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RSS affiliate opposes Centre’s proposal to merge labour laws

The BJP-led government has proposed to merge labour laws that govern institutions such as Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation to create a Labour Code on Social Security.

india Updated: May 12, 2018 22:47 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has demanded the creation of a separate ministry of social security, pointing out that four ministries now handle issues related to about 490 million workers.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has demanded the creation of a separate ministry of social security, pointing out that four ministries now handle issues related to about 490 million workers.(HT/File Photo)
         

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s proposal to merge labour laws that govern institutions such as Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and Employees’ State Insurance Corporation to create a Labour Code on Social Security has run into resistance from Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS).

The BMS, which has in the past criticised the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s labour policies for leaving out unorganised workers from the ambit of social security programmes, has called for a rethink on the proposal. It has also demanded the creation of a separate ministry of social security, pointing out that four ministries now handle issues related to about 490 million workers.

The RSS is also the ideological front of the BJP, but its affiliates have flagged concerns over the implementation of labour laws and proposed schemes.

The Union ministry of labour and employment has proposed merging and rationalising 15 existing labour laws related to schemes such as the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 to put in place an overarching Code after its passage by Parliament. It would lead to the creation of state-level social security schemes. While a uniform law on social security would be ideal, tinkering with the existing schemes such as the ESI and EPF is not advisable, said BMS president CK Saji Narayanan.

“In the new social security code, entire ESI and EPF funds will be divided among states. Employees working in them will have to work under states. The experience of state governments running ESI hospitals and facilities, and the Centre giving funds (to them) has proved to be a failure in many states,” he said.

Narayanan also cited the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund, overseen by states and mostly unused, to caution against the merger of social security schemes.

“The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 is failing because there is no tripartite body to monitor it as in ESI or EPF,” he said. Representatives of the government, employers and employees have a say in decision-making at the employees’ insurer and retirement savings body.

Narayanan conceded that some provisions in the proposed Code such as universal insurance coverage, enrolment of unorganised workers in social security schemes, creation of a gratuity fund, and making the employer liable for social security contributions of contractual workers were positive.

He wants the government to allocate at least 10% of the budget to social security.

“Compared to other countries, India has a very minimal budget allocation to social security even though 93% of our workforce is in the unorganised sector,” Narayanan said. “Without government funding, there will be cross subsidising, that is the entire ESI and EPF funds will be soon diverted and depleted to meet the benefits of SEC-IV category of workers in unorganised sector who need not pay contribution,” he said.

BMS’s concerns are shared by trade unions such as the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Tapan Sen, its general secretary, said that schemes such as EPF and ESI are well run and there is no reason why the government should dismantle functional social security institutions.

“We have objected to the proposed Code as it seeks to pool all the resources into a centralised fund which will be handled by the Centre, but the responsibility of delivering social security will lie with the state boards under the state governments,” Sen said.

Feedback from the unions is being examined by the labour ministry, which will present it to the cabinet soon.

First Published: May 12, 2018 22:47 IST

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