Labour Code: Striking The Chord Of Reform


The Industrial Relations Code (2020), the Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code (2020), and the Code on Social Security (2020), along with the previously passed Code on Wages (2019), not only recognizes the recent experiences of the workers but also promises to safeguard their rights. Although it is impossible to highlight all the benefits of the three codes in this short article, we discuss here three provisions from the regulations, one from each, to emphasize their relevance.

One of the critical provisions of the Industrial Relations Code (2020) is that it provides a mechanism for the recognition of a negotiating union. In the absence of it, the workers were previously divided between multiple conflicting union leaders pursuing individual political agenda in the guise of amplifying workers’ grievances. As a result, spreading unrest was a primary goal than negotiating an acceptable deal. This also used to put the firms in conflict. They were unsure of the union that represented the majority of the workers.

Taking cognizance of this limitation, the bill suggests that the union commanding the support of at least 51% of workers on the muster roll of the industrial establishment would be recognized as the negotiating union. The bill also acknowledges that there could be a divided house, where no single union is backed by 51% of workers. In that case, it directs the firm to form a negotiation council, with representatives from all unions who have at least a 20% support base among the workers.

In summary, firms cannot be reluctant anymore from negotiating with workers. And workers are no more helpless followers of the union leaders but empowered actors who can frustrate his relevance. This reform is in line with the Kerala Trade Union Recognition Act, 2010.

Next, among many provisions, the Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code (2020) mandates that the Government maintain a record of inter-State migrant workers. While we diligently record the list of NRIs and the PIOs, unfortunately, the humble worker toiling away in another State has remained “hidden.” Else, why would the Govt admit in the Lok Sabha that it has no records on the migrant workers’ deaths owing to the pandemic? The country will not forget for a long time the endless serpentine queues of the workers on its highways. The fear of the pandemic being matched by the pain of their hunger. So, the maintenance of such a database would be the first step in recognizing their contribution to nation-building.

The code also recommends an annual journey allowance for the worker to visit home. It enables him to benefit from the public distribution system either in his native State or in the State he is employed. The code, therefore, lends confidence to the inter-State migrant worker, who has to leave behind the familiarity of his home for economic pursuits. In a diverse country like ours, boasting of 22 languages and varied topography, this assists them in adapting to an uncommon context.

Last, the Code on Social Security recognizes the emergence of a new category of workers. The platform and gig workers are a common sight all around in current times, but with rights undefined and unprotected as yet. Accordingly, the bill defines platform work and suggests that the Central Government would formulate and notify social security schemes specific to these workers.

Specifically, the schemes would cover the worker’s life and disability, would provide insurance against accidents, assure health and maternity benefits (including crèche), as well as provide for old age protection. Essentially, the bill ensures that the platform workers would not be deprived of their rights just because of the nature of their work.

Mahatma Gandhi had once remarked, “The true measure of any society can be found on how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The labour codes are indeed making an effort to reduce the vulnerability of the workers.

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