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Labour codes will miss July date as states aren’t ready, govt target now 1 Oct: Gangwar

Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar tells ThePrint recent state elections & pandemic delayed process. The 4 labour codes passed in 2019 can’t become operational until rules are notified.

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New Delhi: The implementation of the Narendra Modi government’s four labour codes is being delayed due to the tardiness on the part of the states to finalise rules that are in their sphere, said Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Labour and Employment.

Labour is part of the concurrent list and both states and the Centre have to notify the rules under their respective jurisdiction. Without the notification of rules, the codes cannot become operational.

In an interview to ThePrint, Gangwar said: “It’s true we wanted to start it (notifying rules) earlier but many states are yet to finalise their rules. They are slowly working towards it…”

He added: “We wanted to notify the rules from 1 July but I think we will have to give some more time to the states. I am hopeful states will be able to finish their part by September and we will be able to notify the rules from 1 October.”

While the Parliament had passed the code on wages in August 2019, the other three — on industrial relations; occupational safety, health and working conditions; and social security — were passed in September 2020.

The move simplified the archaic labour laws by consolidating the over 100 state and 40 central laws into four codes.

The labour ministry, which has finalised the rules under the central jurisdiction, had planned to notify the rules from 1 April but could not as states were not ready.

Gangwar said that as labour is on the concurrent list, anything that has to be done must have the consensus of the states as well.

“We are pursuing with states to conclude all exercises required for notification of rules. We want to avoid a legal vacuum where the Centre notifies the rules under its sphere but the states are yet to finalise their rules,” the minister said.

He added that they have had several rounds of discussions with states and all other stakeholders. “States, be it from our party or the opposition, are giving positive views. But the process to finalise the rules takes time. The recent assembly elections in some of the states followed by the Covid pandemic delayed the process,” he said.

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4 states, 1 UT have published draft rules under all labour codes

So far, only Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have published the draft rules under all the four codes, according to labour ministry officials.

“Some states like Punjab have published draft rules under all three codes except the occupational safety, health and working conditions. Gujarat and Odisha have published draft rules under the wages code while Karnataka has published draft rules under industrial relations code,” said a ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

States like Haryana, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Sikkim, Tripura and Jharkhand are in the last stages of finalising their draft rules, the official added.

It will take another month or two before Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, which recently concluded their assembly elections, finalise their rules.

After the draft rules are published, states have to give time between 30 and 45 days to invite comments and suggestions from all stakeholders. The rules can be finalised and notified only after relevant comments and suggestions are incorporated.

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Labour reforms are ‘historic’

Calling the labour reforms “historic”, Gangwar said the process to reform these laws started after Independence.

“It has been going on. It got momentum when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. A labour commission was set up. It had recommended that labour laws should be amalgamated into four or five codes,” he said.

“But it was only in 2014, after our government came again under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, we restarted the process and finally got it approved by the Parliament,” added Gangwar.

The labour minister said it’s for the first time that this government thought of the welfare of unorganised sector workers.

“So far, most of the policies and schemes catered to the organised sector workers only, whose number ranged from 9 to 10 crore. And there are approximately 40 crore unorganised sector workers. Nobody thought about them. But now we are trying to bring them under the ambit of labour codes so that they get the maximum benefit,” he said.

For the first time, Gangwar said, the labour code will universalise social security coverage for unorganised sector workers including migrant workers, gig and platform workers working in app-based companies like Zomato and Uber.

Talking about the impact of the labour reforms, the minister said it will give a big impetus to economic activity without compromising the welfare of workers.

“It will streamline all the processes. Earlier, employers had to file some 31 returns, now it has come down to just one. Earlier, there were 12 definitions of wages, now we have just one definition. Similarly, we have just one definition of establishment from earlier 10 definitions,” the minister said.

Aggressively readying national database for unorganised workers

Asked about the status of the national database for unorganised workers, Gangwar said his ministry is aggressively working towards it.

“The idea is to make it user-friendly, simple and at the same time effective. It will take some time,” the minister said.

The labour ministry informed the Supreme Court last week that it will require another three-four months to make the national database operational.

The database, being set up at a cost of Rs 704 crore, will have details of different social sector and welfare schemes run by the central and state governments targeting the unorganised sector workers. Besides, the workers will also be able to avail the benefits of these schemes by registering and applying through this portal.

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