Presently, there are around 40 state and central laws regulating different aspects of labour, such as resolution of industrial disputes, working conditions in factories, and wage and bonus payments. Over the years, some experts have recommended that these laws should be consolidated for easier compliance. Since the current laws vary in their applicability, consolidation would also allow for greater coverage.
Following these recommendations, the Code on Wages was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2017. The Code consolidates four laws related to minimum wages, payment of wages and bonus, and a law prohibiting discrimination between men and women during recruitment promotion and wage payment.
The Code was subsequently referred to the Standing Committee on Labour for examination. The Committee has met some experts and stakeholders to hear their views. In this context, we explain the current laws, key provisions of the Code, and some issues to consider.
Who will be entitled to minimum wages?
Currently, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 lists the employments where employers are required to pay minimum wages to workers. The Act applies to the organised sector as well as certain workers in the unorganised sector such as agricultural workers. The centre and states may add more employments to this list and mandate that minimum wages be paid for those jobs as well. At present, there are more than 1700 employments notified by the central and state governments.
The Code proposes to do away with the concept of bringing specific jobs under the Act, and mandates that minimum wages be paid for all types of employment – irrespective of whether they are in the organised or the unorganised sector.
The unorganised sector comprises 92% of the total workforce in the country.1 A large proportion of these workers are currently not covered by the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Experts have noted that over 90% of the workers in the unorganised sector do not have a written contract, which hampers the enforcement of various labour laws.
Will minimum wages be uniform across the country?
No, different states will set their respective minimum wages. In addition, the Code introduces a national minimum wage which will be set by the central government. This will act as a floor for state governments to set their respective minimum wages. The central government may set different national minimum wages for different states or regions. For example, the centre can set a national minimum wage of Rs 10,000 for Uttar Pradesh and Rs 12,000 for Tamil Nadu. Both of these states would then have to set their minimum wages either equal to or more than the national minimum wage applicable in that state.
The manner in which the Code proposes to implement the national minimum wage is different from how it has been thought about in the past. Earlier, experts had suggested that a single national minimum wage should be introduced for the entire country.1, This would help in bringing uniformity in minimum wages across states and industries. In addition, it would ensure that workers receive a minimum income regardless of the region or sector in which they are employed.
The concept of setting a national minimum wage exists in various countries across the world. For instance, in the United Kingdom one wage rate is set by the central government for the entire country. On the other hand, in the United States of America, the central government sets a single minimum wage and states are free to set a minimum wage equal to or above this floor.
On what basis will the minimum wages be calculated and fixed?
Currently, the central government sets the minimum wage for certain employments, such as mines, railways or ports among others. The state governments set the minimum wage for all other employments. These minimum wages can be fixed based on the basis of different criteria such as type of industry or skill level of the worker. For example, Kerala mandates that workers in oil mills be paid minimum wages at the rate of Rs 370 per day if they are unskilled, Rs 400 if they are semi-skilled and Rs 430 if they are skilled.
The Code also specifies that the centre or states will fix minimum wages taking into account factors such as skills required and difficulty of work. In addition, they will also consider price variations while determining the appropriate minimum wage. This process of fixing minimum wages is similar to the current law.
Will workers be entitled to an overtime for working beyond regular hours?
Currently, the central or state government define the number of hours that constitute a normal working day. In case an employee works beyond these hours, he is entitled to an overtime rate which is fixed by the government. As of today, the central government has fixed the overtime rate at 1.5 times normal wages in agriculture and double the normal wages for other employments.
The Code proposes to fix this overtime rate at twice the prevailing wage rate. International organisations have recommended that overtime should be 1.25 times the regular wage.
Does the Code prohibit gender discrimination between workers?
Currently, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 prohibits employers from discriminating in wage payments as well as recruitment of workers on the basis of gender. The Code subsumes the 1976 Act, and contains specific provisions which prohibit gender discrimination in matters related to wages. However, unlike in the 1976 Act, the Code does not explicitly prohibit gender discrimination at the stage of recruitment.
How is the Code going to be enforced?
The four Acts being subsumed under the Code specify that inspectors will be appointed to ensure that the laws are being enforced properly. These inspectors may carry out surprise checks, examine persons, and require them to give information.
The Code introduces the concept of a ‘facilitator’ who will carry out inspections and also provide employers and workers with information on how to improve their compliance with the law. Inspections will be carried out on the basis of a web-based inspection schedule that will be decided by the central or state government.
. Report of the National Commission on Labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2002, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/1237548159/NLCII-report.pdf.
. Entries 22, 23 and 24, List III, Seventh Schedule, Constitution of India.
. Report on the Working of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2013, http://labourbureaunew.gov.in/UserContent/MW_2013_final_revised_web.pdf.
. Report on Conditions of Work and Promotions of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector, National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, 2007, http://nceuis.nic.in/Condition_of_workers_sep_2007.pdf.
. Report of the Working Group on Labour Laws and other regulations for the Twelfth five-year plan, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2011, http://planningcommission.gov.in/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp12/wg_labour_laws.pdf.
. Section 1(3), National Minimum Wage Act, 1998, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/39/pdfs/ukpga_19980039_en.pdf.
. Section 206(a)(1), The Fair Labour Standards Act, 1938, https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf.
. G.O. (P) No.36/2017/LBR, Labour and Skills Department, Government of Kerala, 2017, https://kerala.gov.in/documents/10180/547ca516-c104-4b31-8ce7-f55c2de8b7ec.
. Section 25(1), Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950
. C030-Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention (No. 30), 1930,http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312175.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.