Explained: labor codes, their gradual introduction and the upcoming general strike
New Delhi: On Wednesday, a major Indian business newspaper reported that the Union Department of Labor and Employment plans to introduce the four controversial labor codes in a phased manner, starting with the introduction of at least two of each other in the next fiscal year.
The idea, according to the report which quotes a senior government official familiar with the deliberations, is to move forward with the codes, the implementation of which has been pending for more than a year now. It is even then that no final decision has yet been made on this subject.
However, the latest discussion of the codes, if true, clearly indicates a crucial shift in the position of the central government: from 2020, when the then Minister of Labor Santosh Gangwar aimed to implement the four codes at once by December of the same year. Incidentally, the ministry has since missed at least three other deadlines – April 2021, July-August 2021 and October 2021.
What prevented the central government from introducing the four codes, which were once – and still – hailed by its mandarins as “much-needed reforms” aimed at deregulating labor law restrictions to enable the creation of ” more jobs » as well as the “ease of doing business”? What does the shift – if there is one – in his thinking also mean for labor centrals, who continue to oppose the subsumption of central labor laws into codes?
Current status of four labor codes
Presented as “reforms” by the central government led by Narendra Modi, the three labor codes – Industrial Relations Code; Code of Social Security ; and Code of Safety, Health and Working Conditions – were adopted in Parliament in September 2020 without any real debate. The other code, Code on Wages, was passed in 2019. In total, they are expected to replace and subsume 29 central labor laws.
As last month, according to a press report, more than 28 months after the approval of the Wages Code by Parliament and almost 15 months after the adoption of the other three codes on social security, industrial relations and security and occupational health, not all states and union territories (UTs) across the country have yet notified their draft rules for implementing the codes.
This is because the work falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution and therefore it is necessary for the central government and the state governments to develop rules for the implementation of central legislation.
While 24 states and UTs had drafted wage code rules as of Dec. 15, according to information provided by the Union Department of Labor, only 13 had drafted workplace safety code rules. job. Similarly, for the Industrial Relations Code, 20 states and UTs have drafted the rules and for the Social Security Code, 18 states and UTs have drafted the rules.
What is the Central Government Shutdown?
While at first glance it appears that the challenges of introducing the four labor codes lie with state governments, which take time to prepare the rules for the codes, political observers have argued that the The delay in implementation was intentional: to avoid a potential cascading effect in the Assembly elections last year – this is arguably also true for the upcoming Assembly elections.
To understand why, let’s look at what the four codes imply for the labor force.
The Industrial Relations Code, which deals with labor disputes, trade unions and guarantees against dismissal and dismissal, proposes to remove the obligation to establish standing orders for the workforce in companies that employ up to to 300 workers. This legally binding document, constituting the terms and conditions of a service, currently applies to establishments with 100 or more workers.
Similarly, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, which addresses worker safety and welfare and workplace issues, allows states to grant exemptions to new factories from any provision of the Code “in the public interest which is necessary to create more economic activity and employment opportunities”, subject only to such conditions as the respective governments “deem appropriate”.
While the Social Security Code does not emphasize social security as a right, while not stipulating a specific date for the application of the schemes, according to a group of organizations, and experts say that not everything agrees with the provisions of the Code on Wages either.
So, picking up on similar questions, an economist wrote last year: “The Union government realized that there would be enormous political ramifications if these four ‘anti-worker’ codes were implemented before the next legislative elections. Another media report also suggested the role played by the economic difficulties triggered by the pandemic in reining in the central government.
Unions in arms
Moreover, there is also another challenge for the central government regarding the implementation of labor codes. The labor movement is getting emboldened after the “great victory” of farmers’ agitation that secured the repeal of reform-minded farm laws early last year.
Representatives of the working population have been protesting for many years now, arguing that the process of codifying labor law will tilt the labor regime in favor of employers.
The 10 central unions have called for a two-day nationwide strike on February 23-24. Notably, earlier this month, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body that led the farmers’ agitation, also lent its support to the TU Strike Call.
Armed with the idea of a “united” struggle against a “common enemy”, the unions place their hopes in a sustained struggle against labor codes. Recent events, such as the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first All India General Strike by conveying a similar message, testify to this.
Therefore, even though the central government has apparently changed its stance to bring labor codes in a phased manner now, after facing multiple challenges for several months now, it will mean little for the country’s trade unions, whose main demand is the removal of all four labor codes.
First published by Newsclick.