“It is the labour indeed that puts the difference on everything”– John Locke
Labour or workers are the driving force for the production in any country. A worker gives his full input to produce output. But it’s a pity that even after working so hard, the fruit of their hardwork is used by the rich industrialists. Therefore it becomes important that the government legislates such laws which can prevent injustice with them. This protection is brought by introducing labour friendly laws that can keep a check on the working conditions, wages and other facilities received by the labour.
The Constitution of India gives fundamental right to carry on any occupation. It also mandates the government to prevent any type of exploitation. Labour comes under the concurrent list and different legislations like “Minimum wages Act, 1948 (for fixing minimum wages for skilled as well as unskilled labour), Trade Unions Act, 1926 (for registration of trade unions), industrial dispute act, 1947 (for settling industrial disputes ) etc. have been introduced at different times for workers. But these bills are huge in number which introduces complexity. At the same time, these acts are now obsolete. That’s why, Parliament has passed four labour codes by incorporating 29 existing labour laws and by accommodating a number of suggestions given by different committees. ‘Code on wages’ was passed in 2019 after merging four existing labour laws. But three codes are yet to be signed by the President.
The three bills are:
- “Industrial relations code, 2020
- Code on occupational safety, health and working conditions code, 2020
- Social security code, 2020.”
The first bill on “Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020” is passed after amalgamating Trade Unions Act, 1926, Industrial Employment (standing orders) Act, 1946 and Industrial Dispute Act” and it recommends:
- 60 day notice for a person employed in an industrial unit for going on strike. Earlier this notice was necessary for only public utility services (like electricity, telephone, water etc.) but now it’s necessary for all establishments.
- Raising the threshold of workers for which a company had to define formal conditions of employement (like holidays, paydays, wage rates etc.) from 100 to 300 i.e an industry has to define formal rules only if it has more than 300 employees rather than 100.
- The number of workers for which an industry could fire without government approval is raised from 100 to 300. 
The second bill is “Code on Occupational Safety” i.e. “Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020” which is formed after subsuming 13 acts like Factories Act, 1948, Mines Act, 1952 etc. The provisions are:
- Employement of women in all establishments for all kinds of works. Earlier, women were prohibited to do dangerous works but now they are allowed.
- Formalisation in employement by providing appointment letters
- Inter state Migrant worker also included in ‘worker’ definition and he could get benefits like construction worker cess in the state to which he has migrated.
- The provision for temporary accomodation of workers near worksite is dropped.
- Concept of journey allowance: sum paid by the employer to worker for travelling from his home to place of work and vice versa.
- Free health checkup to workers above a certain age, once a year.
- Cine workers also covered.
- The limit of workers that a contractor could supply has been increased from 20 to 50.
The “Social Security Code Bill, 2020” formed after subsuming 9 laws recommends:
- Setting up of ‘National Social Security Board’ that will recommend various schemes to Central Government
- Definition of terms like gig worker, platform worker etc.
- Providing facilities of ESIC (Employee State Insurance Corporation) to all 740 districts as compared to 566 districts in present.
- Covering all establishments with atleast 20 members in EPFO rather than only those included in the schedule.
- Schemes for comprehensive social security to unorganized sector workers.
- Gratuity for fixed term employees.
- A national database for unorganised sector workers. 
THE ISSUES RAISED:
- Earlier a company with 100 employees has to adopt a rule of conduct. But now this limit is raised to 300. Therefore, the workers working in an industry with less than 300 workers feel that their rights & protection will be waived. This provision seems to be employer friendly rather than employee friendly.
- Also, a notice is to be given by the workers before going on strike. This obstructs their right to protest & strike.
- There is a provision that government can exempt any industry from the prescribed conditions. This creates a speculation of misuse of power and shows a tilt towards corporates.
- The concept of reskilling fund is not made clear.
- Though the bill gives power to women to work at night but the arrangements for the same are not outlined. Sexual assault is a harsh reality in India and it is necessary to give priority to safety of women.
- The provision which has led to many protests is that these bills have increased the limit for which an industry can fire their workers without government approval. Earlier it was 100 but now it is 300. This creates a fear in the minds of workers that the employees will use ‘hire and fire’ policy. The government says that this is done to encourage employees to hire more workers since it was observed that when the limit was 100, the industries hired less workers to escape government permissions.
- It is recommended that the worker rights must be protected irrespective of the number of workers working in an industry.
It is true that the codified labour laws were necessary to reduce complexity but the provisions of the codes have become controversial. The government has claimed to codify some 40 laws but only 29 laws seem to be amalgamated. The laws were portrayed as labour friendly but in actual the protection to employers seems more. Although some of the provisions bring optimism but they lack clarity. For example, setting up of National Social Security Board for recommending schemes but will those schemes be enforced? Therefore it could be said that the bills might have included many aspects but the lack of clarity makes them questionable. The recent protests at Wistron Unit in Karnataka clearly show that when workers’ rights are violated the resulting action for enforcement could be devastating. Also the episode highlights the need of worker protection ever more because if a reputed firm can delay the payment of workers how could a worker in an unorganized sector feel secure. These are the issues that the bills failed to address. The bills seem to be doing injustice with both workers and employees, thus hampering both growth and worker protection. Therefore it becomes important for the government to introduced revamped bills after talking to labour unions so that the grievances of the workers could be addressed. It can be concluded that the government has to make necessary changes in the bill, otherwise India will witness a massive workers’ protest against these labour codes, which may be similar to the ongoing farmers protests.
Muskan is a 1st year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala