25/11/2019 : The Hindu Editorials Notes: Mains Sure shot
Context- Government’s draft rules to the Labour Code on Wages Act 2019.
- The President has given his assent to the Code on Wages, 2019, that had earlier been approved by Parliament.
- The Code, which replaces four laws — the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965; and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 — seeks to regulate wages and bonuses for all workers employed by any industry, trade, business or manufacturer.
- While the Code is now law, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has published the draft rules for implementing the provisions and sought comments from stakeholders.
- Following the consultation, the Centre will notify the rules that will create the mechanisms to fix a floor wage that would then undergird the minimum wages for different categories of workers — unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled — that the States and Central government would have to set and enforce.
Details of the code:
- The Code acknowledges that the aim in setting the floor wage is to ensure “minimum living standards” for workers and the draft rules incorporate criteria declared in a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in 1992.
- These include the net calorific needs for a working-class family (defined as the earning worker, spouse and two children or the equivalent of three adult consumption units) set at 2,700 calories per day per consumption unit, their annual clothing requirements at 66 metres per family, house rent expenses assumed at 10% of food and clothing expenditure, as well as expenses on children’s education, medical needs, recreation and contingencies.
- The rules, similarly, cover almost the entire gamut of wage-related norms including the number of hours of work that would constitute a normal working day (set at nine hours), the time interval for revision of dearness allowance, night shifts and overtime and criteria for making deductions.
- A separate chapter of the draft rules also deals with the payment of bonus while another lays down the guidelines for the formation of the Central Advisory Board as well as its functioning.
Minimum wage suggestions:
- While a national minimum wage of ₹176 per day had been recommended in 2017, an expert committee constituted by the Labour Ministry in 2019 recommended that a “need-based national minimum wage for India” ought to be fixed at ₹375 per day (₹9,750 per month). The committee had also mooted payment of a city compensatory allowance averaging up to ₹55 per day for urban workers.
- Earlier, in 2015, the Seventh Central Pay Commission had recommended setting the minimum pay for government employees at ₹18,000 per month.
- In September 2019, the Delhi government set a minimum wage of ₹14,842 per month for unskilled workers after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the local government, brushing aside the objections raised by a plethora of employers’ associations.
- It was expected that the draft rules to the Act would be a ‘game-changer’ to the status quo as far as the lives of workers in the informal sector are concerned.
- It was believed that informal workers who account for 93% of the total working population and contribute to over 60% of India’s GDP had finally been acknowledged for their contributions to the nation-building process.
- An in-depth reading of the draft rules does not match this glorious picture and has in effect, by creating a façade of false promises, struck a blow against the aspirations of millions of workers in the informal sector.
- The points of contention include the nine-hour working day definition, a lack of clarity in the rules on the scope for up-gradation of workers’ skill category and the lack of representation for trade unions in the wage fixation committee.
- The ultimate success of the Code will be determined by the extent to which the minimum wage set is both fair and actually implemented so as to benefit the millions of workers in the unorganised sectors of the economy.
Failure to consider a living wage:
- It was expected that the rules would have considered the Supreme Court of India’s landmark jurisprudence in the ‘Raptakos’ case (1991) which advocated the concept and the right of a living wage.
- ‘Need-Based Minimum Wage’ is a Supreme Court jurisprudence (covering nutrition, health care, education, housing and provisions for old age as well). Therefore it was expected that in the draft rules, it would have been treated as a fundamental constitutional right for every citizen of India.
- The proposed framework to determine wage will continue pushing ‘starvation wages’ in India. This has been done by proposing the concept of a floor wage: in the draft rules.
- In effect, this would mean that “starvation wages” which currently guarantees just ₹178 per day, will continue to exist and this government, like the ones preceding it will not go beyond offering the minimum needs of life (food, clothing and housing).
- One can imagine the plight of workers by just looking at the recently reported “Consumer Expenditure Survey” result; it shows the average family expenditure in rural areas to be ₹83 per day, and in urban areas as ₹134. These figures show how workers will continue to live in exploitative and marginalised conditions, where their constitutional right to a fair wage will be infringed upon by employers and the state.
- The concept and intention of floor wage in the draft rule only reiterate archaic principles which were echoed by the Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court in U. Unichoyi And Others vs. The State Of Kerala.
- In the above case, the court remarked, “In an underdeveloped country which faces the problem of unemployment on a very large scale, it is not unlikely that labour may offer to work even on starvation wages”.
- Unfortunately, this situation still prevails in India where the labour market preys on the excess availability of workers for whom living a precarious life is their permanent mode of existence.
- In such a situation, they continue to be lured to work at their will on less than minimum wages, and in exploitative conditions.
