Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said in a press conference last week that the government is working on combining 35-odd labour laws into four codes, one each on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational health and safety. However, she had made it clear that the government will follow the normal procedure of the Parliament – in a way ruling out the Ordinance route.
The Central government’s proposal to increase the working hours to the State governments has already been received a backlash from the central trade unions which have vehemently opposed the move. As many as 10 states in India have increased the working hours in India from 8 to 12 hours. These are Maharasthra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, MP, Uttarakhand, Assam, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Some of the orders have been challenged in the local courts. In fact, recently, the Uttar Pradesh government withdrew an order increasing the daily working hour limit in manufacturing units from 8 to 12 hours. It was in response to a notice issued by the Allahabad High Court on a public interest litigation challenging the legality of the order.
India is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation’s convention of 1919 on working hours. Though all countries which signed it had to reduce working hours to 48 hours a week, India was given an exemption to keep it at 60 hours.
The Central government is asking the states to implement fixed-term employment – an arrangement through which firms will be able to hire contract workers directly, without the need to go through the contractor system, thereby saving cost and time. But companies will have to offer equal social security benefits to such workers, who will be hired on a fixed number of years, as is given to permanent workers in the same unit, if the governments choose to follow the model law of the Central government.
In March 2018, the government had notified fixed-term employment rules, allowing industries to hire workers for a fixed tenure, but it was only applicable to sectors falling under the Centre's sphere of governance. None of the states had adopted the central government’s rules and industry found it hard to benefit from the central government’s fixed-term employment rules.