The Occupational Safety, Health And Working Conditions Code, 2019

  • Recently, the Standing Committee on Labour has invited suggestions on the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code, 2019.

Aim

  • To consolidate and amend the laws regulating the occupational safety, health and working conditions of the persons employed in establishments across the country.

Background

  • The OSH Code, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Labour and Employment in July, 2019, pursuant to the Report of the Second National Commission on Labour on the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions of the Workers.
  • It is one of the four codes that are part of the Centre’s labour reforms agenda.
  • The four labour codes - on Wages, Industrial Relations, Social Security and Occupational Safety, and Health and Working Condition, intend to provide workers with wage security, social security, safety, health and grievance redress mechanisms.
  • The Code has been drafted after amalgamation, simplification and rationalisation of the relevant provisions of the 13 Central Labour Acts. After the enactment of the Code, all these Acts being subsumed in the Code will be repealed:
    • The Factories Act, 1948
    • The Mines Act, 1952
    • The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986
    • The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996
    • The Plantations Labour Act, 1951
    • The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
    • The Inter-State Migrant workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979
    • The Working Journalist and other News Paper Employees (Conditions of Service and Misc. Provision) Act, 1955
    • The Working Journalist (Fixation of rates of wages) Act, 1958
    • The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961
    • Sales Promotion Employees (Condition of Service) Act, 1976
    • The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966
    • The Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers Act, 1981.

Salient Features

Enhanced Coverage

  • It would be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more workers, where any industry, trade, business, manufacture or occupation is carried on, including, IT establishments or establishments of service sector.
  • Threshold of applicability has been made uniform at 10 workers for all establishments except mines and dock where the Code would be applicable even with 1 worker.
  • Definition of Working Journalists and Cine worker have also been modified to include workers employed in electronic media and all forms of audio visual production.

National Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board(NOSHAB)

  • It mandates for establishment NOSHAB which will be of tripartite nature, having the representation from trade unions, employer associations, and State governments. This will result in reduction in multiplicity of bodies/committees in various Acts and simplified and coordinated policy-making.

Single Registration Mechanism

  • It proposes one registration for an establishment instead of multiple registrations. This will create a centralized data base and promote ease of doing business. At present, separate registration is required to be obtained under 6 Acts.

Duties of Employers

These includes-

  • Providing ahazard free workplace
  • Providing free annual health examinations to employees.

Rights and duties of Employees

This includes-

  • Taking care of their own health and safety
  • Complying with the specified safety and health standards
  • Reporting unsafe situations to the inspector.
  • Every employee will have the right to obtain from the employer information related to safety and health standards.

Special Provisions for Factories

  • Government can declare any place wherein manufacturing process is being carried out as a factory, and for any persons working at such premises to be classified as workers.
  • As opposed to the earlier threshold of 30 women workers prescribed under the Factories Act, a creche facility is now required to be provided by all Establishments (including factories) where more than 50 workers are ordinarily employed.

Special Provisions for Women Employees

  • Women permitted to work beyond 7 PM and before 6 AM subject to the safety, holidays, working hours or any other condition as prescribed by appropriate government in respect of prescribed establishments, only after taking their consent for night work.

Special Provisions for Contract Labour

  • It introduced the concept of work specific license for contractors, if they do not meet the criteria to be prescribed by the Government for grant of license for supply of contract labour or for execution of work through contract labour.

Offences and Penalties

  • An offence that leads to the death of an employee will be punishable with imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine up to five lakh rupees, or both.
  • For any other violation where the penalty is not specified, the employer will be penalised with a fine between two and three lakh rupees.
  • If an employee violates provisions of the Code, he will be subject to a fine of up to Rs 10,000.

Impact

  • Providing Broad Legislative Framework: The Code provides basic broad legislative framework with enabling provisions for framing rules, regulations, standards, and bye-laws as per the requirements of different sectors. This would result in simple legislation with flexibility in changing the provisions in tune with emerging technologies and makes the legislation dynamic.
  • Ensuring Safety of Workforce: It promotes health, safety, welfare and better working conditions of workforce by enhancing the ambit of a dynamic legislation as compared to the existing sectoral approach limited to few sectors.
  • Resource Efficiency: It rationalises the compliance mechanism with one license, one registration and one return for the establishments under the ambit of the Code thereby saving resources and efforts of the employers. Thus it balances the requirements of worker and employer and is beneficial to both the constituents of the world of work.
  • Consolidation of Activities: It allows consolidation of activities commonly carried out prior to and during the operation of factories, such as building, construction or expansion of factories, etc., which is expected to help manufacturing companies as they can obtain a common registration and comply with the safety and welfare requirements of the Code, as opposed to duplicity of provisions under the Current Laws.

Criticism of OSH Code

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)

  • The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has condemned the Code, denouncing it as as a "cut-and-paste job" with no universal application.
  • According to BMS, the safety provisions have been diluted and many of the burning issues with the Contract labour Act, Factories Act, journalists' law, transport workers law etc. have not been addressed.
  • Another objection is towards the absence of equal-wage-for-equal-work, as mandated by the Supreme Court and a universal principle for equity in the labour market that the trade unions have been demanding for long, in so far as contract labour is concerned.
  • Clause 22 of the Code provides discretionary power to the government to set up Safety Committee, while this is a statutory requirement for every hazardous unit under the Factories Act of 1948.
  • Clause 83 gives state government power to "prescribe" maximum permissible limits of workers' exposure to chemical and toxic substances, while the 'second schedule' of the Factories Act of 1948 specifies this.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)

  • According to CII, extending the provisions of the OSH Code to smaller enterprises will increase their costs and hurt margins, impacting the sector badly. It would also adversely affect expansion, which is seen to have a strong relationship to creation of new jobs.
  • As per the Factories Act, establishments must appoint welfare officers if they employ manpower of more than 500 persons. The Code cuts this to 250 employees, which would impose a high cost burden on MSMEs, now coming in this ambit.

Way Forward

  • Safety, Health, welfare and improved working conditions are pre-requisite for well-being of the worker and also for economic growth of the country as healthy workforce of the country would be more productive and occurrence of less accidents and unforeseen incidents would be economically beneficial to the employers also.
  • Codification is necessary to rationalise proximate labour laws, but this should not lead to bundling together of diverse and unique laws concerning disparately positioned categories of workers, which are yet to mature into meaningful pieces of legislation (for example, the law on building and construction workers) in their own right and hence need respective suitable amendments.
  • In view of widespread criticism against the Code, the government should address the concerns raised by various organisations and must ensure that the Code provides safer and healthier conditions of work to worker, instead exposingthem to greater risks.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, November, 2019