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.[1]  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.[2]  At present, there are more than 1700 employments notified by the central and state governments.[3]

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.[4]   

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,[5]  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.[6]  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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.


[1]. Report of the National Commission on Labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2002,

[2]. Entries 22, 23 and 24, List III, Seventh Schedule, Constitution of India.

[3]. Report on the Working of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2013,

[4]. Report on Conditions of Work and Promotions of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector, National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, 2007,

[5]. Report of the Working Group on Labour Laws and other regulations for the Twelfth five-year plan, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2011,

[6]. Section 1(3), National Minimum Wage Act, 1998,

[7]. Section 206(a)(1), The Fair Labour Standards Act, 1938,

[8]. G.O. (P) No.36/2017/LBR, Labour and Skills Department, Government of Kerala, 2017,

[9]. Section 25(1), Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950

[10]. C030-Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention (No. 30), 1930,

In April 2020, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that nearly 2.5 crore jobs could be lost worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.  Further, it observed that more than 40 crore informal workers in India may get pushed into deeper poverty due to the pandemic.  In this blog post, we discuss the effect of COVID-19 on unemployment in urban areas as per the quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report released last week, and highlight some of the measures taken by the central government with regard to unemployment.

Methodology for estimating unemployment in PLFS reports

The National Statistics Office (NSO) released its latest quarterly PLFS report for the October-December 2020 quarter.  The PLFS reports give estimates of labour force indicators including Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Unemployment Rate, and distribution of workers across industries.  The reports are released on a quarterly as well as annual basis.  The quarterly reports cover only urban areas whereas the annual report covers both urban and rural areas.  The latest annual report is available for the July 2019-June 2020 period.

The quarterly PLFS reports provide estimates based on the Current Weekly Activity Status (CWS).  The CWS of a person is the activity status obtained during a reference period of seven days preceding the date of the survey.  As per CWS status, a person is considered as unemployed in a week if he did not work even for at least one hour on any day during the reference week but sought or was available for work.  In contrast, the headline numbers on employment-unemployment in the annual PLFS reports are reported based on the usual activity status.  Usual activity status relates to the activity status of a person during the reference period of the last 365 days preceding the date of the survey.

Unemployment rate remains notably higher than the pre-COVID period 

To contain the spread of COVID-19, a nationwide lockdown was imposed from late March till May 2020.   During the lockdown, severe restrictions were placed on the movement of individuals and economic activities were significantly halted barring the activities related to essential goods and services.  Unemployment rate in urban areas rose to 20.9% during the April-June quarter of 2020, more than double the unemployment rate in the same quarter the previous year (8.9%).  Unemployment rate refers to the percentage of unemployed persons in the labour force.  Labour force includes persons who are either employed or unemployed but seeking work.  The lockdown restrictions were gradually relaxed during the subsequent months.   Unemployment rate also saw a decrease as compared to the levels seen in the April-June quarter of 2020.  During the October-December quarter of 2020 (latest data available), unemployment rate had reduced to 10.3%.  However, it was notably higher than the unemployment rate in the same quarter last year (7.9%).

Figure 1: Unemployment rate in urban areas across all age groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)


Note: PLFS includes data for transgenders among males.
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.

Recovery post-national lockdown uneven in case of females

Pre-COVID-19 trends suggest that the female unemployment rate has generally been higher than the male unemployment rate in the country (7.3% vs 9.8% during the October-December quarter of 2019, respectively).  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this gap seems to have widened.   During the October-December quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate for females was 13.1%, as compared to 9.5% for males.

The Standing Committee on Labour (April 2021) also noted that the pandemic led to large-scale unemployment for female workers, in both organised and unorganised sectors.  It recommended: (i) increasing government procurement from women-led enterprises, (ii) training women in new technologies, (iii) providing women with access to capital, and (iv) investing in childcare and linked infrastructure.

Labour force participation

Persons dropping in and out of the labour force may also influence the unemployment rate.  At a given point of time, there may be persons who are below the legal working age or may drop out of the labour force due to various socio-economic reasons, for instance, to pursue education.  At the same time, there may also be discouraged workers who, while willing and able to be employed, have ceased to seek work.  Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the indicator that denotes the percentage of the population which is part of the labour force.  The LFPR saw only marginal changes throughout 2019 and 2020.  During the April-June quarter (where COVID-19 restrictions were the most stringent), the LFPR was 35.9%, which was lower than same in the corresponding quarter in 2019 (36.2%).  Note that female LFPR in India is significantly lower than male LFPR (16.6% and 56.7%, respectively, in the October-December quarter of 2019).

Figure 2: LFPR in urban areas across all groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)


Note: PLFS includes data for transgenders among males.
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.

Measures taken by the government for workers

The Standing Committee on Labour in its report released in August 2021 noted that 90% of workers in India are from the informal sector.  These workers include: (i) migrant workers, (ii) contract labourers, (iii) construction workers, and (iv) street vendors.  The Committee observed that these workers were worst impacted by the pandemic due to seasonality of employment and lack of employer-employee relationship in unorganised sectors.  The Committee recommended central and state governments to: (i) encourage entrepreneurial opportunities, (ii) attract investment in traditional manufacturing sectors and developing industrial clusters, (iii) strengthen social security measures, (iv) maintain a database of workers in the informal sector, and (v) promote vocational training.  It took note of the various steps taken by the central government to support workers and address the challenges and threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic (applicable to urban areas): 

  • Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), the central government contributed both 12% employer’s share and 12% employee’s share under Employees Provident Fund (EPF).  Between March and August 2020, a total of Rs 2,567 crore was credited in EPF accounts of 38.85 lakhs eligible employees through 2.63 lakh establishments.
  • The Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojna (ABRY) Scheme was launched with effect from October 2020 to incentivise employers for the creation of new employment along with social security benefits and restoration of loss of employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Further, statutory provident fund contribution of both employers and employees was reduced to 10% each from the existing 12% for all establishments covered by EPF Organisation for three months.  As of June 30, 2021, an amount of Rs 950 crore has been disbursed under ABRY to around 22 lakh beneficiaries.
  • The unemployment benefit under the Atal Beemit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana (launched in July 2018) was enhanced from 25% to 50% of the average earning for insured workers who have lost employment due to COVID-19.
  • Under the Prime Minister’s Street Vendor’s Aatma Nirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme, the central government provided an initial working capital of up to Rs 10,000 to street vendors.  As of June 28, 2021, 25 lakh loan applications have been sanctioned and Rs 2,130 crore disbursed to 21.57 lakh beneficiaries.

The central and state governments have also taken various other measures, such as increasing spending on infrastructure creation and enabling access to cheaper lending for businesses, to sustain economic activity and boost employment generation.