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Indian Parliament Passes Three Labour Bills Amid Opposition Parties’ Boycott

© AP Photo / Manish SwarupA statue of Mahatma Gandhi overlooks the Indian parliament building (File)
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi overlooks the Indian parliament building (File) - Sputnik International
The Indian government had been working on consolidation of the scattered labour laws in the country over the last one year. At least 44 labour laws have been codified and consolidated in four bills over the past year.

The Indian Parliament’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha passed three key labour reform bills on Wednesday amid a boycott from the opposition parties.

The opposition parties believe the passage of the bills will provide industries with the unrestrained power to hire and fire workers whenever they like. The bills were passed in the lower house, the Lok Sabha, on Tuesday.

The Bills in question are the Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020, the Code on Social Security Bill, 2020 and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020.

Farm workers load harvested maize crop onto a tractor trolley in a field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, February 1, 2019.  - Sputnik International
Indian Farm Reform Bills: Why Farmers & Opposition Politicians Take a Stand
The opposition, led by Congress party, has been protesting the tabling of the Bill in the Lok Sabha since Tuesday. The party along with other opposition parties boycotted the Rajya Sabha proceedings when the bill was taken up in the House.

Former cabinet minister and senior Congress parliamentarian Jairam Ramesh tweeted earlier in the day: “All members of Parliament of the Congress and like-minded parties are marching from Gandhi statue to Ambedkar statue in Parliament, protesting the anti-farmers, anti-workers Bills that have been rubber stamped in Parliament in the most undemocratic manner by the Modi government.”

Two Farm Bills were also passed by the Indian parliament amid a lot of ruckus by the opposition parties on Sunday.

The government, however, maintains that the labour bills passed by the Indian Parliament will be a “historic game changer”.

During the discussion on the bills in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, federal Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar said, “the objective of labour reforms is to have their labour laws in line with the changing world of workplace and provide an effective and transparent system, balancing the needs of workers and industries.”

​Not only the country’s opposition, but a key ideological ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party  -- the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh – a labour body – has expressed its distaste for the new legislation passed by the parliament.

Expressing its objections, the labour body in a statement said: “In the new provision of the sole negotiating union, eligibility is a mere 51 percent or more. In the previous draft, it was 75 percent. This is an overt attempt to monopolise a single union and eliminate all other unions.”

The provisions of the bills being passed today can be understood as:

Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020

The Industrial Relations Code Bill subsumes the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Trade Unions Act, 1926, and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.  It lays down provisions for the recognition of trade unions, notice periods for strikes and lock-outs, standing orders, and the resolution of industrial disputes. 

The bill stipulates that for trade unions to be registered, int's necessary for them to represent at least 10 percent of the workers, or at least hundred workers. Also, a union which represents 51 percent of the workers at the establishment will be recognised as the negotiating union.

In order to call a strike, provisions have been made for a six-week notice. The bill provides that to lay off employees, a factory with 300 employees or more will have to obtain the prior permission of the government.

Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020

The Bill consolidates 13 existing regulations on health, safety, and the working conditions of workers. This applies to any establishment which has at least 10 workers. The bill lists the obligations of the employers, which include providing a workplace that is free from hazards. The bill also stipulates that free annual health check-ups be provided for the benefit of the workers.

As per the provisions of the Code on Social Security Bill, the central government can announce social security schemes for the welfare of workers.  The schemes could be related to the provident fund, insurance fund or pension fund.

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