Push comes to shove when govt talks labour

Push comes to shove when govt talks labour

The government aggressively pushed through labour reforms, even during its early months in power.

The government took up changes in law that were pending for some years, and got some of them passed despite strong opposition from trade unions.
The coming months may see speeding up of more controversial reforms. If 2014 saw ideological confrontations and symbolic protests, 2015 may see incidents of aggressive stances.
The Rajasthan government has already passed acts and is implementing changes that were seen as anti-labour, including amendments to the Industrial Dispute Act. The Modi government may introduce some of these acts sometime next year.
The Centre successfully amended two major laws — the Apprentice Act and Labour Laws (Exemption from Filing Returns and Maintaining Registers).

Strong protests
The Winter session of Parliament passed amendments to both the acts despite strong protests by trade unions namely CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, and the Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS). The amendments also faced opposition inside Parliament from parties including the CPM, CPI and the Janata Parivar parties. 

The labour law amendment will exempt companies employing up to 40 workers from many obligations. Earlier, the exemption was available to companies that had 10-19 workers. 

The Bill further amends the original law, the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988, which had made maintenance of registers and filing returns in a specified format mandatory.

This amendment provides for maintaining registers in computers or other electronic media.  Companies can now file returns electronically and submit electronic data to labour inspectors when they are asked for it.

However, there will be no penalty for non-compliance.

The Bill has also amended the list of legislations covered by the original law. Earlier, exemption was available for nine laws, to which seven more laws were added.

The amendments to the Apprentice Act contain major changes like freedom from obligation to regularise 50 per cent of apprentices. The stipend during apprenticeship could be the minimum wage of an unskilled worker. The employer will not be imprisoned for non-compliance, as was provided in the basic act.
CITU leader A K Padmanabhan has alleged that the amendments would allow employment of workers at low wages in the name of apprenticeship.    
Power-driven factories
Amendments to the Factories Act, passed by the Lok Sabha but pending with the Rajya Sabha, propose further liberalisation of the labour scenario.

They exempt power-driven factories with less than 20 workers, and 40 workers in those without it, from compliance with labour laws.

Trade unions allege that these changes will deprive about 70 per cent of workers of statutory benefits. 

The changes in the Factories Act permit deployment of women in night shifts, albeit with an arrangement of dropping them off securely.

The changes also include raising the limit of overtime from 50 to 100 hours per quarter in some cases, and from 75 to 125 hours in works of public interest.

The new year may see the introduction of the Small Factories Bill, which proposes to exempt employers of small factories — those employing up to 40 workers — from complying with 14 Labour Acts.

It also proposes to restrict trade union activities and permit easy firing by employers. The working hours and leave procedures are also in favour of employers.

The government claims that the amendments are aimed at increasing production and making business easy. These major reforms are sure to meet stiff opposition form trade unions, leading to industrial unrest in the coming year.

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