Bring domestic, gig economy workers under labour laws: House panel says


New Delhi: Domestic workers should be brought under the purview of labour laws, allowing them social security and other benefits, a parliamentary panel has recommended.

The standing committee on labour, headed by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, has said it is high time domestic service and domestic workers get the benefits of various labour laws.

In its report submitted to the Lok Sabha Thursday, the committee said it is “incumbent upon the government to chalk out requisite modalities with a sense of urgency so as to bring the domestic service under the purview of industrial enactments”.

Domestic workers are at present categorised under the unorganised sector and do not enjoy any benefits such as minimum wages or fixed work hours that employees in the organised sector are entitled to.

The Union labour and employment ministry, however, has expressed reservations. In its submission to the panel, the ministry has said it will be practically impossible to enforce industrial-dispute mechanisms in individual households if domestic service is added in the definition of industry.

Panel wants more rights for unorganised sector

The parliamentary panel, which reviewed the Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill 2019, has recommended including an exclusive chapter that clearly spells out the applicability of various provisions, including grievance redressal mechanisms, to workers in the unorganised sector.

The industrial relations code is one of four legal remedies that the labour ministry has proposed to reform the country’s archaic labour laws. The four codes are an amalgamation of 44 labour laws. The other three codes involve wages, social security and safety, health and working conditions.

The panel has suggested that all the workers engaged in the unorganised/informal sector, including those employed under various government schemes (Anganwadi, ASHA workers) and in the gig economy (for example, Ola, Uber drivers), should be included in the unified definition of employee/worker recommended. This, it says, will enable the workers to avail of the benefits under various labour laws.

Committee seeks clarity on employer liability in natural calamity

The Modi government has appealed to employers to not deduct worker salaries during the Covid-19 lockdown but the industrial relations code is not very clear on the aspect of pay during crises.

The parliamentary panel has now sought clarity from the labour ministry on whether employers should continue paying wages during natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, among others, which result in closure of establishments for a considerable period without the employer’s fault.

While it may be justified for employers to pay 50 per cent of the wages to workers for 45 days in case their establishment stops functioning because of power shortage, breakdown of machinery, etc, the panel has said, it may be “unjustifiable” in case of natural calamities.
“The committee, therefore, desires that clarity to the above extent be brought in the relevant clauses so that employers not responsible for closure or layoffs are not disadvantaged in case of such natural calamity of high intent,” the report states.

‘Time limit for gratuity payment should be reduced to 1 year’

The parliamentary panel has also recommended reducing the job duration that makes one eligible for gratuity benefits, from five years to one year. This, government sources said, will allow contract workers avail of gratuity payments.

Currently, unlike regular employees, contract workers are not entitled to such benefits because they are hired for a short duration.

The panel has also recommended that, in order to guarantee job security, there should be a minimum and maximum tenure specified in the industrial relations code for hiring workers under fixed-term employment.

‘Bonus, conveyance & house rent should be under wages’

The committee has also suggested including bonuses, conveyance allowance and house rent allowance under the definition of wages despite the ministry’s reservations.

The ministry, in its submission to the panel, said, “The reason behind not to include additional components under the wages is to give relief from the extra burden on employer as well as on the employee in the sense that the provident fund contribution, ESI contribution, payment of retrenchment compensation and gratuity are decided on the basis of monthly wages and increase of additional component will increase the amount of ESI etc.”

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