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'Workshop on Labour Law Reforms and Women's Economic Empowerment : Assessing the Proposed Labour Codes through a Gender Lens'

July, 2019

Organised by - Institute of Social Studies Trust,  at Claridges Hotel, New Delhi

Date - 17 & 18th September, 2018

Concept Note

Workshop on Labour Law Reforms and Women’s Economic Empowerment: Assessing the Proposed Labour Codes through a Gender Lens

                                                                17th and 18th September 2018

Since liberalisation, demands for a state policy of labour market flexibility through the rationalisation and reform of labour laws have been made in the name of facilitation of the ease of doing business, job creation and economic growth. Calls for the reform of labour laws have also come from trade unions and workers’ rights groups who have sought the codification and extension of labour rights to all workers instead of only the relatively miniscule numbers of those in the organised sector. Over the last twenty years, these demands have received a fillip from various reports submitted by committees and commissions set up by the government, including the Second National Commission on Labour, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) and the Working Group on Labour Laws for the Twelfth Plan. Although each of these groups came at the issue of labour law reforms from different perspectives, all of them called for the consolidation of labour laws into a ‘few cognate groups to reduce the multiplicity of laws for better enforcement and compliance’ (Report of the Working Group on Labour Laws and other Regulations 2011).

In 2014, after the National Democratic Alliance government was elected to power, it set about the mammoth task of reforming the labour laws ‘to generate employment and to facilitate the ease of doing business’ (Ministry of Labour and Employment website) by simplifying, amalgamating and rationalising 44 central labour laws into 4 Labour Codes on Industrial Relations, Wages, Social Security and Welfare and Occupational Safety and Health. Currently, each of the Codes are in various stages of drafting and public consultation, though one of the Codes, the Code on Wages, has already been introduced in the Lok Sabha and is now awaiting the report of the Standing Committee (August 2018). The Code on Industrial Relations is still in draft form; although this Code, like the Code on Wages was released in 2015, it has not yet been tabled in Parliament. Currently, it has been presented to the Law Ministry for review and is in the process of being taken to the Cabinet for approval (July 2018). The Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare is also still in draft form, with a version 2.1 being subject to ongoing consultations (July 2018). The fourth Code, the Code on Occupational Health and Safety was released recently, in March 2018, and the date for receipt of comments on the draft Code Bill has been extended from the initial deadline of 31 May 2018 to 31 August 2018 (August 2018).

Each of the draft Codes have come under the scrutiny of trade unions and other labour rights groups, who have been vocal in their criticism in terms of both the processes of drafting and consultation as well as the content of the Codes. In terms of the substantive critiques on the content, each of the codes have been troubling in terms of the retrenchment of workers’ rights, with a lack of gender inclusivity in the ways in which workers and women’s work have been conceptualised by the Codes, the lack of inclusion of transgender persons in the definition of workers, and fears that the Codes do not properly represent the interest of unorganized workers.

While there have been some efforts to attend to the gendered impact of the labour codes, for instance on the dilution of maternity benefits or the dilution of the Equal Remuneration Act, or more comprehensive efforts to understand the impact of social security, particularly to see whether they account for the continuum of women’s work and address child care provisioning for informal workers, and through groups working on women’s workers’ rights, (for instance on the effects of the codes on domestic workers, NPDW 2018), it is also important that a comprehensive and consolidated review of all the codes together, through a gendered lens, is carried out. The proposed workshop, organized by ISST, under the over-arching goal of working towards women’s economic empowerment, proposes to meet the following objectives:

1. To understand and consolidate the overall gendered impact of the proposed changes in all the four codes, particularly from the perspective of women workers in various sectors

2. To identify areas of immediate action, viz., to identify avenues where the critiques can be brought to the attention of the government so that the government may review and revise the Codes before they become law and

3. To identify areas of further research if any.