Ushering in a big wave of reforms by implementing the four labour codes, setting up the national social security fund to cover over 38 crore informal sector workers and improving the ease of doing business will top the agenda of the Labour Ministry in the New Year.

In a major move, the Ministry launched the e-Shram portal on August 26, 2021 for creating a national database of over 38 crore informal sector workers. It will help the government to ensure last-mile delivery of benefits of various social security schemes to the informal-sector workers.

So far, the progress in pushing ahead with the labour codes, has been considerable as most of the States are ready with draft rules for the four codes and the Centre had firmed up the rules from its end, back in February. The latter is a prerequisite for enforcing the new codes.

On the tall order of enforcing the codes in 2022, that would eventually aid creation of the social security fund for the informal sector workers, Union Labour Minister Bhupender Yadav told PTI, “we are working on that. We are committed to social security. We are committed to the welfare of labour. For that purpose, whatever will be (required), we want to do.” More than 17 crore informal sector workers have registered themselves on the e-Shram portal.

Four labour codes

The Central government has notified four labour codes. The Code on Wages, 2019, was notified on August 8, 2019 while the three others — the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, the Code on Social Security, 2020, and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 — were notified on September 29, 2020.

Also read Are jobs really being created?

The Code on Social Security provides for creating a social security fund that will help in bringing informal sector workers under the social security net as well as welfare schemes.

Expressing hope that all informal sector workers will be registered on the e-Shram portal in 2022, Yadav said, “we have taken many initiatives which show our government takes care of poor persons, especially the e-Shram portal launched by our ministry under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which got a huge response.

“The purpose is to register the data of the unorganised workers and that is the mandate under the social security code. I am also happy that all trade unions have wholeheartedly supported this mission.”

About the progress on the implementation of the labour codes, Yadav, earlier this month, told the Rajya Sabha that Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code is the only code on which the least number of 13 states have pre-published the draft rules.

Also read Why demand for MGNREGS is expected to continue

The highest number of draft notifications are pre-published on The Code on Wages by 24 States/UTs followed by The Industrial Relations Code (20 States) and The Code on Social Security (18) States.

Experts are of the view that the implementation of labour codes will not be that easy as it appears because there are differences with trade unions as well as the industry.

One of the key issues is about the definition of wages which caps allowances at 50 per cent and provides for higher deduction of provident fund and gratuity. Once implemented, such a move will mean that eventually the take home salary of employees will come down and the employers will also be required to restructure the salaries’ structure.

Besides, there is a provision in the industrial relations code that any unit with up to 300 workers will not need permission from the appropriate government for closure, retrenchment and lay off. At present, the threshold is 100 workers.

Besides, the trade unions also claim that there are other provisions which make forming trade unions a little cumbersome. “We are also ready to talk on issues under tripartite (arrangement). So many forums have already been active,” Yadav said.

ESIC, EPFO meetings

According to the Minister, the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) meetings have been regularised.

“”For the purpose of human resource management, infrastructure, IT, capacity building and public grievances, we have already appointed sub-committees under EPFO as well as ESIC. It will boost the functioning of the ministry,” he pointed out.

Regarding evidence-based policy making in 2022, the minister mentioned four surveys on migrant labour, domestic workers and two institution surveys.

“Those reports will come (in 2022) and will definitely fulfill the Prime Minister’s views and mission, that is evidence-based policy and targeted last-mile delivery. I think that will happen with that. Apart from that, we are strengthening our NCS (National Career Service) portal,” he said.

As on December 28, 2021, NCS platform has 1.34 crore active jobseekers with around 1.7 lakh active employers and around 2.21 lakh active vacancies.

In 2021, the ESI Scheme was expanded to 52 districts, bringing 2,31,495 employees along with their family members under it. The scheme is now available in 592 districts and it is proposed to extend the coverage of the scheme to all districts in the country by 2022.

Under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojana (ABRY), as on December 18, total benefits of ₹2,966.28 crore have been given to 42,82,688 beneficiaries through 1,20,697 establishments.