The Factories (Amendment) Bill of 2014, tabled in the Lok Sabha, could be considered the first piece of an expected incremental overhaul of India's labour laws by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
The Bill acknowledges the reality of women at the workplace, increases worker safety and facilities, and reduces the days an employee must work to be eligible for annual leave. It also proposes to increase the permissible limits for overtime from 50 to 100 hours a quarter in normal circumstances and 125 hours of overtime a quarter "in public interest", with permission from the state government.
The Bill grants state governments the freedom to raise the threshold of applicability of the law - from companies employing 10 employees working with the aid of electricity and 20 employees without, to 20 employees working with electricity and 40 without.
Section 66 of the existing law prohibits women from working night shifts at factories. Under the proposed amendment, women can work night shifts on the condition that their employers guarantee their occupational safety, secure transport to-and-from their homes and protection from sexual harassment. Another amendment allows women to work on and repair heavy machinery under safe conditions. The Bill also includes a broader definition of protective equipment beyond protective eyewear.
In the event of an accident, the Bill distinguishes between the liabilities of the party providing or manufacturing a particular piece of machinery and the party that instals it. Similarly, in case of a mishap where multiple factories are operating out of the same premises, the owner of the premises may be prosecuted under the same provisions as the factory manager or operator. Such a provision could apply in cases like the collapse of a building.
Earlier, factories with more than 250 workers were required to provide canteens for their workers; that threshold has been reduced to 200 workers, while the threshold to provide restrooms, shelters and a lunch room has been reduced from factories with 150 workers to those with 75 workers. According to the Bill, all factories, irrespective of worker strength, would be required to supply cold drinking water in the summer unlike earlier when only factories employing more than 250 workers were required to.
The eligibility criteria for annual paid leave shall be reduced from 240 days of work to 90 days.
The Bill, as mentioned earlier, increases the permissible limit for overtime from 50 hours a quarter to a maximum of 125 hours. While increasing the fines for violating its provisions, it also introduces a schedule of compoundable offences - like failure to provide toilets, creches and annual leave without wages - under which factory owners may avoid imprisonment by paying a fine.