Bill proposes that firms seek employees' written consent for overtime work

Establishments will require the written consent of workers before asking them to work ‘overtime’, according to a proposal in the Code on Occupational Safety Health and Working Conditions, 2019.

The Bill, introduced by Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar in the Lok Sabha (LS) last week, has proposed that “no worker shall be required to work overtime by the employer without prior consent of the worker in writing for such work”.

The government has removed a provision present in the existing law specifying the number of overtime hours a worker 
is allowed to do. Instead, the Centre or state governments may ‘prescribe’ the period of overtime work through a notification, according to a proposal.

This move may lead to various governments fixing overtime hours, without the need to go through the scrutiny of Parliament.

“The provision related to seeking a written consent is a welcome move, but the ground realities make it difficult for workers’ rights to be protected in the spirit of the law,” said K R Shyam Sundar, professor of human resource management, XLRI. 

He criticised the move to empower various governments to fix overtime working hours instead of specifying them in the new law.

“This provision will empower businesses which can exert pressure on state governments by threatening to relocate (their establishments) in the garb of meeting export needs,” Sundar said, adding such a move will “unleash arbitrariness across economic segments and regions, which is not a healthy law-making process”.

The Bill states a worker will be paid twice his or her wage if he or she is allowed to work overtime. ‘Wage’, according to the proposed law, will include the basic pay, dearness allowance, and retention pay components.

Industry had, however, demanded the government leave the provision on overtime to market forces, instead of the authorities prescribing norms for it.

“In sectors like construction, workers themselves want to work for 12 hours a day. Provisions related to overtime should be for employers and employees to sort out,” said M S Unnikrishnan, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s National Committee on Industrial Relations.

He added in some cases, employers might agree to pay more than double the wage for overtime hours, but the law put a restriction on that.

The draft Bill, made public last year for comments, had specified that a worker should not be allowed to work for more than 100 hours a quarter (three months), which is in accordance with the law in place since 2016. 

The draft had proposed the number of hours in a day, including overtime, should not exceed 10.

However, these provisions didn’t find mention in the Bill introduced in the LS. According to the National Statistical Office’s (NSO’s) Periodic Labour Force Survey of 2017-18, a majority of workers in India worked more than 48 hours in a week, which is higher than the International Labour Organisation’s prescribed time-limit.

On average, workers in cities worked 53-54 hours a week and those in villages worked 46-47 hours a week during July-June last year.

The NSO survey showed that, on average, regular-wage or salaried employees worked longer (53-56 hours) in a week than the self-employed (46-54 hours) and casual workers (43-48 hours).

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel