The Narendra Modi Cabinet is likely to consider amendments to three labour laws on Wednesday. These include dropping a provision that permits arresting employers under the Apprenticeship Act. However, relaxed retrenchment norms, like those proposed by Rajasthan in its labour reforms, are not part of the current scheme of things.
Besides the Apprenticeship Act, 1961, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988, will come up for discussion in Cabinet. If approved, these pieces of legislation will be tabled in the current session of Parliament.
"The Union labour ministry plans to take these laws to Cabinet. The Bills will be taken up in the ongoing session of Parliament after Cabinet's approval," said a senior labour ministry official who did not wish to be named.
"Due to fear of imprisonment, employers tend to avoid coming under the Apprenticeship Act purview and training facilities available with them go unutilised," the labour ministry said while drafting the proposal.
Amendments to the Act, the ministry said, "would encourage more employers to join the apprenticeship training scheme and would also remove the fear of prosecution".
Ajay Shankar, member-secretary of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, said: "As the law becomes flexible, it suits the present needs and increases openings for young people."
Vishnu Deo Sai, minister of state for labour, has said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha "the apprenticeship regime in India manages to train 282,000 apprentices... against 490,000 apprenticeship seats located in the Central and state-sector establishments".
To complement Prime Minister Modi's vision on skill development, the Apprenticeship Act amendments will add 500 new trades. Companies might also be allowed to start new trades without waiting for the Centre to notify them.
The labour ministry has proposed 54 amendments in the 61 Sections of the Factories Act. These include increasing the overtime limit to 100 hours for a worker in a quarter from the current 50, relaxing restrictions on night work for women in factories, and empowering the central government to make rules on health and safety hazards.
The amendments to Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act include reducing the need for small firms to maintain registers. The definition of small establishments will also changed to firms hiring up to 40 employees, against 10 currently.
Industry has blamed India's outdated labour laws as a hindrance to growth. The Bharatiya Janata Party's election manifesto promised to bring together stakeholders to "review our labour laws, which are outdated, complicated and even contradictory".
The proposed amendments to these laws were moved during the United Progressive Alliance regime but were not placed before Cabinet. In June, the labour ministry invited fresh suggestions. Tripartite discussions were held and opinions had been incorporated, the official said.
"We see it as a positive initial move. As there is greater discussion on these issues, consensus will emerge on other issues. This is a very good beginning to a process," Shankar said.
The Centre was also actively considering amendments to the Child Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1986, and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the labour ministry official said. But these were not among the Bills that were going to Cabinet now, he added.
The government might exempt National Investment and Manufacturing Zones from certain provisions of the Contract Labour Act. According to a proposal, workers in any unit in these zones could be removed without notice or compensation if the employer provides them with alternative employment in the same zone at the same pay and conditions of work. Talks with trade unions over this are on.
EASING WORK RULES
Proposed amendments to the Factories Act 1948
Night work: Relaxation of norms for woman factory workers
Overtime: Increase in limit to 100 hours (from 50) in a quarter
Safety & health: Empowerment of the central govt to make rules on "important aspects of occupational safety and health" (at present, the powers are with only state govts)
Proposed amendment in the Apprenticeship Act, 1961
Employers: Dropping the clause under which employers can be imprisoned for not implementing the Act; a fine of Rs 500 per shortfall of apprenticeship month may be imposed
New trades: Companies can add new trades under the Act without the Centre's approval
Ambit: Contractual workers, daily workers, agency workers and casual workers to come under the Act
Parity: Holidays, leaves, shift working for apprentices to be the same as regular workers
Proposed amendment in Labour Laws Act, 1988
Registers: Reducing the need for small establishments to maintain registers under the Scheduled Acts to two; very small establishments to maintain only one register
E-records: Maintenance of records in electronic media
Definition: 'Small establishments' to mean firms employing between 10 and 40 people