In the last few months, when the nation’s entire focus and energy were on grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and positioning, post the intrusion at the LAC by China, three major legislations were introduced and passed in Parliament, quietly but efficiently. These historic laws will certainly propel the country into a new trajectory and help determine how we will govern the key activities in our society. The laws I am referring to are the New Educational Policy, the Farm Bill and the three Labour Codes.
I will only focus on the three Labour Codes relating to Industrial Relations — the Code on Wages (which was passed last year), the Code on Social Security and the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions and their impact. Interestingly all the Codes were first formulated by the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE), Government of India, soon after the NDA-1 came to power in 2014. They were debated and deliberated, within and outside the Parliament over the last five years. Only a vibrant democracy like ours had the patience and commitment to this kind of massive stakeholder consultation, which included setting up of four Parliamentary Committees, nine Tripartite discussions, 10 Inter-Ministerial Committees and multiple roadshows across the nation.
In my opinion, these are not just “labour laws and labour reforms” but a historic move which will determine how the three stakeholders — employers, employees and the government will conduct business with each other. A few takeaways –
· For the first time, the laws have comprehensively covered the unorganized, gig, platform, and migrant worker as a constituent. For decades, the labour laws had focused only on the organized (often unionised) category who were barely 10% of the total work-force. Nearly 50 crore of the working population now has something for them in the new laws, starting with getting an appointment letter. The scope has gone far beyond conventional items like wage settlement, dispute resolution, strikes, standing orders, and union recognition to basic conditions of work covering hygiene, health, safety, old age and maternity benefits, gender equality, accident relief, social security for all categories of engagement. It is not just the permanent work-force on the payrolls of the employer.
· Emerging sectors like new services, digital media and the gig economy have been covered in the legislation.
· Industry’s compulsion to get flexibility in employee engagement has been recognized and provisions have been so made. There is a boost to being agile and competitive.
· The interface of employers as well as employees with the government/ regulators has come under greater scrutiny. Ease of Doing Business, Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat schemes are reflected across the legislations where the government has to move towards simplification, rationalization, digitization, deemed approvals etc.
All in all, there is an attempt to bring in dignity, equity, security, safety, flexibility, agility and accountability for the larger ecosystem. There are benefits as well as responsibilities for all the stakeholders, including the government itself.
In my understanding, this is a unique emergence of the new ecosystem which will focus on:
· Flexibility, competitiveness, agility, ease of doing business for the employers
· Dignity, equality, safety, social security, mobility, identity to all classes of employees
· The Government, while ensuring compliances, will play the role of a facilitator and promoter for equitable development, leading to growth and employment.
As my good friend, Dr. Naushad Forbes, wisely opined, “the challenge now is to convert Rhetoric into Reality.”
(Mr. Pradeep Bhargava is the ex-president of MCCIA and an independent director at Persistent Systems. This is an edited excerpt from the article that appeared in the November 2020 edition of Sampada, the monthly magazine of MCCIA. The complete issue of the magazine can be accessed at https://www.mcciapune.com/media/Publication/Publication_File/final_Oct_-_Nov_Diwali_Issue_2020_2.pdf )