Labour Parliament may trip over welfare laws

The Centre’s proposal to exempt the small and micro enterprises from some labour laws is bound to make the May 17-18 Indian Labour Conference here stormy.

The two-day conference, also known as the Labour Parliament of India, will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Various Union and state minsters, representatives of all trade unions, employer organisations and officials will attend the conference.

A proposed piece of legislation by the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Ministry seeking to exempt the small and micro enterprises from labour laws is on the agenda of the conference. The ministry suggested that enterprises in the unorganised sector and small and micro enterprises employing less than 50 people should be exempted from all laws except  ESI Act, Employees Provident Fund Act, Minimum Wages Act and Payment of wages Act. It also recommended relaxed provisions of prohibition and regulation of contract labour by amending the Contract Labour Act, 1970.

The ministry argued that the existing labour laws had to be looked afresh to bring them in the line with the needs of a growing economy and globalisation, and also the need to provide flexibility in employment and movement of labour. It suggested that labour laws should be enforced with reduced penal provisions without undesirable discretionary power in the hands of the inspectors, with better modalities for self-compliance by making it an incentive based system.

Currently there are 44 labour laws that deal with matters like wages, labour welfare, social security, industrial relations and occupational safety and health. Though the Labour Ministry believes that specific requirements could be addressed by modifying the existing labour laws and procedures, trade unions are not willing to discuss the proposal at all.

“We are opposed to the proposal as the government wants to replace labour inspections with self-certification. We will never accept that. We also won’t accept exemption of these units from labour laws. It is illegal,” said Saji Narayanan, president of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

“The government has no answer to address the widespread inhuman exploitation of hapless employees working in MSME. Therefore, the issue of self-compliance does not arise at all,” he said.

Apart from the small and micro industries sector, even the Economic Survey has strongly argued for the exemption of small and micro enterprises from too many labour laws, saying these were hurting the growth of the manufacturing sector.
Service conditions, wages and social security for scheme workers like Anganwadi, ASHA, midday meal and similar workers, social security with special reference to assured pension for all workers, improving employment and employability skill development are other subjects to be discussed in the meet.  

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