August 2, 2019
Dola Sen speaks on The Code on Wages Bill, 2019
Thank you, Sir. This Government has earned a track record for passing Bills in haste. In this session too, Bills have been passed mostly without parliamentary scrutiny. The Opposition continuously urges the Government to refer Bills to committees. For The Code on Wages Bill, the Standing Committee suggested recommendations, out of which 17 have been incorporated by the Government. This is a comparatively better example of how a Bill should be passed after scrutiny and not in a hurry like other Bills. Though still there are gaps in this case also, to which I will come later. The Government has to follow the system and not have a hasty approach towards passing Bills. Parliament has always scrutinised about 60 to 70 per cent of Bills. Last government, it was down to 26 per cent. In this session, only 10 per cent of the bills have been scrutinised.
Sir, in this phase of long discussions at the Standing Committee level, as I am in the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Labour, we heard and incorporated suggestions from central trade union representatives that is employees’ representatives, chambers as employers’ representatives and civil society experts and academicians also. Some Standing Committee recommendations included in the Bill, I will refer to two/three, Central and State Governments must revise minimum wages at an interval of not exceeding five years. Before fixing the floor wage, the Central Government may obtain the advice of the Central Advisory Board and must consult with State Governments. If an employer has made deductions but has not deposited them in any trust of Government fund, like PF, ESI etc, then the employee will not be held responsible.
Still, there are some important gaps in the Code on Wages Bill, 2019.
Firstly, the employee or worker definition: the Bill has two separate definitions for employees and workers which could cause confusion and lead to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended a single comprehensive definition should have been inserted for both, leaving no scope for confusion. ‘Who are the traditional workers’, the definition must be definite.
Secondly, mismatch with the private sector: It has been argued by the Standing Committee that the structure of remuneration as reflected in the Bill does not reflect the current salary structure used by most private sector firms. I am sorry to say that there is some mismatch in the Government sector also.
Discrimination on the basis of gender: the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 prohibits gender discrimination not only in the matter of wages but also in hiring. This Bill dilutes this provision.
Payment of wages: This Bill stipulates that an establishment may be notified to pay all wages digitally or be transferred to an employee’s bank account. But today’s reality cash payment is also essential like tea gardens area, jute mills area etc.
In political campaigning, we tell Sir, equal pay for equal work. But in reality, there are differences. Not only that, the central minimum wage according to Government gazette notification is Rs 600 and that at State level is Rs 300. But your last Cabinet recommendation, which you (minister) also referred to, is to reduce it to about Rs 176 only. Sir, we have come to know from media also whatever the Circular said. With due respect Sir, do you think that working people are fools?
Sir, I have some more suggestions:
The formula for fixing the minimum wages is kept out of the Bill. The proposed Bill on wages has denied the agreed formula of wage calculation as per the 15th Indian Labour Conference and an add-on 25 per cent as directed by Supreme Court judgment in Messrs Raptakos case which was repeatedly and unanimously accepted by the 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conference. This is one of the major drawbacks in this Bill.
As per Clause 14 of this Bill, the appropriate Government may fix the number of working hours for a normal day. At present, the minimum working hours is eight. This clause has to be re-visited in view of constitutional values of our country, Sir. Working hours should not be beyond eight hours a day; a phrase should be added- not exceeding eight hours a day in this relevant section. It is very important Sir. Through your good office Sir, I would request you to incorporate and look into this.
Wage-related abuses are intimately linked to serious human rights abuses. The proposed Bill on Code on Wages, 2019, shifts from criminal liability to civil liability in matters pertaining to wages, payment of wages and payment of bonuses. Sir, we must remember that Right to Life is our mandatory right according to our Constitution and without wage, how can the Right to Life be restored, Sir? Bonus is added wage or deferred wage, Sir? We are not considering the bonus component in true sense in this Bill. That should be clear according to the law of the land, Sir.
One more important point Sir, is with respect to the PF and ESI board has more than (you will be astonished after hearing) that they have on an average 80,000 and 70,000 corpus funds. The Centre is planning to invest these corpus funds in share markets. But most industries do not pass on PF or ESI benefits. Please look into it, Sir. There is a large gap in the subjective wish written over here and the mere objective reality. What is going on all over as I’m involved in the trade union sector for the last 25 years. Let us hope for the best so that we sincerely recover the gap. For example in BSNL, over lakhs of contractual employees are not getting salaries for the last 6-7 months. But their duties are going on and the contractors’ contract is also through by the BSNL management. But the Government is trying to bypass the matter stating that it is not their fault. I’m sorry, but you have to look into it also Sir.
I think that the main problem lies in implementation. What measures should be taken is absent in this Bill. I would like to know whether you have any concrete solution that will help us and whether there will be any monitoring specially for the inspector regime. Bills, Minimum Wages Act, are there since 1948. Now we are going to bring the Bill on Code on Wages, 2019. I would like to know humbly, whether a Code can repeal a Law of such a long period? According to the Minimum Wages Act 1948, Central Government has published gazette notification for six to seven scheduled employments only for the last 70 years on an average. Whereas in our state of Bangla, the State Government led by respected Mamata Banerjee has already published Minimum Wage Gazette notification in state level on September 29, 2011 for 63 scheduled employments with 2700 calories intake per day per worker, according to WHO guidelines. Whereas in the earlier era in West Bengal, led by CPI(M), had in this respect a huge gap of 33 years from 1978 to 2011. Central Government should follow Bangla model in this respect also.
One more very important issue: we prefer tripartite conciliation instead of bipartite. Because, conventionally in bipartite settlement there is a chance to be a middleman on trade union part. But, in tripartite settlements, trade union leaders have to be a good catalyst.
Moreover, we are considering Government as an important stakeholder and in front of Government conciliation officer, there is no question of taking undue advantage or, giving undue pressure on any side and also Government presence assures no violation in industrial law and labour law as well. The tripartite agreement should be done amicably Sir and specifically if the Central Government also published Government Gazette notification for 50/60 at least schedule employments, then the tripartite discussion also should be time bound and upto the mark with that gazette notification.
According to the law of the land, the contractual employees are the responsibilities of the principal employer. Contracts may be changed a thousand times, but the principal employer and the contractual employees remain unchanged. That is why in case of the minimum wage according to Government Gazette notification, PF, pension, ESI, gratuity, bonus, leave, perennial nature of job, 30 days’ payment with 26 days of work – all these statutory rights of contractual workers Government calls upon the principal employer along with contractor in tripartite discussion. Because it is the mandatory responsibility of the principal employer only to comply with the law of the land.
The Code on Wages Bill must be applicable to both the organised and unorganised worker as well. At the time of implementation of The Code on Wages Bill 2019 to settle the minimum wages in Central level also and mandatorily in State level, concerned State Governments should be concerned in true sense.
Sir, I will conclude but I would like the Government to take notice of these points and ensure holistic legislation and I would like companies to keep always in mind the welfare of their labourers and their employees in all they do. If your labourers and employees are happy, if you consider them human beings with dignity, you will be a successful company. On the other hand, I feel that the workers and the trade unions must understand and announce “save the industry, save the worker” (শিল্প বাঁচাও, শ্রমিক বাঁচাও) and in this way, their role should be acknowledged as constructive and responsible. In the last, the role of the Government should be considered as an important stakeholder Sir and that will give industrial peace and harmony all over. Anth mein hum ek mazdooron ki baton se khatam karenge, yeh hain ki, ‘Mazdoor chahe to aapna bhagya badal sakta hain, Mazdoor chahe to fir ye duniya badal sakta hain, itni himmat hain mazdooron ki, Uthao naara!’ Vande Mataram.
Thank you Sir.