- A floor-level wage would only encourage and exacerbate this archaic practice and promote forced labour.
Labour inspection system:
- Another huge concern with the law is in its provision of an arbitrary deduction of wages (up to 50% of monthly wages) based on performance, damage or loss, advances, etc.
- In a country such as India, where employers, due to their higher social status, continue to exploit labour with impunity, this provision will only continue to push workers further into exploitative conditions, stamping on their bargaining power and rights of association.
- This will make the lives of workers worse as the draft rules do not clarify the governance and institutional structure for the “labour inspection system” in the law.
- The International Labour Organisation’s Labour Inspection Convention of 1947, ratified by India, provides for a well-resourced and independent inspectorate with provisions to allow thorough inspections and free access to workplaces. Ignoring these provisions, the draft rules propose another ad-hoc and unclear mechanism called the “inspection scheme”.
- In the absence of clarity in the draft rules, workers will not be able to demand even basic work rights in the fear of wage deductions and will continue to be oppressed and marginalised.
- Working people who form the backbone of the Indian economy are a national asset and in view of the everyday survival and livelihood issues faced by millions of workers in India, due to their underprivileged social status and caste in comparison to that of employers and the state, a well defined Labour Code on Wages is the need of the hour.
- It is worth mentioning that the governments of Delhi and Kerala have not only managed to achieve a living wage jurisprudence in recent years but have also set the highest living wage in India (₹14,842 a month in Delhi and ₹600 a day in Kerala).
- Granting the constitutional right of a guaranteed minimum wage should be the way forward.
- Such a move will also increase income capacity and the purchasing power of the informal workers and offer a way out of the crisis of the current economic slowdown.
GS-3 Mains ( Security)
- Reports suggest that an attempt is underway to shift the operational control of Assam Rifles from the Army to the Home Ministry.
- In 2009, a draft Cabinet note for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) was moved to amalgamate the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force, with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), a Central Armed Police Force, and provide leadership from the police, replacing military leadership.
- This proposal was turned down by the CCS, understandably recognising the importance of the history and traditions of Assam Rifles, and the crucial role it continues to play in the security of the Northeast region.
- Since then, at least seven attempts have been made to target Assam Rifles in order to enlarge options for cadre management of police. Having failed to convince the discerning political leaders, the current effort is to hijack Assam Rifles by transferring its full control to the Home Ministry and replace Army officers with police officers.
- Downgrading Assam Rifles from its present status of paramilitary force by merging a part or whole of it with a Central Armed Police Force will not only impinge on national security but also affect the strength and morale of the force.
Operating in a sensitive region:
- A peep into the history of Assam Rifles shows that the force, created in 1835 to protect British interests in the Northeast, continues to operate in that region with the advantage of understanding the terrain and the people.
- Having participated in all the major wars and insurgency situations in the country, Assam Rifles has been awarded over 1,700 gallantry and distinguished service awards for its service to the nation. All this was possible due to the military training, ethos and leadership provided by Army officers since 1884.
- The Northeast is the most volatile and insurgency-affected region of India after Kashmir. Besides operating from within the region, militants surreptitiously operate from neighbouring countries by exploiting the free movement regime along the India-Myanmar border and inaccessible terrain. These borders, though settled, require specialised skills, not just mere policing functions.
Neighbouring countries’ moves:
- Recently, China has brought its frontier troops, including those guarding its border with India, directly under the military command, removing civilian control over them. The India-Myanmar border, though manned by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police, is also controlled by Myanmar’s Army for conducting seamless operations against insurgent groups operating against the state. India is busy in divesting the Army of operational control of a force which has imbibed military ethos and special skills and handing it over to police officers to command.
The workload of ITBP:
- At present, ITBP is guarding the 3,388 km India-Tibet border; assigning them another 1,643 km of the India-Myanmar border will be a command and control nightmare for the Director-General of the ITBP.
- The Assam rifles and the ITBP follow very different sets of rules, hierarchies and operating philosophies. A merger of the two would lead to operational challenges.
- The proposed merger of ITBP with Assam Rifles is premised on the profile management of an already expanded IPS cadre. Shifting Assam Rifles under a cadre that is looking to just create career opportunities places personal interests over national security.
- A more viable alternative for the Home Ministry would be to look inwards and merge ITBP with the Sashastra Seema Bal to space out the almost continuous high altitude tenures of ITBP personnel. Since both are being led by police officers, internal management would be easier.
- It is advisable to maintain the status quo regarding the Assam rifles as it is prudent to have a specialised counterinsurgency force, which doubles as a reserve for conventional war. This is due to Assam Rifles’ continued functioning, manning and training under the Army with a similar ethos and structure.