The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to three labour laws. Among key proposals cleared is doing away with the clause that allows arrest of employers for not implementing the Apprenticeship Act. However, relaxed norms for retrenchment, like those proposed by Rajasthan in its labour reforms, were not part of these Bills.
Besides the Apprenticeship Act, 1961, amendments to the Factories Act and the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act were okayed, said officials. These pieces of legislation, according to them, are expected to be tabled in the current session of Parliament.
There has been a growing feeling that employers tend to avoid hiring apprentices over fear of arrest under the Act. "Training facilities available with them go unutilised," the labour ministry had 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".
Vishnu Deo Sai, minister of state for labour, 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 in the central and state-sector establishments."
To complement Prime Minister Narendra 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 those.
Amendments to the Factories Act include increasing the overtime limit for employees from 50 hours a quarter to 100 hours, relaxing restrictions on night work for women in factories and empowering the central government to make rules on health and safety hazards.
Changes in the 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 has also been proposed to be 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Industry has blamed India's outdated labour laws as a hindrance to growth.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Janata Party's election manifesto promised to bring together stakeholders to "review our labour laws, which are outdated, complicated and even contradictory".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 Centre was also actively considering amendments to the Child Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1986, and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, officials said.
The government might exempt National Investment and Manufacturing Zones from certain provisions of the Contract Labour Act. Under the proposal, workers at units 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.
EASIER WORK RULES
FACTORIES ACT, 1948
NIGHT WORK: Norms for woman factory workers to be relaxed
OVERTIME: Limit to be raised to 100 hours (from 50) in a quarter
SAFETY & HEALTH: Centre to get power to make rules on key aspects of occupational safety and health
APPRENTICESHIP ACT, 1961
EMPLOYERS: The clause allowing employers' imprisoned for not implementing the Act to be dropped; a Rs 500 fine per shortfall of apprenticeship month to be imposed
NEW TRADES: Companies could add new trades under the Act without the Centre's approval
AMBIT: Contractual workers, daily workers, agency workers and casual workers to come under Act
PARITY: Holidays, leaves, shift working for apprentices to be made the same as regular workers
LABOUR LAWS ACT, 1988
REGISTERS: The need for small firms to maintain registers under the Scheduled Acts to be lowered to two; very small firms may maintain only one
E-RECORDS: Records to be maintained in electronic media
DEFINITION: 'Small establishments' to mean firms employing between 10 and 40 people