States, Centre to meet on labour: Modalities of four codes key agenda

With an aim to discuss the impending implementation of the labour codes and other labour-related issues, a national level meeting with labour ministers and officials of all states and the Centre will be held on August 25-26 at Tirupati, a senior Labour Ministry official said, adding that the conference is intended to finalise the modalities for the rollout of the labour codes.

“A conference of state labour ministers and officials will be held next month. The meeting is intended to deliberate upon various issues since labour is a concurrent issue. Rulemaking for the labour codes will be discussed. Also, modalities for the rollout of the labour codes have to be worked out,” the official said, without detailing a timeline for rollout of the labour codes.

With labour being a concurrent subject, both the Centre and states have to frame laws and rules. While Parliament cleared the four labour codes in 2020, and the Centre pre-published the draft rules for all four codes, some state governments are yet to complete the process. Thirty one states/UTs have pre-published draft rules for The Code on Wages, while 26 states/UTs have done it for The Industrial Relations Code, 25 states/UTs for The Code on Social Security and 24 states/UTs for The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code.

In states where the draft rules are pending, most are related to The Code on Social Security and The OSH Code. In West Bengal, draft rules are pending for all four labour codes; in Rajasthan, draft rules are pending for three labour codes. Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland are among the other states where the draft rules are pending.

With the rollout of the labour codes getting delayed due to the pandemic, renewed deliberations are underway at the highest levels of government on a fresh implementation schedule, amid divergent views on whether to push through all four codes simultaneously or opt for the more practical option of staggering them. With most of the states ready with draft rules, the view in the Labour Ministry is converging towards a “one-go” or simultaneous implementation of all four codes even as there are some concerns about the timing of the rollout.


Draft rules issuance a challenge

Implementing the labour codes not later than 2023 is the aim at the highest levels of government. However, publishing of some or all of the draft rules by the states and finalising modalities is a major challenge.

While early-2023 is being considered a feasible option, the fact that it cuts too close to the 2024 general elections and the possible spillover impact of the farm laws debacle is a concern.

The streamlining of labour laws has been a work in progress, with the Centre notifying four broad labour codes to replace 29 sets of labour laws: The Code on Wages, 2019; The Industrial Relations Code, 2020; The Code on Social Security, 2020; and The OSH Code, 2020.

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Some key features of these labour codes include bringing in a national minimum wage, widening of coverage of social security to cover informal and gig/platform workers, providing greater flexibility to employers in hiring decisions without government permission by raising the threshold for requirement of a standing order — rules of conduct for workmen employed in industrial establishments — from 100 workers to 300.

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