New Delhi, November 4: With just around six months of its term remaining, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government is trying to make some progress in its ambitious labour reforms agenda which has meandered through several starts and stops.
Senior government functionaries said the approach now will be to arrive at a consensus with other parties to push the legislative agenda and, simultaneously, sweeten the deal for worker unions, including Bharatiya Janata Party affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.
On October 31, Nripendra Mishra, principal secretary to Modi held a high-level meeting with secretaries of some ministries and Niti Ayog officials to prepare a road map for the pending bills on labour reforms. The government’s original plan was to translate 44 complex labour laws into four codes—on Wages, Industrial Relations, Social Security and Welfare, and Occupation Safety, Health and Working Conditions.
Labour secretary Heeralal Samariya said: “I am not in a position to disclose anything about the meeting.”
The government functionaries cited in the first instance said the discussions emphasized taking all stakeholders into confidence and holding discussions with states and trade unions to build a consensus around the need for labour reforms. “Some states and trade unions perceive the codes as anti-labour and pro-industry, whereas the bills provide flexibility, social security and more bargaining power for workers,” said an official present in the meeting.
One of the functionaries added that the government may also look into expanding social security benefits and especially target workers with these. The meeting also discussed a proposal on free social security to certain sections of the workforce with the government paying the premiums on these. The Atal pension scheme, and the PM’s life and accident insurance scheme could be tweaked as social security offerings for workers, this person added.
At the same time, the officials also agreed on the need to push these reforms faster. India now ranks at 77 in the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” on Wednesday, improving by 23 places over its 2017 rank on the back of six major reforms. Labour reforms and amendments in land laws are the two crucial reforms that are stuck due to lack of political consensus.
Niti Ayog and the labour ministry have been entrusted the task of talking to states and bringing them on board.
Meetings with trade unions are also on the cards even as almost all of them are opposed to these codes.
“Out of the four codes, only the Wage Code bill has come in Parliament and is being reviewed by a Parliamentary panel. We have rejected some of the provisions of the bill. In principle, we are totally opposed to the proposed Industrial Relations code as it makes almost impossible to have a trade union,” said CITU general secretary Tapan Sen.