Industrial Relations Code: Experts & unions against bill, express worry
This bill faces strong opposition from trade unions cutting across the ideological line and disapproval of experts for undermining labour rights and welfare
The centre is carrying out a massive overhaul of the Labour-related laws in India, in the very first change in the laws since their creation after the independence. The Industrial Relations Code 2019 (IR Code) was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. This is the third ‘code’ in the series of four which are framed to amalgamate and rationalise more than 40 central laws governing labour affairs.
There’s a high chance that you didn’t know about this, because there wasn’t a shouting-match organised on TV regarding these codes. But, these laws or codes are very crucial for anyone working in any of the sectors.
Before the IR code, two other bills - (a) Code on Wages 2019 was introduced and passed by the Parliament in the previous session and (b) Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2019, which was introduced in the previous session, is now pending with a standing committee for deliberations.
Another code on Social Security is to be introduced in the parliament. These codes form the quartet of codes which are to replace 44 labour laws, aimed at bringing 'ease of doing business' and simplify legal tangles associated with the "archaic" laws.
But if experts are to be believed, this ‘codification’ could jeopardise the interest of whatever little rights labourers in India achieved over prolonged struggles.
The issues with the code
Let’s take the IR code for example. It seeks to amalgamate, simplify and rationalise provisions of three central enactments relating to industrial relations -Trade Union Act of 1926, Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act of 1946.
This bill faces strong opposition from trade unions cutting across the ideological line and disapproval of economists for undermining labour rights and welfare.
Professor KR Shyam Sundar of XLRI’s Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur is of the opinion that the IR code virtually bans the legal strike and dilutes rights and bargaining powers of the workers.
He says that legal strike will become virtually impossible because now (a) industrial disputes would come under one resolution process or the other during the timeframe fixed for strike (before a conciliation officer, tribunal or arbitration and award processes) and (b) throwing open the option of approaching the tribunal to anyone to bring it under the resolution process. He points out that redefining strike to include mass casual leave would make even coincidental leaves vulnerable to stiff penalties.
Even the RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) demanded that the government should send the Industrial Relations Code Bill to a parliamentary standing committee for a redraft as certain provisions are against the interest of workers.
In a statement, the BMS also said that the government has no business in interfering with internal matters of Trade Unions like fixing the rate of subscriptions payable by the members, prohibition on person holding an office of profit as office bearer, restraining outsiders as office bearers, protecting members of trade unions who do not participate in strike thereby creating split and weaken trade union etc.
Trade union activist R Karumalaiyan sees these codes as an attack on the labour by the capital as they strip off the labourer of the many rights they had fought for over the years. In fact, he suggested that the trade unions across the country are going to take the route of agitation and protest against these codes.
Another provision which has been rejected by the unions is the one defining "fixed-term employment" to mean engagement of a worker on the basis of a written contract for a fix period with all statutory benefits like social security, wages etc. on par with the regular employee doing similar work, thereby extending it to the entire industry. BMS is of the opinion that it would create a new category of workers as permanent jobs would be converted to fix term jobs with social security and wages at par with the former but "no job security or permanency".
The IR code restricts outsiders in unorganised sector-trade unions, which also has become a flashpoint between the trade unions and the government. Prof Sundar says this is "not a good labour policy as it discourages empowerment of unorganised sector workers".
So, even though these changes fail to make it to the headlines & shouting-matches, they are extremely important for any organisation, employee and how employment is regulated.