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Posted at: Jul 14, 2019, 7:11 AM; last updated: Jul 14, 2019, 7:11 AM (IST)

Call it good, or bad? Maybe a bit of both

Opinions divided on how OSH Code will impact 40 crore workers in organised, unorganised sectors
Call it good, or bad? Maybe a bit of both

Minna Zutshi in Ludhiana

Do we even exist on the official records of the factory where we work?” a middle-aged worker answers when we try to get him to talk about labour reforms. He is nameless. And when he learns that it is a journalist who wants to discuss this, he tries to be faceless too by hiding his face with his ‘gamcha’.

The worker is one among the thousands working in the unorganised sector in Ludhiana, the industrial hub of Punjab.

The Occupational, Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code (OSH Code) envisages several reforms for workers. It will cover around 40 crore workers in the organised and unorganised sectors and is part of the government’s plan to simplify the complex and cumbersome labour laws. The Code will ensure that the provisions related to 622 sections in 13 laws will be covered by 134 sections.

It says that the employer shall be responsible for maintaining in his establishment the health and working conditions for the workers to provide them such standard of working atmosphere as may be prescribed by the Central Government. Here, “establishment” means “mine, motor transport undertaking or the place where dock work is performed, and any place where any industry, trade, business, manufacture or occupation is carried on, including factory, newspaper establishment and plantation in which more than 10 workers are employed”.

Confusion in store?

Ludhiana-based social activist Dr Arun Mitra, a medical professional who holds the post of assistant secretary of the CPI, claims that instead of simplification, the merger of 13 Central Labour Laws into a single Code may lead to more confusion. “Different sectors have different occupational hazards — same laws cannot be applied to hosiery, defence and hospitals. An occupational hazard is the risk, harm or danger that an individual is exposed to at the workplace and different sectors have different risks,” he says.

According to Dr Mitra, the clause of 10 employees has to go. “There are many enterprises that have fewer than 10 employees. What about the occupational, safety, health and working conditions of these employees?”

“As a health professional, I believe that if the workforce is not provided a clean, hygienic environment, potable drinking water and other such facilities, they cannot be expected to work to their optimum potential. An even more serious issue is when the establishments don’t show the full workforce on their records and many workers are ‘just not there’ on the records maintained by the establishments,” says Dr Mitra.

Boost for women

Ludhiana industrialists have a different perspective on labour reforms. They believe that the clearing of Occupational, Safety, Health and Working Condition Code (OSH Code) will help improve the representation of women in industry, thereby closing the big gender gap that exists today. The reforms, they point out, will pave the way for more women joining the workforce in different capacities and also address the issue of labour shortage in industrial cities like Ludhiana.

As industrialist Ajit Lakra, who is also Head, Textile Division, FICO (Federation of Industrial and Commercial Organisation), says, “Ludhiana industries have been traditionally dependant on migrant labour from other states. Lately, the number of migrant labours coming to Ludhiana for their livelihood has seen a dip because now better opportunities are available in their native states. However, a heartening trend is an increase in the participation of female workforce. The trend is observable in accounts and clerical jobs, computing, merchandising and even in supervisory jobs.” The industrialists feel that if facilities like safe accommodation and economical food are provided to the female workforce, women from rural areas will be open to the idea of taking up jobs in the industrial sector. “Through this labour reform, the government is going to lay down some minimum basic facilities and working conditions that would be mandatory at workplace. The owners (of establishments) should also be aware of and concerned about these measures,” says Lakra.

The OSH Code includes the provision of annual medical examinations for all employees. “Periodical health check-up of workers should be made mandatory through the ESI hospitals. Unfortunately, the ESI hospital facilities here are inadequate keeping in view the number of the workers in the city.”

Divided opinions, but change seems to be in the offing. Good? Bad? Maybe, a bit of both.


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