexity, which could be advantageous to both employers and employees.
The decision was welcome, and the intention was applauded, but in the months that followed, the implementation process brought up certain gaps and unsolved issues, leading the industry to express some worries about specific areas and call for further clarification.
Although the new labour laws have made an effort to address most issues, difficulties still exist. Since the Centre and the states must collaborate to develop regulations that are consistent with the codes and put them into practice in their true spirit, their implementation is also a matter of concern. New ideas like the gig economy, platform workers, freelancers, etc. have emerged in this new age.
In these situations, there is no contract between the employee and the employer, and the typical employer-employee relationship is disregarded, making it difficult for the employee to seek redress from the employer in the event of disagreement or exploitation. On the other hand, gender inequality and invisible labour still exist, which is concerning since it hinders the development of our economy and, more crucially, the lives of women who suffer and are compelled to live indecent lifestyles.
Concerns with the Code on Wages, 2019:
The minimum salary cannot be set by the state governments below the floor price. The problem is that all state governments set their minimum salaries alone above the legally required floor price. The government should establish a binding minimum pay rate rather than a mandatory floor wage to prevent parallel wage rates.
A Gazetted Officer must hear and decide any disagreement, according to Section 452 of the code. The fact that the officers would hear complex legal concerns without having any legal knowledge is concerning. In lieu of a judicial judge, an official with at least the rank of secretary now has the authority to impose penalties under a new provision found in Section 52 of the Code.
This clause breaches Article 503 of the Constitution, which calls for the separation of the executive and judicial branches of government. If employers can “show that they had exercised reasonable care in ensuring the execution of the Code and it was the other person who had committed the crime without his knowledge, permission, or connivance,” as stated in Section 564 of the Code, they are also immune from criminal requirements.
Concerns with the Code on Social Security, 2020
Due to the code’s inclusion of workers from only enterprises with a certain number of employees (such as 10 or 20), only these establishments are eligible for benefits like pensions and health insurance. This eliminates a huge number of workers from the programme.
The law also specifies that additional benefits, such as provident funds, pension benefits, and medical insurance benefits, are only offered to workers who earn over a certain threshold that the government may specify.
The other workers are left high and dry by such a clause. The code mandates workers and employees to disclose their Aadhaar Card numbers in order to obtain or apply for social security benefits from the career centre, which may be in violation of the Puttaswamy-II case ruling by the Supreme Court.
Concerns with the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, 2020
It includes clauses pertaining to the working conditions of just a tiny number of professions, such as stipulating that journalists cannot work more than 144 hours in a row and that sales promotion staff are entitled to supplementary leave. Other employees could see this as discriminatory.
Charitable or non-profit businesses are not covered by this code.
Concerns with the Code on Industrial Relations, 2020
Due to the Code’s requirement that all employees provide advance notice of a strike or lockout that is valid for a maximum of 60 days, both the capacity of workers to go on strike and employers to lock out workers would be impacted. According to the Code, an Industrial Tribunal’s decisions become enforceable when 30 days have elapsed. In any instance, the public authority may agree to the honour requirement under certain circumstances if doing so would benefit the national economy or social justice.
Other Challenges in Implementation:
- There were no explicit clauses addressing the responsibility of employers in pandemic-specific circumstances;
- Concerns that only raising the 300-worker cutoff point for the implementation of the approval requirement for retrenchment is insufficient for a shift;
- Concerns about dealing with unions and recognising them in industries like IT that have not had much experience on this front;
- Employee social security is not specifically addressed in small businesses and MSMEs;
- There are no concrete efforts taken to expand work possibilities.
Impact of the Pandemic:
The fight the invisible labour must endure has already been quite difficult. The fight intensified tenfold as the virus spread over the whole planet. For the first several months, when schools and workplaces were closed, individuals enjoyed time with their families and the relaxation they so much needed. However, those who were compensated were the only ones who could enjoy this relaxation.
Due to the pandemic, there was less time for leisure activities, little downtime, and no vacations. Invisible labour has always carried a heavy load, but the fact that they are still unacknowledged makes their burden much greater. It resembles a brutal race with no end.
The majority of the Codes’ clauses deal with old demands and disputes, serving as reparative justice for previous wrongs. The Code should have taken a forward-looking stance while protecting employees and addressing issues relating to automation and robotics, a workforce driven by artificial intelligence, and bioengineering that may jeopardise workers’ rights in the future.
The employees impacted by COVID-19 would get a lifeline if the Codes were implemented properly and on schedule. Although the implementation seemed to be fragmented and isolated from the actual world at the time, certain kinds may be worked out over time.