Minister of State for Labour Santosh Gangwar rightly pointed out in the Rajya Sabha today that the changes that the Narendra Modi government is bringing to the codes for management of workers in industrial units would make the proposition of doing business in India more attractive while they would also provide the employees with better social security. The reduction of 29 labour laws into four labour codes means not scaring away investors with the sight of a legal quagmire awaiting them, should they put their money in this country. The expected opposition to the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, Code on Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code, 2020 and Social Security Code, 2020, are hackneyed. Just because it is now easier to terminate jobs does not mean employers in units with fewer than 300 workers would turn quixotic overnight to wreck their own businesses by sacking labourers left, right and centre. In any case, the poorest of the lot in the labour force are contracted and they join the work and leave in batches together. The government has embraced the unorganised sector by broadening the definition of the migrant worker. As for the middle class, except for some tricky situations rarely observed in the corporate sector, the ‘Atmanirbhar Shramik’ can rest assured they have now a better deal with assured salaries, the ability of firms with fewer than 20 workers to join the EPF, the ESIC coverage of all 740 districts of the country and an expectation that a workforce much larger than 30% of 50 crore people — the pathetic percentage was an eyesore in the ironically present 44 labour laws — would avail the protection the state offers them.
If the Social Security Code applies only to the labour force in mobile application-based firms, or if the proposals for health and occupational safety helps only those working in factories, mines and docks, they are matters of corrections with little tweaks in the laws. It must be noted that the opposition parties are hardly raising these specific issues, which gives the impression that stalling the parliamentary proceedings was their primary objective. Boycotting the upper house by walking out in protest of the suspension of raucous MPs, they handed a walkover to the treasury benches, making the government’s floor management a cakewalk. Rather, they should have challenged every assertion by the government that merited questioning, one opposition MP at a time on his or her turn to speak. It is now clear that the pandemonium on the first day of the monsoon session with the excuse of upholding the democratic norm of holding the Question Hour was a mere ruse. When the practice resumed the next day, the opposition unabashedly refused to utilise the permission from the chair. If the opposition misled the nation by falsely claiming that procurement of agricultural produce and MSP would be discontinued, it is now, in an equally pretentious manner, going about the country spreading the canard that the trade unions’ right to protest stands annulled. The fact is that the notice period only brings sanity to the work atmosphere. The prevailing but awkward Indian culture of taking society for granted to begin and end any work any time is not conducive to the economy of the country or the individual employee. The right to call and go on a strike otherwise stays unaffected.
The only hurdle — and this is a big one — on the way of doing business in India now remains the local administration, the most notorious in harassing entrepreneurs in the name of inspections. While for reforms, one looks up to the union government, the 16 states that have long enhanced the threshold of the number of workers to allow easy recruitments and retrenchments must be lauded. And the outcome observed in these states that now see more jobs and less sacking demonstrates that the opposition’s paranoia is unfounded. Most importantly, the proposed changes in the labour laws bring India’s worker management closer to the international standard and all markets in the world that follow comparable regimen have seen both high growth and communities of empowered and happy workers.