The labour ministry is holding discussions with HR heads across sectors to address concerns over the Wage Code. Issues will be addressed through Rules without altering the current structure of Codes, labour and employment minister Bhupender Yadav told ET’s Yogima Seth Sharma and Deepshikha Sikarwar in an interview. Edited excerpts:
There is a lot of speculation on the timing of implementation of the Labour Codes. When are these likely to be rolled out?
The Labour Codes will be implemented as soon as possible. Around 26 states have notified Rules on Codes on Wages and all states are working on notifying Rules on all the four Codes. We have partly implemented the Social Security Code but we want to see all four together in a comprehensive manner. The government will do everything through consensus and in a transparent manner.
There are differences between employers and employees on Wage Code. What is the way out?
There are no differences as such. Certain things can be sorted out through the Rules. These are things of discussion and we are building up a consensus. On a monthly basis, we hold discussions with trade union leaders and heads of the human resource department of companies.
Will we go ahead with the present structure of the Codes or is there a possibility of tweaks?
Codes have already been passed in the Parliament. Various states are drafting Rules on these Codes and we are building up consensus as we go forward.
What is the government’s assessment of the recovery in the labour market?
The government has relied on the Periodic Labour Force Survey, which shows there has been an increase in employment in rural areas. In the organised sector, we have the payroll data of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation and the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), which shows there has been an increase in formal sector employment. We also have the Labour Bureau’s Quarterly Employment Survey and its second report shows there are an additional 0.2 million jobs created and the number of registered units have gone up. We believe in data sanctity and have produced transparent data, which has no rebuttal. Altogether, these data sets show a positive picture of employment generation in the country.
What is your assessment of the unorganised sector workers?
There is a need to match the job opportunities with skill sets available in the country. We are working on this through the National Career Service portal and the e-Shram portal going forward. In the unorganised sector, which is 90-94% of the country’s total workforce or an estimated 380 million, we have collected data for nearly 260 million unorganised workers through the e-Shram portal and have recognised 400 occupations. Our Labour Codes are futuristic. India is one of the few countries in the world that has recognised gig and platform workers in our Codes and they have been registered on the e-Shram portal. Most importantly, we are also addressing their concern for social security and medical benefits and once the Social Security Code comes in, we will expand the scope of benefits of the Employees State Insurance Corporation.
What is holding back the labour ministry from implementing the social security scheme for gig workers?
All this is being discussed. We want to do it in a holistic manner and by taking every stakeholder on board. We want to implement all the Codes though consensus and discussions are on with all stakeholders.
What is the status of the migrant workers survey and the survey on domestic workers being done by the Labour Bureau?
We have met all unions members and representatives of domestic workers. Domestic workers are across multiple occupations but those primarily involved in household chores are a big chunk. It has immense scope and we need to be concerned about their social security. We are waiting for the findings of the survey on the work conditions and social security of the domestic workers.
The parliamentary standing committee, had in the past, raised questions on functioning of ESIC hospitals run by state governments. What is the ministry’s stand?
This is an area of ESIC. Currently, payment to doctors in ESIC hospitals is done by state governments and there is a difference in wages too. There is a need to revise wages of our doctors in some of the super speciality hospitals of ESIC. We have taken a conscious decision at the ESIC board meeting that the wages will be paid directly to the doctors by ESIC while they will continue to work under the state governments.
Has the labour ministry done any assessment on the impact of the pandemic on the services sector?
We have seen some dip in employment generation in hotels and hospitality but in the IT sector and hospitals, there has been a boom. The key point is we need to digitally equip the workers. We have tied up with Microsoft under Digi Saksham project, under which we will skill, reskill and upskill our workers.
Will professionals get covered under the EPFO?
Currently, it is not under consideration. EPFO has a ceiling and the responsibility of a welfare government is to help the worker at the last mile though its schemes. Besides, those who are capable and can afford, have other options of social security as well.
What are the measures being considered to increase female labour force participation?
Female participation, female economic independence and female social security is the focus area of this government. The new Wage Code stresses on gender equality and the government is concerned about the issue. We will decide when there is a need for it.
Is the ministry deliberating on guidelines for work from home, considering that it has become a new form of work during and is here to stay?
While we have come out with guidelines for the IT sector, deliberations are on for other sectors on work from home. We will take a view once the various survey reports are out.
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