One Size Fits All Approach Not Feasible in Labour Laws
Sweeping changes in labour laws are taking place in the country. The labour ministry has propounded a model law related to shops and establishments. One of the basic objectives is to bring consistency in working conditions across the country. Though some provisions do require uniformity, especially when one company has branches in different states, it may not be viable to bring in parity across all the states. Rather, there is a need to make provisions commensurate with the potential of establishments and nature of employment.
With the current requirements, generally statutory provisions of stipulated number of working hours have limited influence on actual working hours, as practically it is not possible to comply with statutory provisions. Working hours need to be aligned with the current work culture. Presently maximum working hours of employees are 48 in a week extendable up to 60 with compliance of overtime payment. While a complete exemption from following provisions of timings will not be prudent as it may lead to exploitation in many areas, there should be a reasonable increase in the number of hours for certain categories of employees depending upon the nature of the establishment, as well as permitting flexible working hours, especially when the companies now have policies such as work from home and ‘compressed work week’, which allows employees to work less than five days a week with longer working hours a day, etc.
Some experts argue that there are limitations in opening and closing hours of shops and establishments, especially with respect to women. Currently, states have their own legislations regulating the hours. Social conditions in different parts of the country are not uniform to have parity in provisions permitting late night working for women. Though women should have as much access as men do to opportunities, night shifts in underdeveloped cities or remote areas is still not a workable option for women, especially with the increasing number of cases of sexual offence. In developing cities, night shifts may be introduced as an option, with strict conditions of providing door-to-door transport and adequate lighting and security at work, as are being provided in metropolitans.
Another aspect which the draft bills deals with is the provisions of leaves. This is one aspect which does need consistency across the country. Variation in provisions makes it difficult for companies to have a uniform leave policy for various branches in different states apart from facing administrative hassles at the time of transferring employees from one location to another. Further, if achieving common holidays is not possible due to different festivals and traditions, the number of holidays could be made common.
The draft bill also provides for online common registration through a simplified procedure, and provisions relating to safety and health of workers. It also provides for facilities like lavatory, creche, first aid and canteen by a group of establishments, in case it is not possible due to constraint in space or otherwise by an individual establishment. All these, especially creches, are a welcome step.
The proposed bill strives to answer difficulties relating to registration and annual renewal (of shop permits or licences), problems in maintenance of statutory records, and arbitrariness in statutory inspections. It will be beneficial if clear provisions are framed, permitting companies to maintain e-records as well as centralised records, as currently notifications or provisions for the same are still not there in many of the states.
Even if provisions cannot be made uniform across the country, revamping the age old shops and establishments laws, aligning them with the nature of establishments and employments, would in itself be a notable achievement.
Birbal is an advocate specialising in labour, civil, litigation and corporate laws