Friday 15 September 2017

Will include unions say on labour reforms, says Gangwar

 New Minister says labour law reforms, employment will be priority

The newly-inducted Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar said on Sunday that labour law reforms will be expedited and the government will put in efforts to bring the trade union on board.

“We will focus on creating job opportunities for our large youth population. The process of labour reforms will speed up and we will find a way out with the help of consultations with the trade unions,” Mr. Gangwar told The Hindu over phone.

After coming to power, the government announced a move to combine 44 labour laws into four codes — one each on industrial relations, wages, social security, and occupational safety, health and working conditions. However, the government has been able to introduce only the Code on Wages Bill in the Parliament so far due to scores of protests by the labour unions. The trade unions went on a single-day nationwide strike for two consecutive years since 2015 protesting some of the labour law changes along with pressing for other demands.

"The labour law reforms initiated by the government initially is slowly losing steam. Industries need quick and flexible labour law changes," a senior industry executive said, on the condition of anonymity.

Challenges evident

The challenges in undertaking the labour law reforms process was evident when former Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya had called a meeting of labour unions on Friday to take forward the discussions on amending the law to make it easier for companies to retrench employees and to raise severance pay. The central trade unions protested and some leaders even threatened to boycott the meeting on the grounds that not even a 24-hour notice was given to them before calling a meeting on such an important law change.

However, the meeting was soon called off after Mr. Dattatreya was asked to relinquish his ministerial job. Later in the day, he submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and flew back to his home state Telangana.

The Union government has faced embarrassment with various official estimates pointing to a sluggish pace of job creation. The unemployment rate rose to a five-year high of 5% in 2015-16, according to the latest annual household survey on employment conducted by Labour Bureau. In fact, the enterprises survey undertaken by the Bureau showed worst results — job creation stood at a six-year low of 1.35 lakh.

However, Labour Ministry officials defended, “Job creation is not the mandate of the Labour and Employment Ministry alone. It has to be a coordinated effort of all the government departments put together.”

So, Mr. Gangwal’s first task would be to expedite the process of drafting a National Employment Policy — a process that had begun a few months back.

As the Textile Minister in 2014, he had suggested flexible labour laws for the industry, including a proposal to increase the overtime limit for workers from 50 hours to 100 hours in a quarter. While the Cabinet approved a special package for employment generation in textile and garment sectors in June 2016, the Lok Sabha passed changes to the Factories Act of 1948 proposing to increase the overtime limit for workers from 100 hours in a quarter.
However, the Factories Amendment Bill is yet to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha before it can become a law. Further, the Cabinet decision to allow optional employees’ provident fund contribution of 12% of the income for textile sector employees earning less than Rs 12,000 is yet to find a final shape as it will require an amendment to the Employees' Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.
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